Friday, July 27, 2012
A really compelling way to convey a lot of important information. I continue to be blown away by the volume of innovation I am seeing, mostly around interconnectivity. (H/T: Greg Voakes at Business Insider)
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
Bill and I (pictured, left*) are both on the program for the Connecticut Law Review's upcoming 2012 symposium, Reform of the Legal Education System for the 21st Century (as is, among others, UNLV Boyd School of Law Interim Dean Nancy Rapoport, who had something to do with getting me invited). This summer, I have had all sorts of fun, including dialogues with a bunch of doctors, consultants, psychologists, students, law professors, and even my wife, while writing this piece.
In a tribute to the late great Marvin Gaye's classic song, the piece, just up on SSRN, is entitled "What's Going On? - The Psychoanalysis Metaphor for Educating Lawyer-Counselors. Here's the abstract.
In this essay prepared for the Connecticut Law Review’s 2012 symposium, Reform of the Legal Education System for the 21st Century, I propose an alternative to the dominant metaphor of “lawyer as warrior” for educating the many lawyers whom clients will seek out as counselors even at early stages in their careers. My preferred metaphor is “lawyer as psychoanalyst” because it invokes the need for lawyer-counselors to understand clients’ idioms and meanings, or more generally “what’s going on” beyond the mere analysis and application of the rules of positive law. Like lawyers, psychoanalysts learn a technical discipline (whether or not either that discipline constitutes a science) but need to apply it non-technically in the process of counseling patients. I consider implications of the metaphor for lawyer-counselors and their education, concluding with some preliminary and modest suggestions about how reflection on the “repressed positivistic” and “courting surprise” might benefit our students in the “what’s going on” aspect of client-centeredness.
Highly therapeutic. Plus it contains highlights like the line "I never met a meta I didn't like," the story of my thinking the firm's "M&A" department was a Southern banking conglomerate, and a description of my recent emergence from the latency period (well, no, not the last and there are no Woody Allen references).
* Just in case there are any doubts, that was a joke. It's not me. It is Sigmund Freud, who has almost nothing to do with my essay other than he invented psychoanalysis and got Karl Popper really annoyed by suggesting it was science. Sort of an analog to what C.C. Langdell did with law.
Here is some welcomed good news for the legal industry--we now have data showing diverse lawyers, within certain large and important legal markets, ascending to law firm partnership in significant numbers. Let me be clear. I am reporting progress here, not perfection. But the progress provides key insights on how to further reduce the partnership diversity gap.
The research, which I just published in the NALP Bulletin (see "Diversity by the Numbers," July 2012), is based on the 2005-06 edition of the NALP Directory of Legal Employers. The NALP Directory is a city-by-city guide for several hundred law firms that participate in the on-campus interview (OCI) process. This information includes a breakdown of lawyers by firm, branch office, title, and race/gender/GLBT status. (See full article for overview data.)
The aggregate-level statistics are not every encouraging--less than 5% of partners at these corporate firms are minority. These are the type of bleak statistics that frame the diversity discussion. Yet, when the data are disaggregated, we see racial subgroup making substantial partnership inroads in specific geographic markets. For African-Americans, it is Atlanta and Washington, DC; for Asians, it is L.A., San Francisco, and Pacific Northwest/Rocky Mountain region; for Hispanics, it is Houston, Dallas, Miami and L.A. Further, these partnerships disproportionately in AmLaw 200 firms.
The map and table below expresses these geographic variations using a location quotient methodology.
(Note: CSA means "Consolidated Statistical Area", a geographic area defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Among other things, CSAs are very large metropolitan area labor markets.)
In the map above, the emphasis on large metropolitan areas is deliberate. Among the 600+ law firm in the 2005-06 Directory, 64.2% of their attorneys worked in the top 10 metropolitan markets; these same markets also accounted for 74.8% of hiring at the NALP firms.
A Location Quotient (LQ) is a tool for identifying relative surpluses or shortages of an economic activity within specific locations. If, for example, the percentage of female partners in New York City is the same as the entire US market, the location quotient for female partners would be 1.00. In fact, the LQ for female partners in New York City is .87. This means that are 13% fewer female parters in New York City relative to the total base of New York City partners. Likewise, the LQ for African American partners in Atlanta is 2.67. This means that there are 167% more African American partners in Atlanta relative to the total Atlanta partnership base. Cells in Yellow are underrepresented by more than 10%; cells in blue are overrepresented by more than 10%.
