Monday, March 17, 2014

A Counterpoint to "The most robust legal market that ever existed in this country"

There is a line in Professor Reich-Graefe's recent essay, Keep Calm and Carry On, 27 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 55 (2014), that is attracting a lot of interest among lawyers, law students, and legal academics: 

[R]ecent law school graduates and current and future law students are standing at the threshold of the most robust legal market that ever existed in this country—a legal market which will grow, exist for, and coincide with, their entire professional career.

This hopeful prediction is based on various trendlines, such as impending lawyer retirements, a massive intergenerational transfer of wealth that will take place over the coming decades, continued population growth, and the growing complexity of law and legal regulation.

Although I am bullish on future growth and dynamism in the legal industry, and I don't dispute the accuracy or relevance of any of the trendlines cited by Reich-Graefe, I think his primary prescriptive advice -- in essence, our problems will be cured with the passage of time -- is naive and potentially dangerous to those who follow it.

The Artisan Lawyer Cannot Keep Up

The primary defect in Reich-Graefe's analysis is that it is a one-sided argument that stacks up all impending positive trendlines without taking into account the substantial evidence that the artisan model of lawyering -- one-to-one consultative legal services that are tailored to the needs of individual clients -- is breaking down as a viable service delivery model.  

Lawyers serve two principal constituencies--individuals and organizations.  This is the Heinz-Laumann "Two-Hemisphere" theory that emerged from the Chicago Lawyers I and II studies.  See Heinz et al, Urban Lawyers (2005). The breakdown in the artisan model can be observed in both hemispheres.

  1. People.  Public defenders are understaffed, legal aid is overwhelmed, and courts are glutted with pro se litigants.  Remarkably, at the same time, record numbers of law school graduates are either unemployed or underemployed.  Why?  Because most poor and middle-class Americans cannot afford to buy several hours of a lawyer's time to solve their legal problems.  
  2. Organizations.  The most affluent organizations, multinational corporations, are also balking at the price of legal services.  As a result, foreign labor, technology, process, or some combination thereof has become a replacement for relatively expensive and unskilled junior lawyers.

The primary driver of this structural shift is the relentless growth in legal complexity.  This increase in complexity arises from many sources, including globalization, technology, digitally stored information, and the sheer size and scope of multinational companies. 

But here is a crucial point:  the complexity itself is not new, only its relative magnitude.  A century ago, as the modern industrial and administrative state was beginning to take shape, lawyers responded by organizing themselves into law firms.  The advent of law firms enabled lawyers to specialize and thus more cost-effectively tackle the more complex legal problems. Further, the diffusion of the partner-associate training model (sometimes referred to as the Cravath system) enabled firms to create more specialized human capital, which put them in an ideal position to benefit from the massive surge in demand for legal services that occurred throughout the 20th century.  See Henderson, Three Generations of Lawyers: Generalists, Specialists, Project Managers, 70 Maryland L Rev 373 (2011). 

The legal industry is at the point where it is no longer cost effective to deal with this growing complexity with ever larger armies of artisan-trained lawyers.  The key phrase here is cost effective.  Law firms are ready and willing to do the work.  But increasingly, clients are looking for credible substitutes on both the cost and quality fronts. Think car versus carriage, furnace versus chimney sweep, municipal water system versus a well.  A similar paradigm shift is now gaining momentum in law.

The New Legal Economy

I have generated the graph below as a way to show the relationship between economic growth, which is the engine of U.S. and world economies, and the legal complexity that accompanies it.

Complexity
This chart can be broken down into three phases.

1. Rise of the law firm. From the early twentieth century to the early 1980s, the increasing complexity of law could be capability handled by additional law firm growth and specialization. Hire more junior lawyers, promote the best ones partner, lease more office space, repeat.  The complexity line has a clear bend it in.  But for most lawyers, the change is/was very gradual and feels/felt like a simple linear progression.  Hence, there was little urgency about the need for new methods of production.

2. Higher law firm profits. Over the last few decades, the complexity of law outpaced overall economic growth.  However, because the change was gradual, law firms, particularly those with brand names, enjoyed enough market power to perennially increase billing rates without significantly improving service offerings.  Corporate clients paid because the economic benefits of the legal work outweighed the higher costs.  Lower and middle class individuals, in contrast, bought fewer legal services because they could not afford them. But as a profession, we barely noticed, primarily because the corporate market was booming. See Henderson, Letting Go of Old Ideas, 114 Mich L Rev 101 (2014).

3. Search for substitutes.  Laws firms are feeling discomfort these days because the old formula -- hire, promote, lease more space, increase rates, repeat -- is no longer working.  This is because clients are increasingly open to alternative methods of solving legal problems, and the higher profits of the last few decades have attracted new entrants.  These alternatives are some combination of better, faster, and cheaper.   But what they all share in common is a greater reliance on technology, process, and data, which are all modes of problemsolving that are not within the training or tradition of lawyers or legal educators.  So the way forward is profoundly interdisciplinary, requiring collaboration with information technologists, systems engineers, project managers, data analysts, and experts in marketing and finance.

Why is this framework potentially difficult for many lawyers, law firms, and legal educators to accept?  Probably because it requires us to cope with uncertainties related to income and status.  This reluctance to accept an unpleasant message creates an appetite for analyses that say "keep calm and carry on."  This is arguably good advice to the British citizenry headed into war (the origin of the saying) but bad advice to members of a legal guild who need to adapt to changing economic conditions.

There is a tremendous silver lining in this analysis.  Law is a profoundly critical component of the globalized, interconnected, and highly regulated world we are entering.  Lawyers, law firms, and legal educators who adapt to these changing conditions are going to be in high demand and will likely prosper economically.  Further, at an institutional level, there is also the potential for new hierarchies to emerge that will rival and eventually supplant the old guard.

Examples

Logo-kcuraOne of the virtues of lawyers is that we demand examples before we believe something to be true.  This skepticism has benefited many a client.  A good example of the emerging legal economy is the Available Positions webpage for kCura, which is a software company that focuses exclusively on the legal industry. 

The current legal job market is terrible, right?  Perhaps for entry-level artisan-trained lawyers.  But at kCura, business is booming. Founded in 2001, the company now employs over 370+ workers and has openings for over 40 full-time professional positions, the majority of which are in Chicago at the company's LaSalle Street headquarters.  Very few of these jobs require a law degree -- yet the output of the company enables lawyers to do their work faster and more accurately.  

What are the jobs?

  • API Technical Writer [API = Application Programming Interface]
  • Big Data Architect - Software Engineering
  • Business Analyst
  • Enterprise Account Manager
  • Group Product Manager
  • Litigation Support Advice Analyst
  • Manager - Software Engineering
  • Marketing Associate
  • Marketing Specialist -- Communications
  • Marketing Specialist -- Corporate Communications and Social Media
  • Product Manager -- Software and Applications Development
  • QA Software Engineer -- Performance [QA = Quality Assurance]
  • Scrum Team Coordinator [Scrum is a team-based software development methodology]
  • Senior SalesForce Administrator 
  • Software Engineer (one in Chicago, another in Portland)
  • Software Engineer (Front-End Developer) [Front-End = what the client sees]
  • Software Engineer in Test [Test = finds and fixes software bugs]
  • Technical Architect
  • Technical Architect - Security
  • VP of Product Development and Engineering

kCura operates exclusively within the legal industry, yet it has all the hallmarks of a great technology company. In the last few years it has racked up numerous awards based on the quality of its products, its stellar growth rate, and the workplace quality of life enjoyed by its employees.

KCuraawards

That is just what is happening at kCura.  There are many other companies positioning themselves to take advantage of the growth opportunities in legal, albeit none of them bear any resemblance to traditional law firms or legal employers.

LexRedux-Eventbrite-headerIn early February, I attended a meeting in New York City of LexRedux, which is comprised of entrepreneurs working in the legal start-up space.  In a 2008 essay entitled "Legal Barriers to Innovation," Professor Gillian Hadfield queried, "Where are the 'garage guys' in law?"  Well, we now know they exist.  At LexRedux, roughly 100 people working in the legal tech start-up space were jammed into a large open room in SoHo as a small group of angel investors and venture capitalists fielded questions on a wide range of topics related to operations, sales, and venture funding.

