Friday, September 8, 2017

Law & Wellness: Interview with Gabe Azar (Sr. Patent Counsel at Johnson & Johnson)

Gabriel (“Gabe”) Azar and I graduated one year apart, from the same law school. He has an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech and started his legal career as an associate practicing patent law at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP. He moved from Finnegan to Paul Hastings and from there to an in-house position with FIS. Currently, he is Senior Patent Counsel at Johnson & Johnson. I’ve admired, mostly from a distance (he lives in Jacksonville, FL now), how Gabe has balanced family, work, and health. We recently reconnected on Strava, and it has been inspiring to see a dedicated husband/father/attorney taking his fitness seriously.   

 

The interview is below the page break.

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September 8, 2017 in Business Associations, Haskell Murray, Intellectual Property, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Wellness | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What Law Schools Should Be Teaching and Aren’t

I listened to a podcast today entitled “What Law Schools Should be Teaching, and Aren’t (with Mark Cohen).” Cohen is the founder and CEO of Legal Mosaic. In a previous life he served as a partner in a large law firm, a partner in his own boutique firm, a receiver, and the founder of a now defunct legal tech startup, Clearspire.

Given all of his experience, I value what he has to say about what law schools need to do to prepare students for the current legal marketplace. I recommend that you listen to the podcast yourself, but here is his list of gaps in student knowledge:

  1. How to interview clients
  2. The importance of project management, collaboration and teamwork
  3. How to provide legal solutions and not just merely legal opinions.
  4. How to use technology and deal with the rise of legal process outsourcing
  5. Marketing and getting clients
  6. The importance of emotional intelligence

Many may quibble with his list in an age in which bar passage rates are at historical lows. But I think he has a point, especially since most of students will work for small law firms and will not have the infrastructure/safety net of Big Law. As Cohen mentioned, lawyers increasingly work within a legal supply chain and must provide value beyond what they are being taught in law school. These include the soft skills that business schools typically teach, and which will enable our students to get and keep clients.

I particularly liked his discussion of project management and collaboration. As we know, many law students can’t manage their time properly, don’t like working in groups, and focus more on regurgitating what they are taught in class rather than thinking of creative, constructive solutions. Students also haven’t developed the skills to deal with the increasing automation of document review/drafting and the potential rise of robots, which thankfully, won’t replace lawyers (yet).

I have tried to teach my students to understand the importance of learning their client’s business so that they can provide solutions rather than standard law school exam answers. I grade based on deliverables and time management to the extent that I don’t accept late work (barring extraordinary circumstances). In every class, I have had students do some work in groups, even though they don’t like it at first. I have also stressed the importance of learning to explain complex concepts clearly and concisely through blogging (which also provides marketing opportunities).

Now I plan to see how I can incorporate more of Cohen’s suggestions. Practitioners- is there anything else professors can do to produce more effective and efficient graduates?

May 31, 2017 in Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching, Technology | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, December 30, 2016

Why Lawyers Should Resolve to Blog in 2017

At the end of every semester I resolve to give less work to my students so that I don't have so much to grade. This upcoming semester I may actually keep that resolution, but I do plan to keep my blogging assignment. In each class, I provide an extra credit or required post or series of posts of between 200-500 words so that students can learn a fundamental legal skill—communicating clearly, correctly, and concisely.

If you are reading this post, then you are already a fan of legal blogs. Academics blog to get their ideas out quickly rather than waiting for the lengthy law review cycle to publicize their thoughts. Academics can also refine ideas they are incubating by blogging and receiving real time feedback from readers. Practicing lawyers blog (or should) for a slightly different reason. Blogging can enhance a lawyer’s reputation and visibility and ultimately lead to more business.

Yesterday, I met with an attorney who will speak to the students in my new course on Legal Issues for Startups, Entrepreneurs, and Small Businesses. I mentioned to him that I found his blog posts enlightening and that they filled a gap in my knowledge base. Although I practiced for almost twenty years before entering academia and had a wide range of responsibility as a deputy general counsel, I delegated a number of areas to my colleagues or outside counsel. That attorney is now part of a growing trend. In 2011, when I left practice, lawyers rarely blogged and few utilized social media. Now, many recognize that lawyers must read legal blogs to keep up on breaking developments relevant to their practice. However, most lawyers understandably complain that they do not have the time to get new clients, retain their existing clients, do the actual legal work, and also blog.

Leaving blogging to the wayside is a mistake, particularly for small or newer firms. A 2016 Pew Research Center Study revealed that only 20% of people get their news from newspapers yet almost 40% rely on social media, which often provides summaries of the news curated to the consumer’s interests. The potential client base’s changing appetite for instant information in a shorter format makes blogging almost a necessity for some lawyers. Indeed, consumers believe that hiring a new lawyer is so overwhelming that some clients are now crowdsourcing. But when they receive multiple “offers” to represent them, how do/should consumers choose? Perhaps they will pick the firm with a social media presence, including a blog that highlights the firm’s expertise.

I read several blogs a day. Admittedly, I have a much longer attention span than many of our students and the lay public. I also get paid to read. Nonetheless, I consider reading blogs an essential part of my work as an academic. In prepping for my new course, I have found posts on startups and entrepreneurship particularly helpful in providing legal information as well as insight into the mindset of entrepreneurs. If I were a busy founder running a new startup, I would likely try to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible online about certain topics prior to retaining a lawyer. Some lawyers, however, don’t really know how to speak to clients without talking down to them, much less write anything “short” and free of jargon. A lawyer/blogger who wrote in a way that I could understand, without all of the legalese, would be more likely to get my business.