The implication of this analysis is that significant diversity tends to exist in pockets that follow distinctive demographic patterns. These significant pockets rebut the pessimistic view, held by some, that minority partners lack the skills and ability to be successful in large corporate law firms. Quite the opposite is true -- minority lawyers' willingness to enter a market and persist at a firm is likely influenced by number of people from the same minority group who have ascended to the partner level. If you are a African American lawyer, the wind is at your back in DC or Altanta, but in many branch offices in Dallas, Phoenix or Boston you will be breaking barriers.
This brings up the issue of pipeline, which is a precursor to any hoped for progress on partner diversity.
To look at pipeline-to-partner issues, I created separate regression models to predict the % minority associates within a law office (not the firm as whole). I ran the model separate for African American, Asians, Hispanics, GLBT and females. Each factor below makes an independent contribution to a larger pipeline of diverse associates.
- Geography matters. Diverse associates are disproportionally going to the same market where their same subgroup has been successful becoming partner. African Americans to Atlanta and DC; Asians to the west coast; Hispanics to the major markets in the Southeast and Southwest.
- Large Firms. Large firms are more successful recruiting diverse associates. This could be salary, prestige, recruitng resources.
- Large Offices. Bigger branch offices are more successful. This could be recruiting resources or a more appealing variety of practice areas.
- % of Diverse Partners. This is the critical factor -- for every category, % of partners is associates with higher % of associates. This is independent of size and geography! Further, there is zero crossover effect.
Quoting from the full article, "The takeaway from the above analysis is both simple and frustrating. We would have more African American (or Hispanic or Asian or Female or GLBT) associates if only we had more African-American (or Hispanic or Asian or Female or GLBT) partners. But getting more diverse partners will be slow going until we become better at retaining, rather than just recruiting, diverse associates. The first generation of diverse lawyers will, by definition, not have the benefit of diverse mentors. And in many firms, or at least branch offices, the first generation has not yet arrived."
I am really grateful to NALP for giving me access to this unique dataset. It caused me to think much more deeply on how lawyer development can be used to create greater diversity in the huge number of branch offices where there is no critical mass of diverse partners. It short, it is all about creating a competency model and evaluation system--i.e., a roadmap--that makes the path to partnership more explicit. Why am I bullish on our ability to make progress on partnership diversity? Because these systems simultaneously advance profitability and diversity. The article recounts one such example.
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
With the passage of the Legal Services Act 2007, the UK began the process of liberalizing its market for legal services. The UK legal market and all of legal education is now regulated by the Legal Services Board, which is presided over by a nonlawyer civil servant named Chris Kenney.
The LSB's regulatory objectives are set out in Section 1 of the Act. They include: "(a) protecting and promoting the public interest"; "(c) improving access to justice"; "(d) protecting and promoting the interests of consumers"; "(e) promoting competition in the provision of services within subsection (2)"; and "(g) increasing public understanding of the citizen's legal rights and duties[.]"
One of the fruits of the new LSB regime is this just released empirical study on how British citizens evaluate and make decisions about their own legal needs. In a nutshell, they often go in alone without the benefit of a lawyer. Further, only about 20% of this unmet legal need fall in the domain of "reserved legal activities," which require a licensed legal professional.
Although the report does not come out and says this, the implication of the myriad statistics is that the British consumer market is ripe for commodification through technology and mass distribution channels. When confronted with a legal need, face-to-face counseling with a skilled professional may be the ideal, but that is far from the reality for most British citizens.
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Monday, July 16, 2012
That is the title of a just-posted essay by Catherine Rampell at the NY Times Economix Blog. She studies several years of the bi-modal distribution. It is refreshing to have a capable journalist review the data and marvel at the strange ways of our industry.
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Sunday, July 15, 2012
I created the graphic below to depict the shrinking right mode of the bi-modal distribution since its 2007 high water mark (measured in February 2008).
[Note: The difference between the mean and adjusted mean in the 2011 distribution is due to the fact that law grads who fail to report their salaries tend to have have less lucrative employment; so NALP makes a prudent statistical correction --basically a weighted average based on practice settings.]