According to Angel's List, there are as of this writing 434 companies identified as legal start-ups that have received outside capital.  According to LexRedux founder Josh Kubicki, the legal sector took in $458M in start-up funding in 2013, up from essentially zero in 2008.  See Kubicki, 2013 was a Big Year for Legal Startups; 2014 Could Be Bigger, Tech Cocktail, Feb 14, 2014.

The legal tech sector is starting to take shape.  Why?  Because the imperfections and inefficiencies inherent in the artisan model create a tremendous economic opportunity for new entrants.  For a long period of time, many commentators believed that this type of entrepreneurial ferment would be impossible so long as Rule 5.4 was in place.  But in recent years, it has become crystal clear that when it comes to organizational clients where the decisionmaker for the buyer is a licensed lawyer (likely accounting for over half of the U.S. legal economy) everything up until the courthouse door or the client counseling moment can be disaggregated into a legal input or legal product that can be provided by entities owned and controlled by nonlawyers. See Henderson, Is Axiom the Bellwether of Legal Disruption in the Legal Industry? Legal Whiteboard, Nov 13, 2013.

The Legal Ecosystem of the Future

Book-tomorrows-lawyersIn his most recent book, Tomorrow's Lawyers, Richard Susskind describes a dynamic legal economy that bares little resemblance to the legal economy of the past 200 years.  In years past, it was easier to be skeptical of Susskind because his predictions seemed so, well, futuristic and abstract.  But anyone paying close attention can see evidence of a new legal ecosystem beginning to take shape that very much fits the Susskind model.

Susskind's core framework is the movement of legal work along a five-part continuum, from bespoke to standardized to systematized to productized to commoditized.  Lawyers are most confortable in the bespoke realm because it reflects our training and makes us indispensible to a resolution.  Yet, the basic forces of capitalism pull the legal industry toward the commoditized end of the spectrum because the bespoke method of production is incapable of keeping up with the needs of a complex, interconnected, and highly regulated global economy. 

According to Susskind, the sweet spot on the continuum is between systematized and productized, as this enables the legal solution provider to "make money while you sleep."  The cost of remaining in this position (that is, to avoid commoditization) is continuous innovation.  Suffice it to say, lawyers are unlikely to make the cut if they choose to hunker down in the artisan guild and eschew collaboration with other disciplines.

Below is a chart I have generated that attempts to summarize and describe the new legal ecosystem that is now taking shape [click-on to enlarge].  The y-axis is the Heinz-Laumann two-hemisphere framework.  The x-axis is Susskind's five-part change continuum. 

Ecosystem
Those of us who are trained as lawyers and have worked in law firms will have mental frames of reference that are on the left side of the green zone.  We tend to see things from the perspective of the artisan lawyer.  That is our training and socialization, and many of us have prospered as members of the artisan guild.

Conversely, at the commoditized end of the continuum, businesses organized and financed by nonlawyers have entered the legal industry in order to tap into portion of the market that can no longer be cost-effectively serviced by licensed U.S. lawyers.  Yet, like most businesses, they are seeking ways to climb the value chain and grow into higher margin work.  For example, United Lex is one of the leading legal process outsourcers (LPOs).  Although United Lex maintains a substantial workforce in India, they are investing heavily in process, data analytics, and U.S. onshore facilities.  Why?  Because they want to differientiate the company based on quality and overall value-add to clients, thus staving off competition from law firms or other LPOs.

In the green zone are several new clusters of companies:

  • NewLaw.  These are non-law firm legal service organizations that provide high-end services to highly sophisticated corporations.  They also rely heavily on process, technology, and data.  Their offerings are sometimes called "managed services." Novus Law, Axiom, Elevate, and Radiant Law are some of the leading companies in this space. 
  • TechLaw.  These companies would not be confused with law firms. They are primarily tool makers.  Their tools facilitate better, faster, or cheaper legal output.  kCura, mentioned above, works primarily in the e-discovery space.  Lex Machina provides analytic tools that inform the strategy and valuation of IP litigation cases.  KM Standards, Neota Logic, and Exemplify provide tools and platforms that facilitate transactional practice.  In the future, these companies may open the door to the standardization of a wide array of commercial transactions.  And standardization drives down transaction costs and increases legal certainty -- all good from the client's perspective.
  • PeopleLaw.  These companies are using innovative business models to tap into the latent people hemisphere.  Modria is a venture capital-financed online dispute resolution company with DNA that traces back to PayPal and the Harvard Negotiations Workshop.  See Would You Bet on the Future of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)?  Legal Whiteboard, Oct 20, 2013.  LegalForce is already an online tour de force in trademarks -- a service virtually every small business needs.  The company is attempting to translate its brand loyalty in trademarks into to new consumer-friendly storefront experience.  Its first store is in the heart of University Avenue in Palo Alto.  LegalForce wants to be the virtual and physical portal that start-up entrepreneurs turn to when looking for legal advice.

Conclusion

When I write about the changes occurring in the legal marketplace, I worry whether the substance and methodology of U.S. legal education provides an excellent education for a legal world that is gradually fading away, and very little preparation for the highly interdisciplinary legal world that is coming into being. 

Legal educators are fiduciaries to our students and institutions. It is our job to worry about them and for them and act accordingly.  Surely, the minimum acceptable response to the facts at hand is unease and a willingness to engage in deliberation and planning.  Although I agree we need to stay calm, I disagree that we need to carry on.  The great law schools of the 21st century will be those that adapt and change to keep pace with the legal needs of the citizenry and broader society.  And that task has barely begun.

[PDF version]

March 17, 2014 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, Data on legal education, Data on the profession, Innovations in law, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy, Scholarship on legal education, Scholarship on the legal profession, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (16)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Dean David Levi Speaking at UNLV

From our friend Nancy Rapoport at UNLV:
 
The UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law 
presents the inaugural 
Judge Lloyd D. George Lecture 

on the Judicial Process

David F. Levi
Dean and Professor of Law, Duke Law School 

The Grand Challenges for the Legal Profession and Judiciary 

April 3, 2014
4:00-5:30 p.m.
Thomas & Mack Moot Court
UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law 
Reception to follow

This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. 
For more information and to RSVP, go to law.unlv.edu/JudgeGeorgeLecture2014.

David F. Levi became the 14th dean of Duke Law School on July 1, 2007. Prior to his appointment, he was the Chief United States District Judge for the Eastern District of California with chambers in Sacramento. He was appointed United States Attorney by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and a United States district judge by President George H. W. Bush in 1990.

A native of Chicago, Dean Levi earned his A.B. in history and literature, magna cum laude, from Harvard College. He entered Harvard’s graduate program in history, specializing in English legal history and serving as a teaching fellow in English history and literature. He graduated Order of the Coif in 1980 from Stanford Law School, where he was also president of the Stanford Law Review. Following graduation, he was a law clerk to Judge Ben C. Duniway of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and then to Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., of the U.S. Supreme Court.

About Judge Lloyd D. George 

Judge Lloyd D. George was appointed United States District Judge for the District of Nevada by President Ronald Reagan in May 1984. He served as Chief United States District Judge from 1992 to 1997, and assumed senior status in December 1997. Judge George was a pilot in the United States Air Force. He received his bachelor of science degree in 1955 from Brigham Young University, and his J.D. degree in 1961 from the University of California at Berkeley (Boalt Hall). Upon graduating, he returned to Las Vegas where he built a successful private practice.

 

March 15, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Call for Papers - Teaching Accounting, Finance, and Tax in the Basic and Advanced Business Law Courses

For those of you for whom the foregoing discussion of Hans Kelsen's jurisprudence might be too esoteric (I don't think so, but reasonable minds may differ), this one may be more attractive.  

