Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Oncoming Locomotive of Interdisciplinarity

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Bill and I have already posted separately (here and here) about our mutual sense that the traditional disciplinary walls of the profession are crumbling, not just in terms of regulatory aspects like multi-disciplinary practices, but in terms of the integration of legal expertise with other aspects of enterprise, policy, mediation, and the like.  (Nothing like a blog to flog your own work  - blog flog? - but I've written about this in The Venn Diagram of Business Lawyering Judgments:  Toward a Theory of Practical Metadisciplinarity.) 

Slide1In that continuing vein, the Wall Street Journal has a story this morning about school administrators and corporate recruiters rethinking the value of an undergraduate business major.  "The biggest complaint:  The undergraduate degrees focus too much on the nuts and bolts of finance and accounting and don'tdevelop enough critical thinking and problem-solving skills through long essays, in-class debates and other hallmarks of liberal education."  I want to make it clear I understand this is about undergraduate education, and not a professional school in which students are investing (or leveraging with debt) another $100,000 to $200,000.  But it's the directional thrust about disciplines that I think we need to take very, very seriously.  Clearly we have an obligation for teaching professional depth.  But the following statements, I'm assuming well-reported even if anecdotal, say something about the need for professional breadth:

- "Companies say they need flexible thinkers with innovative ideas and a broad knowledge base derived from multiple disciplines."

- "William Sullivan ... says the divide between business and liberal-arts offerings, however unintentional, has hurt students, who see their business instruction as 'isolated' from other disciplines."

- "[B]usiness schools ... are tweaking their undergraduate business curricula in an attempt to better integrate lessons on history, ethics and writing into courses about finance and marketing."

- "Doug Guthrie, dean of the George Washington University School of Business, is planning to draw on expertise in the university's psychology and philosophy departments to teach business ethics and he'll seek help from the engineering problem to address sustainability."

- "Firms are looking for talents, they're not looking for content knowledge, per se."

If there's general consensus that the third year of law school needs overhauling (and maybe the second year as well), and if we are thinking about all the things that people with law degrees might do other than the traditional activity "before the bar," this is food for thought in the design of all those skills courses, clinics, simulations, and practica.  

[Cross-posted at Legal Profession Blog.]

April 5, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Job Outlook for Lawyers: Projections from the BLS

Recently released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics provide more evidence that the legal job market for graduates will be extremely difficult for the next several years.   The data come from the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, which is updated annually.  Below is a BLS bar chart* comparing growth in lawyer jobs versus other legal sector jobs versus the economy as a whole:Bls_data

According to the BLS, there were 728,200 lawyer jobs in the U.S. in 2010.  By 2020, that number will grow to 801,800, producing a gain of 73,600. Currently, law schools average approximately 45,000 graduates per year, albeit entering classes have been trending upwards.  The BLS Handbook states:

[G]rowth in demand for lawyers will be constrained as businesses increasingly use large accounting firms and paralegals to do some of the same tasks that lawyers do. For example, accounting firms may provide employee-benefit counseling, process documents, or handle various other services that law firms previously handled. ... 

Competition [for lawyer jobs] should continue to be strong because more students are graduating from law school each year than there are jobs available. ...

The public debate often talks about the surplus of lawyers as if the hand of a regulator could or should turn down the spigot on entry level lawyers.  Yet, no such spigot exists.  Overproduction is primarily a function of optimism and the availability of federal loans.  Over the medium to longer term, I see three possible ways -- all mutually compatible  -- to unwind lawyer overproduction:

  1. The Dept of Education looks at the proportion of law students on Income-Based Repayment, reads the BLS projections, and in turn curtails federal funding for law student loans;
  2. The new ABA transparency criteria sends some schools into a "death spiral", see NY Times story on falling law school applications; or
  3. Law schools focus on making their degrees more versatile and valuable so graduates become more competitive for professional jobs outside traditional legal services (traditional legal services has its own structural issues at the moment).  

#3 is the only factor in the control of law faculty, albeit it calls for something radical -- change in what we do and how we do it.  Call me crazy, but I think #3 is actually a huge opportunity for a law school with the right leadership and the right mix of faculty.  I am currently in the process of sketching out a blueprint anyone will be free to use or make fun of.