From a labor market perspective, the class of 2007 entry level salary distribution was extraordinary and anomalous. Why? Because we can safely assume that legal ability, however it might be defined, is normally distributed, not bi-modal. So when such a distribution appears in a real labor market, something is significantly out of kilter.
Why did the entry level market become bi-modal? As the legal economy boomed from the mid-90s through the mid-00s, many large law firms (NLJ 250, AmLaw 200) were trying to make the jump from regional dominant brands to national law firms. For decades, going back to the early to mid-20th century, these firms followed a simple formula: hire the best and brightest from the nation's elite law schools. As they continued to enjoy growth, they reflexively followed that same formula. Yet, by 2000s, the demand for elite law graduates finally outstripped supply.
This micro-level logic ("let's not tinker with our business model") produced a macro-level bidding war. This is how the right mode came to be. Yet, because it was a macro-level phenomenon, clients, led by industry groups such as the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), reacted by saying, "Don't put any junior level lawyers on my matters --they are overpriced." Outsourcing and e-discovery vendors have also eaten into the work that used to go to entry level lawyers. So the volume of BigLaw hiring has collapsed, hence the melting of the right mode. For a more detailed overview, see NALP, Salary Distribution Curve.
Long Term Structural Change in Big Law
That said, it is not just the entry level market that is under stress -- the fundamental economics of Big Law are also changing. Consider the chart below (from Henderson, Rise and Fall, Am Law June 2012), which shows that revenues per lawyer at AmLaw 100 firms has gone flat and moved sideways since 2007, breaking a pattern of steady growth that dates back to the pre-Am Law 100 days.
Stagnant revenue is a source of enormous worry for law firm managers. Without higher profits to distribute--and growing the top line is the usual profitability fomula--their biggest producers might leave, causing a run on the bank ala Dewey, Howrey, Wolf Block, etc. So the dominant strategy now has nothing to do with entry level hiring. Rather, the goal is to keep and acquire lateral partners with portable books of business. After all, clients aren't protesting the value of most senior level lawyers. And seniors lawyers are plentiful, thanks to the excellent health of baby boom lawyers and the poor health of their retirement accounts.
This strategy may work fine for this fiscal year, but over the middle to long term, BigLaw is going to get older and dumber. Further, this dynamic produces substantial ripple effects on legal education -- albeit ripple effects that feel like tremors.
The long term solution -- for both law firms and law schools -- is for the price of entry level talent to come down to the point where young lawyers are more cost-effective to train. And that price point is not $160,000. This inflated pay scale (which has supported ever higher tuitions at law schools) only persists because large firms are deathly afraid of adjusting their salary scales and being labeled second rate. So the solution is keep the entry pay high but hire very few law school graduates. This is not a farsighted or innovative business strategy.
It's been 100 years since law firms engaged in sophisticated business thinking. And that last great idea was the Cravath System, which was method of workplace organization that performed expert client work while simultaneously developing more and better human capital. See Henderson, Three Generations of Lawyers: Generalista, Specialists, Project Managers. According to the Cravath Swaine & Moore firm history, published in 1948, the whole point of the Cravath System was to make "a better lawyer faster."
I think the next great model for a legal service organization (law firm may not be the right term) likewise will be based on the idea that there is a large return to be had by investing in young lawyers. As my friend Paul Lippe likes to say, "When it appears, it will look obvious."
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Friday, July 13, 2012
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
I've been reflecting this summer on the student evaluations from my evening first-year contracts class, and the creation of learning environments. Here's what the data tells me. In my upper-level classes (securities regulation and unincorporated business entities), I get numerical evaluations that are substantially above the school's mean scores. In my contracts class, however, the scores are below the mean, reflecting what I think is a fairly bi-modal distribution.
There are lots of nice comments, but the negative ones about which I am most concerned are that I am not sufficiently kind to many student questions or discussion that I think are going to lead nowhere helpful. (To be fair to myself, there are also students who are happy that I do this.) My reasoned conclusion is that the upper-level classes are significantly more self-selecting. The students who stay long enough to fill out evaluations like my style. The first-year students have no choice in the matter.
I had already come up with a technical solution for next year. I decided that I would institute a "question period" at the end of each class, and what I would call (taking a cue from something we used in the corporate world) the "parking lot" - i.e., interesting question or comments, but "may we place that in the parking lot so as not to lose the thread we are on now?"