Call For Papers

AALS Section on Agency, Partnerships

LLCs, and Unincorporated Associations 

Bringing Numbers into Basic and Advanced Business Associations Courses:

How and Why to Teach Accounting, Finance, and Tax

2015 AALS Annual Meeting

Washington, DC

            Business planners and transactional lawyers know just how much the “number-crunching” disciplines overlap with business law.   Even when the law does not require unincorporated business associations and closely held corporations to adopt generally accepted accounting principles, lawyers frequently deal with tax implications in choice of entity, the allocation of ownership interests, and the myriad other planning and dispute resolution circumstances in which accounting comes into play.  In practice, unincorporated business association law (as contrasted with corporate law) has tended to be the domain of lawyers with tax and accounting orientation.  Yet many law professors still struggle with the reality that their students (and sometimes the professors themselves) are not “numerate” enough to make these important connections.  While recognizing the importance of numeracy, the basic course cannot in itself be devoted wholly to primers in accounting, tax, and finance.

            The Executive Committee will devote the 2015 annual Section meeting in Washington to the critically important, but much-neglected, topic of effectively incorporating accounting, tax, and finance into courses in the law of business associations.  In addition to featuring several invited speakers, we seek speakers (and papers) to address this subject.  Within the broad topic, we seek papers dealing with any aspect of incorporating accounting, tax, and finance into the pedagogy of basic or advanced business law courses.

            Any full-time faculty member of an AALS member school who has written an unpublished paper, is working on a paper, or who is interested in writing a paper in this area is invited to submit a 1 or 2-page proposal by May 1, 2014 (preferably by April 15, 2014).  The Executive Committee will review all submissions and select two papers by May 15, 2014.  A very polished draft must be submitted by November 1, 2014.  The Executive Committee is exploring publication possibilities, but no commitment on that has been made.  All submissions and inquiries should be directed to Jeff Lipshaw, Chair.

Jeffrey M. Lipshaw
Associate Professor Suffolk University Law School
jlipshaw@suffolk.edu
617-305-1657

March 3, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Call for Papers - Hans Kelsen in America - June 27-28, 2014

Jeremy Telman (Valparaiso) has organized a dynamite conference, even if he has included me. Call for Papers

March 3, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

THOUGHTS ON FALL 2013 ENROLLMENT AND PROFILE DATA AMONG LAW SCHOOLS

DECLINING ENROLLMENT – Between fall 2012 and fall 2013, the 199 law schools in the 48 contiguous states and Hawaii (excluding the Puerto Rican schools) accredited by the ABA’s Section for Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, experienced the following first-year enrollment changes:

25 schools had a decline in first-year enrollment of 25% or more,

34 schools had a decline in first-year enrollment of 15%-24.99%,

44 schools had a decline in first-year enrollment of 5% to 14.99%,

62 schools had “flat” first-year enrollment of -4.99% to 4.99%,

19 schools had an increase in first-year enrollment of  5% and 14.99%, and

15 schools had an increase in first-year enrollment of 15% or more.

Overall, more than half (103) had a decrease in first-year enrollment of at least 5%, while roughly 17% (34) had an increase in first-year enrollment of at least 5%.

Across these 199 schools, first-year enrollment declined from 42,590 to 39,109, a decrease of 8.2%.  The average decline in first-year enrollment across U.S. News “tiers” of law schools was 2.6% among top 50 schools, 8.2% among schools ranked 51-99, 7.7% among schools ranked 100-144 and 7.9% among schools ranked alphabetically.

            Between fall 2010 and fall 2013, the 195 law schools in the 48 contiguous states and Hawaii fully-accredited by the ABA’s Section for Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar as of 2010 (excluding Belmont, LaVerne, California-Irvine, and Massachusetts-Dartmouth), experienced the following first-year enrollment changes:

            28 schools had a decline in first-year enrollment of 40% or more,

            29 schools had a decline in first-year enrollment of 30% to 39.99%

            43 schools had a decline in first-year enrollment of 20% to 29.99%

            43 schools had a decline in first-year enrollment of 10% to 19.99%

            36 schools had a decline in first-year enrollment of 0% to 9.99%

            10 schools had an increase in first-year enrollment of 0.01%to 9.99%

            6 schools had an increase in first-year enrollment of 10% or more.

Overall, more than half (100) had a decrease in first-year enrollment of at least 20%, while only roughly 8% (16) had any increase in first-year enrollment.

            Across these 195 schools, first-year enrollment declined from 50,408 to 38,773, a drop of 23.1%.  The average decline in first-year enrollment across U.S. News “tiers” of law schools was 14.7% among top 50 schools, 22.5% among schools ranked 51-99, 22.8% among schools ranked 100-144, and 26.8% among schools ranked alphabetically. 

 

DECLINING PROFILES -- Across the 195 law schools in the 48 contiguous states and Hawaii fully-accredited by the ABA’s Section for Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar as of 2010 (thus excluding Belmont, LaVerne, California-Irvine, and Massachusetts-Dartmouth) the entering first-year class average LSAT profile fell one point at all three measures between 2012 and 2013, from 159.6/157/153.5 to 158.6/156/152.5.  The entering first-year class average LSAT profile fell roughly two points at all three measures between 2010 and 2013, from 160.5/158.1/155.2 to 158.6/156/152.5. 

The average decline in median LSAT scores between 2012 and 2013 across U.S. News “tiers” of law schools was .98 among top 50 schools, 1.18 among schools ranked 51-99, .72 among schools ranked 100-144, and 1.13 among schools ranked alphabetically. 

Notably, 133 law schools saw a decline in their median LSAT between 2012 and 2013, with 80 down one point, 38 down two points, 12 down three points, one down four points, one down five points and one down six points, while 54 law schools were flat and 7 saw an increase in their median LSAT. 

In terms of schools experiencing “larger” declines in median LSAT scores between 2012 and 2013, five schools in the top 50 saw a three point decline in their median LSAT, five schools ranked 51-99 saw at least a three point decline (of which one was down four points), three schools ranked 100-144 saw a three point decline, and two schools ranked alphabetically saw large declines – one of five points and one of six points.

The average decline in median LSAT scores between 2010 and 2013 across U.S. News “tiers” of law schools was 1.54 among top 50 schools, 2.27 among schools ranked 51-99, 2.11 among schools ranked 100-144, and 2.79 among schools ranked alphabetically.  If one were to unpack the top 50 schools a little more, however, one would discover that the top 20 schools saw an average decline in their median LSAT of 1.05 between 2010 and 2013, while the bottom 15 schools in the top 50 saw an average decline in their median LSAT of 2.53.

In terms of schools experiencing “larger” declines in median LSAT scores between 2010 and 2013, three schools in the top 50 have seen declines of four or more points, nine schools ranked 51-99 have seen declines of four or more points, 11 schools ranked 100-144 have seen declines of four or more points and 17 schools ranked alphabetically have seen declines of four or more points. 

When looking at the 2012-13 data in comparison with the 2010-2013 data, one sees that lower ranked schools have had more of a sustained challenge in terms of managing profile over the last few years, while schools ranked in the top 50 or top 100 had been managing profile fairly well until fall 2013 when the decreased number of high LSAT applicants really began to manifest itself in terms of impacting the LSAT profiles of highly ranked schools.

The overall decline in the LSAT profile of first-year students also can be demonstrated with two other reference points.  In 2010, there were 74 law schools with a median LSAT of 160; in 2013, that number has fallen to 56.  At the other end of the spectrum, in 2010, there were only 9 schools with a median LSAT of less than 150 and only one with a median LSAT of 145.  In 2013, the number of law schools with a median LSAT of less than 150 has more than tripled to 32, while the number of law schools with a median LSAT of 145 or less now numbers 9 (with the low now being a 143).