Thus, even though I want to grade fewer papers, I also want my students to leave my class with the critical skill of communicating complex topics to the public in digestible chunks (and in line with state bar rules on social media). Over the years, I have advised students to volunteer to update or start a blog for their internship employers.  Many have told me that they enjoyed these projects and that their employers have found value in this work. This blogging practice also puts students in the position to start to blog after graduation.

I’ll end this post with a plug for my blogging colleagues who will attend AALS next week in San Francisco. I encourage you to attend some of the socioeconomic panels highlighted here. Please introduce yourself if you attend the panel next Wednesday morning at 9:50 on whistleblowers with me, Professor Bill Black of UMKC; Professor June Carbone of Minnesota; and Professor Ben Edwards of Barry. If you have an interest in the intersection between ethics and business, please swing by next Friday at 1:30 and see me and co-panelists Christopher Dillon from Gibson Dunn; Mina Kim, GC of Sunrun; Professor Eric Orts of Wharton; Professor Joseph Yockey of Iowa; Professor Brian Quinn of Boston College; Dean Gordon Smith of BYU; Professor Lori Johnson of UNLV; and Professor Anne Choike of Michigan.

If you have legal blogs you want to recommend and/or will be speaking at AALS and want to call attention to your session, feel free to comment below. Happy New Year and happy blogging.

December 30, 2016 in Conferences, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Ethics, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Weblogs, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

U.S. Courts Called LLCs Corporations About Once a Day in 2015

Some day, I may tire of calling out courts (and others) that refer to limited liability companies (LLCs) as "limited liability corporations, but today is not that day. Looking back on 2015, I thought I'd take a quick look to see who the worst offenders were, starting with the state courts.  I figured I'd start with Delaware.

As a state that is proud of its status as a leader as a key forum of choice for corporations, and Delaware has done well for uncorporations, as well, it seemed logical.  The book Why Corporations Choose Delawarewritten by Lewis S. Black, Jr., and printed and distributed by the Delaware Department of State,  Division of Corporation, explains:

Delaware continues to be the favored state of incorporation for U.S. businesses. Delaware has been preeminent as the place for businesses to incorporate since the early 1900s, and its incorporation business, supplemented by the growth in numbers of such “alternative entities” as limited liability companies, limited partnerships and statutory trusts, continues to grow smartly.

And Delaware does have a generally well-informed and skilled judiciary.  Still, even Delaware is not above calling an LLC a "limited liability corporation." Better than many jurisdictions, Westlaw reports that the state had just three cases in 2015 making that error, and no such mistakes were noted after March 2015.  Not ideal, but not bad. 

Here are some other states I reviewed for 2015 (again, using Westlaw): 

  • Michigan: 0
  • Pennsylvania: 3
  • Ohio: 4
  • Florida: 5
  • Nevada: 6
  • California: 7
  • New York: 7
  • Texas: 8

Overall, state courts called LLCs "corporations" 105 times in 2015.  Federal courts did the same 280 times in 2015.  As such, it works out to just over once a day that some U.S. court is making this mistake.  

Big picture, given the number of cases courts see each year, it may seem that these are small numbers. Not really.  A search of federal courts for the term "limited liability company" turns up 2949 cases from 2015, which suggests that around 10% of cases (9.49%) referring to LLCs in some substantive manner made a reference to a "limited liability corporation." NOTE:  If one searches for "LLC," the number of cases exceeds 10,000 for 2015, but I decided that a court taking the time to spell out "limited liability company" suggested that the entity choice had a heightened relevance to the case.

At the state level, the numbers are a little better.  State courts referred to "limited liability companies" 1691 times in 2015. With 105 cases calling an LLC a corporation, that works out to just over 6% of the time.  Not great, but a substantial improvement.  

I admit this is not a scientific review of the data and I am making some assumptions, but the sheers number do, I think, support the notion that all our courts can do better on this issue. And give state courts credit -- although federal courts are often viewed the more prestigious courts, state courts are holding their own on this issue.  Perhaps state courts are a little more careful because entities are generally (though not always) creatures of state law.

This is not, I am sure, just the courts.  I suspect a lot of these errors come from attorneys who call LLCs corporations, then the court just take their lead.  Still not okay, but I can imagine that some courts just follow the lead of those arguing the cases before them on such issues.  

So, for 2016, I issue a challenge to all U.S. courts and the lawyers who practice in them: let's cut these numbers in half!  (I'd like them to go to zero, but one needs to be somewhat realistic, right?)  

January 5, 2016 in Corporations, Delaware, Joshua P. Fershee, Law Firms, LLCs, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, December 25, 2015

BigLaw Strengths

I was a little rough on BigLaw last week, so I want to sing BigLaw’s praises this week. Granted, this post is scheduled for Christmas, so it may be even more lightly read than my previous post.

Students often ask me about BigLaw, and I tell them that if I had to do it over again, I would still start my career in BigLaw. Under the break, I explain why that is true.

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December 25, 2015 in Law Firms, Management | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 18, 2015

Better BigLaw

My co-blogger Marcia Narine shared an article on social media this week entitled Lawyers have lowest health and wellbeing of all professionals, study finds. Sadly, this is not new news. 

Those results, I am afraid, would be even worse if only members of the nation’s largest law firms (a/k/a “BigLaw”) were surveyed. Deborah Rhode (Stanford) talks about some of the problems in BigLaw, described in her book the Trouble with Lawyers

Let’s assume, for the sake of this post, that the executive committee of a large law firm wants to improve employee welfare. What could the committee realistically do to improve employee wellbeing? Part of the low score for lawyers, I imagine, is just the nature of BigLaw, but under the break I make a few suggestions for consideration. 

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December 18, 2015 in Haskell Murray, Law Firms, Management | Permalink | Comments (6)