Then I watched a movie the other night that my riding instructor, Nadine DeYoung, of Torch Valley
Farms in Ellsworth, Michigan (right), recommended to me. Those of you who are already sick of my ad nauseam horseback riding learning metaphors can stop here, but it's my most intense ongoing learning experience, and it's hard not to see the application when I'm on the other side of the figurative podium.
The movie is Buck, a documentary that won the Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Festival. It is about Buck Brannaman, who was the technical adviser on Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer. Brannaman tours the country teaching his particular method of horsemanship. I won't try to say much more about it, except that it is an inspirational story of someone who survived his own abusive father and appears, by sheer act of will, to have overcome blame. He has a dual commitment to excellence and learning that, it seems to me, can only arise from both an unshakeable confidence and a concomitant humility.
I was awed by his technical riding and roping skills (he can rope a horse's back leg), but the law professor teaching insight I took from the film is that the solution to my issue is not merely technical. There's a question of "feel" in both riding and teaching, and acquiring the feel is a matter of doing, not thinking. (I should add that Nadine's best and most effective teaching statement to me this summer has been: "Your problem is that you think too much and get in your own way. Stop thinking.")
The scene I recommend to every teacher is the one in which Brannaman demonstrates to riders what it feels like to the horse to be yanked on with the reins and the bit. The rider stands on the ground , holding the rope in front of him as though he were the horse. Brannaman stands next to him, holding the ends of the rope as though they were reins. Then he jerks them a couple times and the rider flinches. After a couple instances of this, Brannaman only needs to move his hands (not the rope) to make the rider flinch.
The lesson is that horses, who are a lot dumber than humans (in some ways), learn to fear the very tools that the trainer is using as the means of teaching. (A piece of wisdom from another of my trainers, Alyce McNeil, at Verrill Farm Stable in Concord, Massachusetts, along the same lines, when talking about a horse that bites while getting tacked up: "We don't get bad horses; we make them.") It doesn't mean being a spineless wimp either: Brannaman's motto is "Gentle in what you do; firm in how you do it."
The non-technical or "affective" lesson is that students (horses and humans) are not objects, but subjects. There needs to be an empathetic "aha" moment of "otherness" even to understand that there's a problem in the first place. Some students, like some horses, don't mind you jerking on the reins. But some do, and the question is whether that means something.
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
The Yale Law School's announcement that it will award a Ph.D. in Law has agitated electrons around the blogosphere, provoking approval, disdain, speculation, and derision. My view is closest to Dan Filler's "meh."
The following, as rationale for the program, strikes me as a view of the legal academy that assumes Yale and its equivalents are at the center and everything revolves around them:
“It’s becoming increasingly hard to transition directly from law practice to teaching,” [Dean Bob Post] said. He explained that to secure entry-level appointments at law schools, candidates are now expected to present a relatively mature scholarly profile; they need a defined research agenda and a substantial portfolio of writing.
It's probably fair to expect that Yale won't be the only school offering a Ph.D. in law, but my guess is that it's not going to change the landscape or the contours of the "Failing Law Schools" debate (of which Brian Tamanaha's book is the most thorough catalog) too much.
This is hardly a scientific study, but I just scrolled down part of the first column of the Stanford Law School faculty directory, and the law degrees (J.D. and otherwise) read something like: Berkeley, Yale, Yale, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Northwestern, Chicago, Yale, Harvard, Yale, Yale, Northwestern, Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley. Somehow I don't see the Yale Ph.D. in Law causing a seismic shift at Stanford or its peers.
Nor do I see a big trend toward Yale Ph.D.s in Law doing a lot of teaching of civ pro at fourth tier schools.
Nor do I see enough volume, given the time commitment, to having a significant impact on the supply of entry-level law professors at mid-range schools. There are 800-1,000 FAR entries a year, and 100-150 new hires a year. How many of those 100-150 are going to be taken by candidates who wouldn't otherwise be in the pool? Indeed, my guess is that, if anything, the program[s] will cannibalize other Ph.D. programs, and perhaps a few of the existing VAP programs or other paths to the legal professoriat. (That's a supply-side analysis. On the demand side, were I the dean of a non-elite school, I'd be wary of having a faculty dominated by Ph.D.s in Law in terms of intellectual diversity and for its effect on my relationships with other constituencies, like the alumni base.)