 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS – Over the last three years, few schools have had the luxury of being able to hold enrollment (or come close to holding enrollment) and being able to hold profile (or come close to holding profile).  Many schools have found themselves in a “pick your poison” scenario.  A number of schools have picked profile and made an effort to hold profile or come close to holding profile by absorbing significant declines in first-year enrollment (and the corresponding loss of revenue).  By contrast, a number of schools have picked enrollment and made an effort to hold enrollment or come close to holding enrollment (and maintaining revenue) but at the expense of absorbing a significant decline in LSAT profile.  Some schools, however, haven’t even been able to pick their poison.  For these schools, the last three years have presented something of a double whammy, as the schools have experienced both significant declines in first-year enrollment (and the corresponding loss of revenue) and significant declines in profile. 

March 2, 2014 in Data on legal education, Scholarship on legal education, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Is the Employment Market for Law Graduates Going to be Improving?

Last fall, while making a presentation at the Midwest Association of Pre-Law Advisors Conference in St. Louis, I had the opportunity to respond to the question that is the title of this blog posting. 

Is the employment market for law graduates going to be improving?  My answer was, and is, almost certainly yes, although perhaps not immediately.

I write this to offer my perspective on the employment market for law graduates in the coming years.  A number of people have written on this topic in recent weeks and months.  Bernie Burk has a very thoughtful piece analyzing the changing job market over the last three decades.  In his concluding thoughts he suggests that the decline in the number of law students will mean that the job market will be improving.  Paula Young, Debby Merritt, Matt Leichter, and The National Jurist, also have weighed in on this issue with some disagreement about how to understand the “market” for law graduates in the coming years.  Whether and how to include JD Advantage jobs in the analysis is something that is frequently contested.  Bernie Burk does a thorough job analyzing the challenges of assessing whether JD Advantage jobs should be included within his definition of “law jobs” – “placements for which a law degree is typically a necessary or extremely valuable substantive preparation; or put slightly differently, jobs that a law degree typically makes a truly substantial and significant difference in obtaining or performing.”

To avoid some of these definitional challenges, this post will focus solely on the market for full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs. Initially, it will analyze those jobs in relation to all graduates; then it will look more specifically at the percentage of graduates who are likely to be eligible for Bar Passage Required jobs for whom full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs likely will be available, a point on which few others appear to have focused up until now.

Class of 2013 – Little if Any Good News is Likely

In the short term, for the Class of 2013, for which job results will be reported in the coming weeks, it would not be at all surprising to see little, if any, improvement in the employment results in terms of the percentage of graduates finding jobs classified as full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs.

According to NALP’s data, there were 29,978 full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs for 2007 graduates, a number which fell to 24,902 for 2011 graduates, and then rebounded to 26,876 for 2012 graduates, an increase of 1,974.   According to the ABA’s Employment Outcomes data, between 2011 and 2012, the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs grew from 24,149 to 26,066, an increase of 1,917.  (For this blog posting, I am not going to try to reconcile the slight differences in data between NALP and the ABA’s Employment Outcomes data.)

Unfortunately, however, according to the ABA's Employment Outcomes data, this growth in full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs between 2011 and 2012 corresponded with a growth in the number of law graduates, from 43,979 to 46,364, an increase of 2,385.  Thus, even though the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs grew by 7.9%, the percentage of graduates in full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs grew only slightly, from 54.9% to 56.2%.

Between 2012 and 2013 the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs may increase again, but the number of graduates also will be increasing, likely from 46,364 to roughly 47,250.  (For the last few years, the number of law school graduates has averaged roughly 90% of the number of first-year students who started law school three years previously.  With 52,500 first-year students in Fall 2010, there likely were roughly 47,250 May 2013 graduates on whom employment will be reported in the coming weeks.) 

If the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs for the 2013 graduates reported in the ABA Employment Outcomes data grows by roughly 1,000 to 27,000, an increase of nearly 4%, the percentage of graduates with such jobs would increase only slightly to 57.1%.  If the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs for the 2013 graduates grows only slightly, by roughly 500, to 26,500 (an increase of less than 2%), the percentage of graduates with such jobs will drop slightly, to 56.1%.  If the number of Bar Passage Required jobs is flat, at 26,000, the percentage of graduates with such jobs will drop a little more to 55%.  Between 2011 and 2013, the market might see graduates finding roughly 2,000 to 2,500 new full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs, and yet still see only 55% to 57% of graduates in such jobs because of the growth in the number of graduates between 2011 and 2013.

Classes of 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 – An Improving Dynamic

What are the employment prospects for those currently in law school or considering starting law school in the fall of 2014?  They almost certainly will be getting better – not necessarily because there will be more jobs, but because there will be fewer graduates.

Indeed, to make this point, let’s assume that there is actually no further growth in full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs between 2012 and 2017.  Assume the number of such jobs plateaus at 26,000 for graduates of the Class of 2013 and then stays at that level each year through 2017.  What percentage of law graduates over the next four years will have such jobs? 

According to the LSAC, "ABA First-Year Enrollment" has declined steadily from 2010 to the present, from 52,500 in 2010, to 48,700 in Fall 2011, to 44,500 in Fall 2012.  The ABA recently released the Fall 2013 enrollment summary noting that it had fallen to 39,675.   The LSAC's most recent Current Volume Summary, from February 21, 2014,  indicates that applicants to law school are down roughly 11% compared to last year.  Thus, it seems reasonable to project that first-year matriculants will decline again in Fall 2014.  If first-year enrollment falls by 5%, that would give us roughly 37,700 first-years.  If it falls by 10% once again, that would give us roughly 35,700 first-years.

With these estimates for the number of first-years, we can estimate the number of graduates (which, as noted above, has averaged roughly 90% of first-years for the last few years).  Even if the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs does not continue to rebound, but plateaus at 26,000, as the number of graduates declines over the next few years, the percentage of law graduates obtaining a full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required job, as shown in Table 1, will grow to between 77% and 84% by 2017 (depending upon first-year enrollment in fall 2014).

TABLE 1

Analysis of the Estimated Number of Full-Time, Long-Term Bar Passage Required Jobs as a Percentage of the Estimated Number of Law Graduates from 2012-2017

   

Grad. Year

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2017

 

(5% Dec.)

(10% Dec.)

 

(1st Yrs 3 Yrs Prior)

 

51600

 

52500

 

48700

 

44500

 

39675

 

37700*

 

35700*

 
 

Grads (90% of 1st Yrs.)

 

46364

 

47250*

 

43830*

 

40050*

 

35708*

 

33930*

 

32130*

 
 

FT/LT BPR Jobs

26066

26000*

26000*

26000*

26000*

26000*

26000*

 

% of Grads in FT/LT BPR Jobs

 

56%

 

55%*

 

59%*

 

65%*

 

73%*

 

77%*

 

84%*

 

*Denotes estimated value.

An improvement in the number of law school graduates getting full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs, from roughly 55% to between 77% and 84% is indicative of an improving employment market for law school graduates.  Indeed, according to Bernie Burk’s analysis of the employment market over the last few decades, this rate of employment in full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs would rival or exceed the high water mark for “Law Jobs” of roughly 77% that he identified as having been experienced by the graduates from 2005 to 2007.  (And for his purposes, “Law Jobs” included some JD Advantage jobs.)  Moreover, this assumes no growth in the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs; if there is even modest growth in the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs over the next few years, the percentages of grads in these jobs would be even higher than reflected in this chart.

 Full-Time, Long-Term Bar Passage Required Jobs as a Percentage of Those Eligible for Such Positions by Virtue of Having Passed a Bar Exam

Even so, many may look at this and suggest the market remains less than robust given that perhaps 16%-23% of graduates in this “improved” market in 2017 will not obtain full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs. While some compare the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs to the number of law school graduates to demonstrate why the employment market for law school graduates remains unsatisfactory, this may not be the most accurate way of thinking about the market for full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs as not all graduates are going to be eligible for Bar Passage Required jobs.

Among those graduating from law schools accredited by the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and taking a bar exam upon graduation, the National Conference of Bar Examiners indicates that over the last several years, on average, roughly 83% of graduates of ABA-accredited law schools pass the bar exam on their first attempt. 

To calculate the employment market for law graduates in the coming years who are eligible for full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs, let’s assume that all law graduates actually want a full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required job and therefore take a July bar exam, and let’s assume that 83% of them pass the bar exam on their first attempt.  This should give us the maximum number of graduates eligible for full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs 10 months after graduation (which will be the measuring point starting with the Class of 2014). 