* The chart splices together BLS lawyers and paralegals/legal assistants.  It is interesting to note that nonlawyers jobs are projected to grow nearly twice as fast as lawyers.  I doubt this trend would be obvious to those of us in the academy; the magnitude of the difference surprised me, though it makes sense.  According to the BLS, paralegals only make $46,700 per year -- much cheaper than a junior lawyer and no expectations of a promotion.

[posted by Bill Henderson]

April 2, 2012 in Data on the profession, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (5)

Playing to One's Strengths

[For reasons discussed below, my good friend Andy Morriss is taking emeritus status on the Legal Whiteboard.  Nonetheless, as noted in post #1, he will always remain a deep source of inspiration, at least for me.  Below is Andy's final LWB post as a regular co-editor.  wdh.]

As an economist, I think comparative advantage is a critically important concept for understanding the world. After trying this format for a bit, I've figured out it isn't mine - so I'm signing off and leaving this to Bill and Jeff. Both are writing thoughtful and thought-provoking stuff.  That requires time and effort. Both are (or appear to be) naturals at this format, so perhaps it is easier than it looks for them to do that. But it still represents a major commitment to do well.

It became clear that this wasn't for me recently for two reasons. First, there are interesting folks doing important work in this area - I just spent time at a conference this weekend with John McGinnis of Northwestern, whose WSJ op-ed with Russell Manges, is one of the more significant pieces on reforming legal education. After having some interesting discussions with John - and a fascinating weekend digging into Harold Berman's Law and Revolution II which itself raises some quite important questions about legal education's content and the impact of that content on a lot of things -  I find I am more interested in finding out what people like John think about legal education than writing about it and more interested in thinking about how the ideas in Berman's work ought to affect my teaching than writing about that.

Second, looking at Bill's and Jeff's excellent posts made me realize how tentative my own thoughts on the subject are. Which leads me to the realization that I simply don't have enough interesting to say to say it to the world. 

So I discovered that blogging about legal education is neither my strength or my interest. Given the opportunity to spend time writing a blog post or to read something related to my teaching and research interests, I find I'd rather do the latter. If it seems like a chore, it is pretty clear it is not for me. 

There are some really great law professor bloggers. Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit is truly indispensible; the Volokh Conspiracy (esp. my former CWRU colleague Jonathan Adler) has set the bar high for substantive law blogging; Paul Caron is called the Blogfather for good reason; the late Larry Ribstein wrote blog posts more substantial than most law review articles, and there are quite a few more. I suspect Bill and Jeff will make this an interesting place as well as our industry changes. All of these folks are really good at this format. This experience helped me figure out that I'm not. That's valuable knowledge! Thanks to Bill for his kind words at the start of this; good luck to both Bill and Jeff as they move forward.

[posted by Andy Morriss, signing off and taking emeritus status]

April 2, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

ABA Replaces "Outcome Measures" With "Income Measures"

CHICAGO, Apr. 1, 2012.  Faced with law school faculty resistance to the "outcome measures" proposed in the July 27, 2008 committee report commissioned by the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, the ABA issued a report this morning that it has scrapped "outcome measures" in favor of "income measures."  ABA spokesman Carl Spackler said, "We have spent almost four years coming to the conclusion that the only outcome that makes any difference is income.  We realized that nobody complained in any significant way about legal education or the profession until the financial crisis sent shockwaves through the economy, and made pursuing a legal career a far riskier endeavor.  Beginning with the matriculating class of 2013, law schools will be required to track four-year, ten-year, and twenty-year incomes of its graduates."  Asked whether this constituted an irresponsible abandonment of its stewardship over the profession, Spackler responded, "Look, law school has become an extension of a liberal education.  If you are flipping burgers, but making a good living and paying back your loans, we've fulfilled our obligation to you."

Robert Morse of U.S. News & Report said that the magazine was reviewing this development in connection with its highly influential rankings of American law schools.  "I'll have to see how they plan to collect the data," said Morse, "but it sounds a hell of a lot more reliable than subjective faculty reputation surveys."

April 1, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0)