The real question, it seems to me, is whether this portends the Great Schism, the differentiated legal education system - "research-oriented law schools [co-existing] alongside law schools that focus on training good lawyers at a reasonable cost" - that Brian Tamanaha advocates. (Failing Law Schools, pp. 172-76.)
Again, call me a skeptic. Apart from issues of pure contraction (i.e., schools get smaller, by hook, crook, implosion, or design), the vast majority of non-elite but solid schools won't have the luxury either of being the Department of Legal Studies populated by Yale Ph.D.s or bare bones practitioner training centers.
As I have argued in the past, those middle-range schools are going to have to find a way to accommodate the scholarly career path of the faculty with the desire of the overwhelming majority of students and alums for practical professional training. Which means that faculty members (as I believe most do now) will have to be committed to both scholarly thinking and first-rate teaching, even if they do not always overlap. And academic leadership will have to be committed to articulating to non-academic constituencies both the nature of a legal academic career and why it can live in harmony (even if not complete overlap) with the obligations of a professional school instructor.
Sunday, July 8, 2012
The Big Think just posted a wonderful video of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who describes himself as a "complicated Marxist" because he holds in his mind simultaneously the virtues of individual capitalists with the problems of domination and inequality that are endemic to the capitalist system.
I am posting the Zizek interview here because many of the problems currently afflicting legal education and the legal industry that I write about here are, more formidably, mere symptoms of broader problems that flow from a rapidly globalizing world economy--a topic so complex that we seldom acknowledge it. That said, Frank Pasquale, in a post called "Jobless Futures," does an admirable job of cataloging our collective confusion.
Zizek suggests that the solution to engage in serious thinking rather than misguided, ill-conceived activism. Ah, now this should be the competitive advantage of a university-based graduate-level law degree--in addition to practical lawyering skills, we should be practicing with our students the science and art of critical thinking. The best lawyers sidestep ideology and can think through issues on par with Zizek, whom we don't have to wholly agree with to admire.
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Thursday, July 5, 2012
This is a simple question of great practical importance to many law schools, yet very few law school administrators understand how to answer it. Who would have thought that clarity would be supplied free-of-charge by an underemployed recent law school graduate?
But that is what is happening now, in "Tough Choices Ahead for Some High-Ranked Law Schools," an Am Law Daily essay written by Matt Leichter, one of the silver linings of the declining legal job market -- and there aren't too many. Matt is a J.D.-M.A. in law and international affairs from Marquette University who passed the New York bar in 2008, finished his masters work in 2009, and then moved to the Big Apple as the bottom was falling out of the entry level market. Unable to find conventional legal employment, Matt started doing freelance writing on law-related topics.
With plenty of time on his hands, Matt turned his graduate-level quantitative skills to the task of analyzing a law school education market that seemed unsustainable. Matt first put his analyses on display at the Law School Tuition Bubble. His writings eventually attracted the attention of The American Lawyer, which has now published several of his data-driven essays.
Here is what sets Matt apart.
- He digs very deep for facts and, in turn, uses one of his biggest asset --time -- to build datasets that answer important and relevant questions
- He is non-ideological. Just facts and factual analysis.
- He writes about complex technical stuff in an accessible, credible way
Matt has all the core skills of a truly great lawyer. Finding no takers, the entire legal education establishment benefits by Matt channeling his time, energy, and considerable intellect into relevant topics crying out for dispassionate analysis.
His "Tough Choices" essay is a real gem. Here is the bottomline: This year's applicant cycle likely will deliver its greatest blow to US News Tier 1 schools who generally admit students who were angling to get into even higher ranked schools. This inference can be teased out of the ratio of applicants to offers (selectivity), and offers to matriculants (yield).
To conduct this analysis, Matt had to cull data, school-by-school, from several years of the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to Law Schools (aka "the Phonebook"). But it enables him to produce the chart below:
What this chart says is that admissions officers have to read more applications and make more offers to fill their entering classes. Based on the data in Matt's chart, in 2004, for all ABA-accredited law schools, there was a 24% acceptance rate, and a 31% yield from those offers. In 2010, the acceptance rate went up to 31% (schools were being less selective) and the yield went down to 25% (fewer showed up to enroll).