Even if we assume no growth in the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs in the coming years and simply hold the number of such jobs at a constant 26,000, the decreasing number of law graduates will mean an even more improved employment market for those seeking full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs who will be eligible for those jobs by virtue of having passed the bar exam on their first attempt, increasing from nearly 70% in 2012 and 2013 to nearly 90% by 2016 and over 90% by 2017.

 TABLE 2

Analysis of the Estimated Number of Full-Time, Long-Term Bar Passage Required Jobs as a Percentage of the Estimated Number of Law Graduates Eligible for Bar Passage Required Jobs from 2012-2017 

Graduating Year

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2017

 

First   Year Enrollment

 

51600

 

52500

 

48700

 

44500

 

39675

 

37700*

(5% Dec.)

 

35700*

(10% Dec.)

 
 
 

Graduates   (90% of First Year Enrollment)

 

46364

 

47250*

 

43830*

 

40050*

 

35708*

 

33930*

 

32130*

 

83% of   Graduates (NCBE Avg. for First-Time Takers)

 

38482*

 

39218*

 

36379*

 

33242

 

29638*

 

28162*

 

26668*

 
 

FT/LT Bar   Passage Jobs

 

26066

 

26000*

 

26000*

 

26000*

 

26000*

 

26000*

 

26000*

 

Percentage   of Graduates Who Might Pass the Bar for whom FT/LT Bar Passage Jobs Likely   Would be Available

 

68%*

 

66%*

 

71%*

 

78%*

 

88%*

 

92%*

 

97%*

 

 *Denotes estimated value.

Notably, these estimates probably overstate the number of graduates who will be eligible for Bar Passage Required jobs.  First, not all law school graduates want to take a bar exam as some conclude that they are not interested in practicing law as a licensed attorney.  Second, given the increasing number of law school matriculants with LSATs less than 150, one could anticipate a slightly higher rate of attrition such that fewer than 90% of matriculants graduate after three years.  Third, given the increasing number of law school matriculants with LSATs less than 150, one also could anticipate that the historical average bar passage rate of 83% might be too generous.  All of these points suggest that the number of graduates eligible for full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs may decline between now and 2017 even more than is indicated in Table 2.    

Between 2012 and 2013 to 2016 and 2017, we will have gone from having nearly seven full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs for every ten graduates eligible for such positions by virtue of having passed a bar exam to having nine or more full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs for every ten graduates eligible for such positions by virtue of having passed a bar exam. That strikes me as an improving employment market.

Of course, this may not be good news for those who graduated in the last few years into one of the toughest markets in history.  It is not clear that this improving market will be improving for them.  But it also is not clear that this "excess capacity" will unduly constrain the opportunities available to law school graduates in the coming years.  This excess capacity already has been impacting the market, yet the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs obtained within nine months of graduation grew by nearly 2000 between 2011 and 2012.  That is one reason I think the assumption of no further growth in full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs is probably fairly conservative. 

In addition, this may not be good news for those who fail to pass the bar exam on their first try and may have to look for jobs that do not require bar passage.  While a significant percentage of these graduates will pass the bar exam on their second attempt and may eventually find employment in full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required positions, it may take several months longer than they had desired and may require that they pursue other employment, perhaps JD Advantage employment, during the intervening months.  

Even assuming a flat market for full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs, as a result of significant declines in first-year enrollment that will mean a significant decline in the number of law school graduates in 2016 and 2017, we should be moving from having slightly more than three of ten graduates who were eligible for Bar Passage Required jobs in 2012 who could not find them to having less than one of ten graduates in 2017 who likely will be eligible for Bar Passage Required jobs who cannot find them.  While individual schools and local or regional markets may have more varied results on a "micro level," on a "macro level" this should be good news for current first-year students and students considering starting law school in the fall of 2014.

Whether this improving employment situation will be enough to change the trend in terms of declining number of applicants to law school remains to be seen.  While the future may be brightening, the "news" in the coming weeks will be the report on employment outcomes for 2013 graduates nine months after graduation.  As noted above, that may be somewhat uninspiring because any increase in the number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required jobs may be masked by the larger number of graduates in 2013 compared to 2012.  As a result, potential law school applicants may remain reluctant to make the commitment of time and money that law school requires because the "good news" message regarding future employment prospects for law graduates may fail to gain traction if the messages about employment outcomes for recent law school graduates continue to be less than encouraging.

March 1, 2014 in Data on legal education, Data on the profession, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (8)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Law School Learning Assessment Institute at UALR

From Kelly Terry at UALR William H. Bowen School of Law:

Assessment Across The Curriculum

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning

Spring Conference 2014

Saturday, April 5, 2014 

“Assessment Across the Curriculum” is a one-day conference for new and experienced law teachers who are interested in designing and implementing effective techniques for assessing student learning.  The conference will take place on Saturday, April 5, 2014, at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Conference Content:  Sessions will address topics such as

  • Formative Assessment in Large Classes
  • Classroom Assessment Techniques
  • Using Rubrics for Formative and Summative Assessment
  • Assessing the Ineffable: Professionalism, Judgment, and Teamwork
  • Assessment Techniques for Statutory or Transactional Courses

By the end of the conference, participants will have concrete ideas and assessment practices to take back to their students, colleagues, and institutions.

Who Should Attend:  This conference is for all law faculty (full-time and adjunct) who want to learn about best practices for course-level assessment of student learning.

 Conference Structure:  The conference opens with an optional informal gathering on Friday evening, April 4.  The conference will officially start with an opening session on Saturday, April 5, followed by a series of workshops.  Breaks are scheduled with adequate time to provide participants with opportunities to discuss ideas from the conference.  The conference ends at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.  Details about the conference are available on the websites of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning (www.lawteaching.org) and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law (ualr.edu/law). 

Conference Faculty:  Conference workshops will be taught by experienced faculty, including Michael Hunter Schwartz (UALR Bowen), Rory Bahadur (Washburn), Sandra Simpson (Gonzaga), Sophie Sparrow (University of New Hampshire), Lyn Entrikin (UALR Bowen), and Richard Neumann (Hofstra).

Accommodations:  A block of hotel rooms for conference participants has been reserved at The DoubleTree Little Rock, 424 West Markham Street, Little Rock, AR 72201.  Reservations may be made by calling the hotel directly at 501-372-4371, calling the DoubleTree Central Reservations System at 800-222-TREE, or booking online at www.doubletreelr.com.  The group code to use when making reservations for the conference is “LAW.” 

February 15, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

If We Make Legal Education More Experiential, Would it Really Matter?

I think the answer is yes.  But, unfortunately, in virtually all of the debate surrounding legal education, there is a tremendous lack of clarity and precision about how we assess improvements in quality.  And equally relevant, if a gain is real, was it worth the cost?

The purpose of this essay is to chip away at this serious conceptual gap.  Until this gap is filled, experiential education will fall significantly short of its potential. 

Is Experiential Legal Education Better?  And if so, at What Cost?

Many legal educators believe that if we had more clinics, externships, and skills courses in law school, legal education would be better.  Why?  Because this more diversified curriculum would become more "experiential."  

Inside the legal education echo chamber, we often accept this claim as self-evident. The logic runs something like this.  A competent lawyer needs domain knowledge + practical skills + a fiduciary disposition (i.e., the lawyer’s needs are subservient to the needs of clients and the rule of law).  Since practical skills—and some would argue, a fiduciary disposition—cannot be effectively acquired through traditional Socratic or lecture teaching methods, the ostensible logic is that schools become better by embracing the "learning-by-doing" experiential approach.

That may be true.  I would bet on it. But the per-unit cost of legal education is also probably going up as well.  So, have we really created a viable and sustainable long-term improvement to legal education?  

In my mind, the questions we should be asking instead are the following:  (1) Among experiential teaching methods, which ones are the most effective at accelerating professional development?  And (2) among these options, how much does each cost to operate?  Quality and cost must be assessed simultaneously.  After they are evaluated, then we will be able to make choices and tradeoffs. 