Applicant volume may be declining, but the trends above suggest that there is a lot more "competitive shopping" going on. Why? Because information costs are going down and prospective students are adapting. And this year is bound to be the most aggressive year ever. According to this NLJ story, It's a Buyers' Market for Law School, virtually every student is now negotiating for scholarship money.
Declining applicant volume, shifting yields, and highly informed consumers make it very difficult for law school administrators to lock in their LSAT and UGPA numbers, which schools generally fixate on because of U.S. News ranking. This produces pain in one of three ways:
- The school shrinks the entering class (announced by at least 10 schools), which severely tightens the budget
- The school buys its class through financial aid, which blows a hole in the budget (happening here)
- The school significantly relaxes the LSAT and UGPA and braces for a drop in the rankings because its peers are pursuing strategies #1 or #2.
#1 and #2 may seem like the prudent course, but a central university won't (more likely can't) provide a financial backstop for more than a year or two, if that. If the admissions environment does not change dramatically, which seems unlikely, some combination of layoffs, rankings drop, or closures will have to be put on the table.
Matt's ingenuity is on full display when he demonstrates, with data, the profile of the most vulnerable schools -- and its a far cry from the bottom portion of the U.S. News rankings.
- Low accept/high yield (think Yale and Stanford) are safe.
- High accept/high yield are also fine. They are nonprestigious but have strong regional niches or missions. Tier 3 or 4 designation means nothing.
- Low accept/low yield crowd -- a bunch of Tier 1 schools -- are vulnerable to significant rankings volatility. If they drop, next year's applicant volume will be affected, making it very difficult to rebound.
- High accept/low yield are the most likely to close.
Until August and September, when the wait lists finally clear, nobody really know the depth of market shift. Only then can the budget holes be finalized. Deans will then have candid conversations with their central administrations to answer the question, "Is this downward trend permanent?"
[posted by Bill Henderson]
Monday, July 2, 2012
Two years ago, I got a call from Jack Crittenden, the editor-in-chief of The National Jurist, a publication targeted at law students. Jack asked me if I would be interested in writing a column for the magazine.
After thinking over the offer, I concluded that it would be a good way to "diversify" my intellectual capital. Many of my ideas are outside the legal academic mainstream and are critical of the status quo. Yet, I reasoned that law students would be one group more inclined to give me a fair hearing. Why? Because in 2010, as in 2012, a disproportionate number of students were/are getting shortchanged by a miserable job market. When the status quo closes its door on you, the mind naturally becomes open to new ways of viewing the world. Further, regardless of the current job market, for the next 20 years the influence of this generation of law students will only grow.
So I accepted Jack's offer and started writing. I will be eternally grateful to Jack for making me that offer (and eternally grateful for tenure, which provides the platform for the long term and the unorthodox).
When I started writing the National Jurist columns, I never quite knew how they would end. In an attempt to break down the distance between the student and the professor, I recounted some of my own (inglorious) law school experiences. Unconstrained by form, I just wrote what was honestly on my mind to an audience I really cared about. It was refreshing, that's for sure, but much to my surprise, these essays seemed to boil down my academic ideas into something useful and practical. The emails I started receiving from students suggested that I was making progress.
Ironically, the National Jurist writings are now influencing my academic work, including several essays I am writing this summer on legal education and the legal industry. Yet, the true virtue of those essays may be their brevity. So, in case you are curious about the subversive ideas I am passing along to our youth, with Jack's permission, I am republishing several of these essays on the Legal Whiteboard.
- The Inferiority Complex of Law Schools (Mar 2012) [original PDF]. Suggests that we law professors are plagued by a century-old inferiority complex that obstructs our ability to be effective educators.
- Is a Great Lawyer Made or Born? (Jan 2012) [original PDF]. Provides some science-based clues for why some lawyers fail and others succeed.
- Seduced by Legal Brands (Sept 2011) [original PDF]. Relates the very moment in my legal career when I became a skeptic of brand-name law schools and law firms.
- The Client-Focused Lawyer (Jan 2011) [original PDF]. Discusses the disconnect between law school classes and the skills needed to become a successful lawyer.
[posted by Bill Henderson]
[by Bill Henderson, originally published in The National Jurist, January 2011 (PDF)]
Over the last three years, the majority of my research has focused on lawyer competencies, or what I prefer to call lawyer success factors. This research has fundamentally changed my perceptions of legal education, primarily because the majority of success factors are not taught, assessed, or measured during law school. It is not that we law professors are deliberating ignoring something important. Rather, we are not even aware that something beyond legal knowledge and technical skills are necessary for success.
Based upon my own observation, and a fair amount of time sifting through data, I think the single best predictor of both success and satisfaction as a lawyer is the ability to become truly client focused. Unfortunately, this client-focused mindset is completely absence in the large law school classes that are the core of the law school curriculum.
[by Bill Henderson, originally published in The National Jurist, September 2011 (PDF)]
Every year as the on-campus interview process gears up, another class of high performing law students fret over their chances of getting an offer from a cadre of firms that, a year earlier, they had never heard of. The thought process goes something like this. “Oh, these types of firms pay a lot of money. And among these firms, some are harder to get hired at than others – they are more prestigious. If I can land a job at one of these firms, the entire legal world will know that I am smart. That would feel great. And I can quickly pay off my student loans and keep my options open.”
Money and peer pressure are a potent mix. They make it virtually impossible to remember the original reason for applying to law school.
During the dot.com bubble of the late 1990s, I was a student at the University of Chicago Law School. In the classroom, I was deeply intimidated by my classmates. But as we ploughed through the OCI process, I was astonished to see my fellow students anguishing over Skadden versus Latham. Or gnashing their teeth that they might have missed the Chicago grade cutoff for Gibson Dunn. Weren’t these firms more alike than they were different? And what made them so great beside the relative difficulty of securing a callback?
The prevailing analysis during OCI seemed shallow and bereft of reliable facts. We were taking our cues from each other. Yet, I could sense my own irrational desire to compete and win. I wish I could say that I was smarter than my classmates. But that’s not true. I was just older, and life had already thrown water on my face.
[By Bill Henderson, originally published in The National Jurist, January 2012 (PDF)]
Many law students spend their 1L year fearing that they might be the admissions mistake. I was one of them. The only feedback is what can be gleaned from the professor-student dialogue. In turn, everyone uses this information (if you can call it that) to handicap their likelihood of making law review or otherwise getting the grades needed to get the most coveted jobs. The whole process seems very binary: Am I smart enough to be a successful lawyer, yes or no?
When I became a law professor, my research on law firms and legal education eventually brought me to the topic of lawyer success. I started collecting examples of lawyers with sterling credentials who failed to develop a significant practice; and those with less impressive pedigree who ended up becoming go-to experts and indispensible lynchpins of their organizations. What explained these divergent outcomes?
The research of Carolyn Dweck, a cognitive psychologist at Stanford University, provides some important insights to this question. Before delving into these insights, however, ask yourself whether the following statement is true: “A lawyer’s skill set is determined primarily by innate ability—you either have enough or you don’t.”
[by Bill Henderson, originally published in The National Jurist, March 2012 (PDF)]
For over a century, law schools have suffered from an inferiority complex. We have masked it well, but its consequences are finally coming home to roost. Like most psychological conditions, our lives will be much better and healthier when we deal with its root cause. Further, when law students understand this history, they will better understand the changing nature of the legal economy. They can even help law schools with the cure.
In 1918, the renowned economist Thorstein Veblen famously quipped, “the law school belongs in the modern university no more than a school of fencing or dancing.”
Veblen, like many of his academic colleagues, believed that universities should be citadels for science-based learning and the production of knowledge. Law, in contrast, was a trade. Indeed, in the early 1900s, a substantial portion of the practicing bar had obtained their skill and knowledge through office apprenticeships. When law schools did begin to appear, they were just as likely to be proprietary law schools operating out of a local YMCA than to be part of an established university.
Despite the skepticism of the academic class, there were a host of practical reasons for universities to create (or, in some cases, acquire) a law school. First, the law was the primary occupation for many elected officials, which held out the prospect of reflected glory. (Veblen recognized this motivation, which compounded his worry.) Second, a handful of law schools at prestigious universities had begun adopting the so-called case method, which purported to find objective legal rules and principles akin to a scientist working in a laboratory. The perceived rigor of the case method provided at least a veneer of science. Third, with their large lecture halls filled with tuition-paying law students, law schools made money.