Let's start with quality, which I define as moving lawyers toward their peak effectiveness potential as rapidly and cost-effectively as possible. This is an education design problem, as we are trying to find the right combination of education (building domain knowledge) and experience (acquiring and honing skills through practice).  There is also likely to be an optimal way to sequence the various educational and experiential steps. 

Creating Compelling Evidence of Educational Quality

We legal educators have many ideas on how to improve educational quality, but we make no real progress if employers and students remain unconvinced.  Can it be shown that because of a specific type of experiential curriculum at School X, its graduates are, during the first few years of practice, more capable lawyers than graduates of School Y?  

[Side bar:  If you are skeptical of this market test, it is worth noting that it was the preferences of law firm employers who gave rise to the existing national law school hierarchy.  It happened about 100 years ago when a handful of law schools adopted the case method, required undergraduate education as a prerequisite to admission, and hired scholars as teachers.  As a general matter, this was a far better education than a practitioner reading lecture notes at the local YMCA.  See William Henderson, "Successful Lawyer Skills and Behaviors," in Essential Qualities of the Professional Lawyer ch 5 (P. Haskins ed., 2013).]

If a law school can produce, on balance, a better caliber of graduates than its competitors, then we are getting somewhere.  As this information diffuses,  employers (who want lawyers who make their lives easier) will preference law schools with the better graduates, and law students (who want more and better career options) will follow suit. Until we have this level of conceptual and empirical clarity, we might as well be debating art or literature.

If students and employers are responding to particular curricula, it is reasonable to assume they are responding to perceived value (i.e., quality as a function of price).   I believe there are three steps needed to create a legal education curriculum that truly moves the market.

1. Clarity on Goals.  We need to understand the knowledge, skills, and behaviors that are highly prized by legal and non-legal employers.  Truth be told, this is tacit knowledge in most workplaces. It is hard intellectual work to translate tacit knowledge into something explicit that can be communicated and taught. But we are educators -- that is our job!  If we think employers are missing something essential, we can add in additional factors. That's our job, too.

2. Designing and Building the Program. Working backwards from our goals, let's design and build curricula that will, overall, accelerate development toward those goals.  This is harder and more rigorous than lesson planning from a casebook.

3. Communicating Value to the Market.  If our program is indeed better, employers and students need to know it.  This also requires a crisp, accurate message and a receptive audience.  This requires planning and effort.  That said, if our program truly is producing more effective lawyers, it logically follows that our graduates (i.e., the more effective lawyers) will be the most  effective way to communicate that message. 

Regarding point #3, in simple, practical terms, how would this work?  

During the 1L year, we show our law students the roadmap we have developed (step #2) and spend the next two years filling in the knowledge, skills, and behaviors needed to achieve their career goals.  This professional development process would be documented through a portfolio of work.  This would enable students to communicate specific examples of initiative, collaborative learning, problem-solving, or a fiduciary disposition, etc., developed during law school.  Students would also know their weaknesses, and have a clear plan for their future professional development. In a word, they'd stand out from other law graduates because, as a group, they would be much more intentional and self-directed (i.e., they'd know where they are going and how to get there). 

With such a curriculum in place, our law school would collaborate with employers assess the performance of our graduates.  By implication, the reference point for assessing quality would be graduates from other law schools.  When our graduates fare better, future graduates will be more heavily recruited.  Why?  Because when an employer hires from our school, they would be more likely to get a lawyer who helps peers and clients while adding immediate enterprise value.    

I suspect that many of my legal academic colleagues would argue the best law schools are not trade schools -- I 100% agree.  But I am not talking about a trade school model.  Rather, a world-class law school creates skilled problem-solvers who combine theory with practice and a fiduciary disposition. Graduates of a world-class law school would be reliably smart, competent, and trustworthy.  This is a very difficult endeavor. It takes time, planning, collaboration, creativity and hard work.  But the benefits are personal, organizational, and societal.  

At a practical level, I think few law schools have targeted this goal with a full, unbridled institutional commitment.  But the opportunity exists.

Applied Research 

When I got tenure in 2009, I decided that I was going to spend the next several years doing applied research. I am a fact guy.  Rather than argue that something is, or is not, better, I prefer to spend my time and effort gathering evidence and following the data.  I am also a practical guy.  The world is headed in this direction, thanks to the ubiquity of data in the digital age.  And, on balance, that is a good thing because it has the potential to reduce conflict. 

I have pursued applied work in two ways:  (1) building stuff (curricula, selection systems, lawyer development tools, datasets for making strategic decisions, etc.) and assessing how well it works, and (2) observing and measuring the work of others.

A Law School Curriculum Worth Measuring

A couple of years ago, a really unique applied research opportunity fell onto my lap.  I had a series of lengthy discussions on the future of legal education with Emily Spieler, who was then serving as dean of Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, a position she held for over a decade.  One of the raps on legal education is that it is more alike than it is different.  In fact, this very point was just made by the ABA Taskforce on Legal Education.  See ABA Task Force On The Future Of Legal Education, Report And Recommendations (Jan. 2014) at 2.

Emily, in contrast, said her school was unique -- that the curriculum better prepared students for practice and enabled them to make better career planning decisions.  Also, Emily stated that Northeastern students were more sensitized to the needs of clients and the privilege and burden of being a lawyer--specifically, that Northeastern grads become aware, before graduation, that their own lack of competency and diligence has real-world consequences for real-world people. And that reality weighed on students' minds.  

Tall claims.   But if Northeastern coulddeliver those outcomes more effectively than the traditional unstructured law school curriculum, I wanted to know about it.  

On a purely structural level, Northeastern Law is definitely unique.  Most law schools are organized on either quarters (University of Chicago, my alma mater) or semesters (Indiana University, where I teach). Northeastern, however, has both.  The 1L year curriculum at Northeastern is the traditional two semester model.  But after that, the school flips to quarters -- one quarter in law school, and one quarter in a cooperative placement with a legal employer, such as a judge, prosecutor’s office, a law firm, a corporate legal department, or a public interest organization.  

This classroom/coop sequence occurs four times over eight quarters.  Because the cooperative placement is not viewed as part of Northeastern's ABA-required course work -- all the contact hours are packed into two 1L semesters and four 2L/3L quarters -- students can be paid during cooperative placements.  And in any given semester, roughly 30 to 40% are getting paid. 

This system has been up and running for 45 years--over 5,000 students have become lawyers through this program.  What an amazing research opportunity! 

Now imagine the faculty meeting where the law professors get together to discuss and deliberate over whether to adopt the Northeastern model.  At Northeastern, "summer" means summer quarter, not summer vacation.  

How did this unique curricular structure come into being?  That is quite an interesting story. During the 1950s, the law school at Northeastern was shuttered.  Yet, reflecting the zeitgeist of the times, a group of Northeastern law alumni and young lawyers who were skeptical of their own legal education (at elite national law schools) petitioned Northeastern to reopen the law school and feature a more progressive, forward-looking curriculum.  The university administration agreed to reopen the law school on the condition that the school adopt the signature cooperative education model.  So this crucial decision was essentially made at the birth of the law school over four decades ago.  Once up and running, Northeastern Law implemented other innovations, such as the narrative grading policy--i.e., no letter grades and no GPA.  This was done in order to mitigate competition and encourage a focus on collaboration and skills development. 

The Outcomes Assessment Project

Back in 2011, my conversations with Emily Spieler eventually led me to make a two-day pilgrimage to Boston to talk with Northeastern Law faculty, students, administrators, and coop employers.  Suffice it to say, I was surprised by what I witnessed --a truly differentiated legal education with a substantial alumni/ae base spanning 45 years.  

That pilgrimage eventually led to my involvement in Northeastern Law's Outcomes Assessment Project (OAP), which is something akin to The After the JD Project, but limited in scope to Northeastern -- although Northeastern will provide all of the project tools and templates to other law schools interested in studying their own alumni.  From the outset, the OAP has been set up to scale to other law schools. 

There are lots of tricky methodological issues with Northeastern.  For example,

  • It has a longstanding public interest tradition; Northeastern Law is overrepresented in government service, public interest, and non-profit sectors (including a sizeable contingent of law professors and legal clinicians). See Research Bulletin No 1.
  • Its student body was over 50% female almost from the outset, nearly 20 years before legal education as a whole. 
  • Because of its progressive roots, GLBT law students have long been drawn to Northeastern Law -- again, nearly two decades before it was deemed safe to be out.

Because of this distinctive profile, we have to worry that any differences in graduates are primarily due to a selection effect (who applied and enrolled) versus a treatment effect (they got a different type of education).  That said, the admissions data show that Northeastern Law students are, like other law students, strongly influenced by the US News rankings.   If a student gets admitted to Northeastern Law and BC, BU, or Harvard Law, Northeastern seldom wins.  

Over the coming months, I am going to use OAP data to attempt to develop some analytical and empirical clarity to some of the questions surrounding experiential education.   Preliminary data from our Research Bulletin No 3 suggest that the coop program does remarkably well in developing the three apprenticeships identified by the Carnegie Report.  More on that later. 

Print version of this essay at JD Supra.

February 4, 2014 in Data on legal education, Important research, Innovations in legal education, Scholarship on legal education | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Suffolk Seeks 2014-15 Visiting Prof

SUFFOLK UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL in Boston invites applications for a one-year full-time position as a Visiting Professor for the 2014-2015 academic year.  We seek candidates with a demonstrated commitment to excellence in teaching. Our search will focus on candidates with teaching experience in the following fields: evidence, criminal procedure and professional responsibility. Candidates must be willing to teach large sections in both the day and evening. Suffolk University is an equal opportunity employer. We encourage applications from women, persons of color, sexual orientation minorities and others who will contribute to the diversity of the faculty. Applications will be considered through February 21, 2014.  Interested candidates should contact Professors Jessica Silbey and Robert Smith, Co-Chairs, Faculty Appointments Committee, at jsilbey@suffolk.edu and rsmith@suffolk.edu, with a copy to bmello@suffolk.edu, or mail their materials to Co-Chairs of the Appointments Committee, c/o Babs Mello, at Suffolk University Law School, 120 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02108-4677.

February 1, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ron Gilson Headlines Transactional Skills Program and Reception at AALS - Be There!

UnknownIf you are interested in a nice blend of theory and practice, and then are inclined to have a drink on somebody else's dime, you'll want to take in two events the AALS Section on Transactional Law and Skills is hosting at the AALS Annual Meeting in New York on January 3-4, 2014.  

***Shameless promotion and conflict of interest warning:  even though the esteemed Eric Gouvin, dean of the Western New England Law School and chair of the section asked me to post this, I'm one of the panel participants.***

First, the Section's program "Value Creation By Business Lawyers in the 21st Century” features Prof. Ronald Gilson (above left) as the main presenter.  It is scheduled for Saturday January 4th from 4-5:45pm.  

In 1984, the Yale Law Journal published one of the foundational scholarly articles in the study of transactional law, Professor Ronald Gilson’s “Value Creation by Business Lawyers.”  In the years since its publication the article has fueled a robust debate on the role of business lawyers and the justification for the services they provide.  On the thirtieth anniversary of that influential article this program will re-examine Professor Gilson’s thesis, evaluate the impact of the article, and discuss the prospects for business lawyers creating value in the 21st Century. 
The program will have two parts-

(i)            Part one will feature Professor Gilson, along with our two speakers (Professor Jeff Lipshaw and Professor Elizabeth Pollman). Professor Gilson will be speaking for approximately 20 minutes, followed by Professors Lipshaw and Pollman.   [Ed:  I've posted my essay "What Is It Like To Be a Beetle? The Timelessness Problem in Gilson's Value Creation Thesis."]

(ii)           Part two will feature presentation of the two papers selected from the call for papers.  We have two terrific papers selected for presentation: (1) Professor Susan R. Jones (The George Washington University Law School) & Professor Jacqueline Lainez (The University of Richmond School of Law) will present Viewing Value Creation by Business Lawyers Through The Lens of Transactional Legal Clinics, and (2) Professor Karl Okamoto will present Value Creation in StartUp Lawyering. 

The panel will then be followed by 15 minutes of discussion and questions/comments from the audience. We will conclude the program with a short 5 minute business meeting. 

Second, the Practical Law Company, which is now a division of Thomson Reuters, is sponsoring a reception in honor of the Section.  Here are the details:

Event:                   Thomson Reuters Reception for the AALS Section on Transactional Law and Skills

Date/Time:         Friday, January 3, 2014, 6:30-8:30 pm

Location:              Conference Room F, Executive Conference Center, Sheraton New York, 811 7th Avenue 53rd Street, New York, NY  10019

 

December 21, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Did the Market for Law Firm Associates Peak 25 Years Ago?

Based on the chart below, which reflects 35 years of large law firm data, the answer appears to be yes.  The chart enables us to compare two very simple trendlines: the percentage of lawyers in NLJ 250 law firms who have the title of Associates versus the percentage with the title of Partner. 

Figure1

The chart above was generated by my colleague, Evan Parker-Stephen, who is Director of Analytics at Lawyer Metrics.  I asked Evan to crunch these data after some of research I was working on revealed a 50% decline in Summer Associate hiring between 2002 and 2012 at the ~600 law firms listed in the NALP Directory (11,302 to 5,584). In other words, 2008 is the wrong reference point. See Sea Change, NALP Bulletin (Aug 2013).  Something more substantial was (is) happening.

Indeed, the 35-year graphic above provides a true wide-angle view, which in turn reveals an absolutely remarkable story.  Associates were most integral to the large law firm model over 25 years ago.  Although large law firms went on a hirng spree at various points during the 1990s and 2000s, the firms themselves were simultaneously adding a new layer of human capital that was neither associate or partner/owner.  And in the process, associates were gradually being marginalized. The graph below (also NLJ 250 data) reveals the growing middle section of the so-called Diamond Model:

Figure2_highres

So what does all this mean?  

My best analysis is set forth in a short research monograph I wrote with Evan, entitled "The Diamond Law Firm: A New Model or the Pyramid Unraveling?"  The punchline is that large law firms appear to be chasing short-term profits at the expense of longer-term sustainability.  It would not be the first industry sector to lose its competitive advantage through myopic strategy -- as the saying goes, nothing fails like success.  See Henderson, Three Generations of U.S. Lawyers: Generalist, Specialist, Project Manager.  Large firms are not going extinct.  But as a matter of demographics, they are greying.  If BigLaw were trading on the Nasdaq, the analysts would be very critical of this trend.  

December 8, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Data on the profession, Important research, Law Firms, New and Noteworthy, Scholarship on the legal profession, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (9)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

If Leadership is About "Unwinding Commitments," Where Does that Leave Most Lawyers?

UnknownOver at Big Think, Nitin Nohria, the dean of the Harvard Business School, talks about three archetypes of business people: entrepreneurs, managers and leaders.   His point is that leadership really takes place at the end of a great idea's life cycle, when the game isn't what it used to be: "To unwind existing commitments is the real hard task of leaders."

That ought to be provocative over on this side of the street.

As lawyers, most of the time we talk about locking in commitments, most of our focus is on rights, privileges, and powers of the obligee or the duties of the obligor, and we teach first-year contracts in cases of warriors defending those commitments.  In the same blunt instrument mode, you could think of "unwinding" as brute as somebody saying to one's lawyer, "Find a way to break this contract."

It takes a different mental model to be able to see yesterday's commitment not as a citadel to be defended, but as a once-mighty oak rotting from the inside out.

Then again, if it's principled occasionally to be unprincipled, how do you know when to fight and when to compromise?  As lawyers, we tend not to do real well with paradox either.

December 1, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (1)

From Big Law to Lean Law

RibsteinIn 2012, Bruce Kobayashi and the George Mason Law & Economics Center organized an ambitious conference series entitled, "Unlocking the Law: Building on the Work of Professor Larry Ribstein."  The collective work product has recently been published in the International Review of Law & Economics.  

My contribution was an essay entitled "From Big Law to Lean Law."  It is a  review of Larry's seminal "The Death of Big Law" article, with the benefit of three years of data and the gradual realization that the entire legal profession is on the brink of a major structural transformation.

The "Death of Big Law"  first appeared on SSRN in the fall of 2009.  The following spring, I attended the annual Georgetown Center on the Legal Profession conference, where Larry's analysis and conclusions were presented to a large audience of Big Law partners, including managing partner commentators.  Suffice to say, the reaction was one of polite bafflement.

"From Big Law to Lean Law" was my best attempt to serve as a translator, albeit with the benefit of three years of market data and hindsight.  Here is the abstract

In a provocative 2009 essay entitled The Death of Big Law, the late Larry Ribstein predicted the shrinkage, devolution, and ultimate demise of the traditional large law firm. At the time virtually no practicing lawyer took Larry seriously. The nation’s large firms were only one year removed from record revenues and profits. Several decades of relentless growth had conditioned all of us to expect the inevitable rebound. Similarly, few law professors (including me) grasped the full reach of Larry’s analysis. His essay was not just another academic analysis. Rather, he was describing a seismic paradigm shift that would profoundly disrupt the economics of legal education and cast into doubt nearly a century of academic conventions. Suffice to say, the events of the last three years have made us humbler and wiser.

This essay revisits Larry’s seminal essay. Its primary goal is to make Larry’s original thesis much more tractable and concrete. It consists of three main pillars: (1) the organizational mindset and incentive structures that blinds large law partners to the gravity of their long-term business problems; (2) a specific rather than abstract description of the technologies and entrepreneurs that are gradually eating away at the work that has traditionally belonged to Big Law; and (3) the economics of the coming “Lean Law” era. With these data in hand, we can begin the difficult process of letting go of old ideas and architecting new institutions that better fit the needs of a 21st century economy.

(SSRN link.)  In the service of explaining these complex market dynamics to lawyers, legal educators, and law students, I am posting the figures used in the paper, which can be downloaded from Slideshare.

December 1, 2013 in Data on the profession, Important research, Law Firms, Scholarship on the legal profession, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Sleeping Giant -- Hope and Purpose for Law Students

KatzjpgIf you have the courage and curiosity to understand the breadth and depth of the changes taking shape in the legal market, then I would encourage you to use some of your Thanksgiving break to read "Recalculate the Future of Law," which is Insight Lab's interview with MSU Law Professor Dan Katz.    

It is all-too-easy to believe that innovation occurs in the wake of a great idea, but that is not quite right.  Innovation is also about timing and understanding how human institutions are held together and change and evolve.  If the innovator has the benefit of timing and understands how human institutions actually work, an effective adoption strategy is possible.  

Fortunately, for Dan Katz, all of these factors appear to be in alignment. Katz is acutely aware of his timing and the myriad of factors that enable innovation to take hold.  He is also young (35 years old) and has the courage to place very large bets -- the largest bet being that he is not waiting to get tenure before starting his life's work.  He is doing it now in his third year of teaching.  

But to mind, there is some additional secret sauce.  What makes Katz so disruptive is his 100% personal commitment to the growth and potential of his students. He is awaking the sleeping giant -- hope and a sense of purpose for young people.  Specificially law students.  If you are in his ReInvent Law Labratory, you see a different legal landscape with a whole lot more options. But to tap into that hope, Dan makes you do the work.  You have to challenge yourself.  And you have to shed the bullshit phobia over basic math. He is building a community of interest that has the potential to morph into a movement driven by young lawyers and law graduates.  For more on Katz's unusual bio, see "This is just an education design problem," LWB, Sept 23, 2013.  

 The interviewer over at Insight Labs got pretty close to the full, uneditted Dan. If you want to learn about the underinvestment problem that is undermining BigLaw, the crucial role of start-ups in the emerging field of legal R&D, how the next generation of law students can do well and do good, or the real hazards of the $1 Million JD debate, give it a full read.

November 27, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Innovations in law, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

"Ten Years After—Where We Have Been and Where We Are Going"

MonicaBayThat is the title of a panel at the Annual Georgetown Advanced E-Discovery Institute conference.  In an article in Law Technology News, Monica Bay does a wonderful job summarizing what appears to have been a lively, thought-provoking discussion. I can't do better than Monica, but I so want to highlight some of quotes that really caught my eye:

[DC Federal Magistrate Judge] Facciola served as moderator, and threw the first question at Butterfield [partner at Hausfeld], who dove right into a discussion of the explosion of data creation, citing a laundry list of impressive facts, including that "every minute of every day Google receives two million queries ... 571 websites are created every minute ... and more than 200 million emails are sent every minute. We are communicating in ways that didn't exist 20 years ago," he said. ... 

Facciola asked Butterfield if he was troubled by the outsourcing of e-discovery to nonlawyers and/or machines. "I do see the tension because lawyers must certify the work," Butterfield acknowledged. ... 

Facciola then turned to [SDNY District Court Judge Shria] Scheindlin, who shifted the focus to the courts. "All cases are now e-discovery cases," she asserted. "Even the littlest cases have e-discovery, everyone has to know how to do it," she said. ... 

Scheindlin said we are entering an era of a divide between the "technology haves and technology have-nots," and noted that small firms may not be able to afford the start-up costs that e-discovery requires. She reminded the audience that not every litigant can afford a lawyer. "Twenty-five percent of my cases are pro se," she said. ... 

Facciola then posed the question of whether lawyers as a group welcome technology and change.

"I think the reality is that most lawyers are not innovators and are afraid of technology," offered Redgrave. "There is a reality that to have continued value, lawyers need to understand technology. ... " 

Asked Facciola: "Is this 'Star Trek'?" Scheindlin jumped in: "Of course trials will change—the question is, will we have trials anymore?" Scheindlin noted that routine technology, such as GPS, cellphones, Facebook and other location tools are changing our daily reality to the point where it's increasingly easy to prove facts. "There are no conversations any more, it's emails and texts. We will know where folks are," she said. ...  Technology is making it so we always know where people are; thus no need for alibi witnesses."  ...

Finally, lawyers need to abandon the "gladiator" role that is imprinted in law school, the panelists asserted, taking strong pokes at the current status of law schools.

"Do I think legal education is keeping up [with technology and cooperation]? Absolutely not.... 

Scheindlin warned academia that they need to get with the reality. "I think the notion of a two-year law school is coming, with the third year clerking." But, she qualified, "I wouldn't be surprised if law schools turn around. The younger generation is more tech savvy than we are. Many lawyers are technophobic, but the next generation is growing up with technology."

That was quite a provocative exchange, and not by legal futurists, but judges and practicing lawyers presiding over cases in federal court. 

Related post:

November 24, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Understanding Trends in Demographics of Law Students – Part Three

Why the Difference in Response to Market Signals?

In Part One, I analyzed how analysis of changes in applicants from LSAC’s Top 240 Feeder Schools demonstrates that graduates of more elite colleges and universities have abandoned legal education at a rate greater than graduates of less elite colleges and universities. 

In Part Two, I analyzed how the pool of applicants to law school has shifted with a greater decrease among applicants with high LSATs than among applicants with low LSATs resulting in a corresponding  increase in the number and percentage of matriculants with LSATs of <150.

What might explain why applicants to law school are down more significantly among graduates of more elite colleges and universities than among graduates of less elite colleges and universities?  What might explain why applicants to law school are down more significantly among those with LSATs of 165+ than among those with LSATs of <150?  Is there some relationship between these data points?

There likely is some relationship between these data points.  Many of the more elite schools in the LSAC’s list of the Top 240 Feeder Schools have historically been schools whose graduates on average have higher LSAT scores compared with graduates from less elite schools.  The LSAC’s 1995 publication, Legal Education at the Close of the Twentieth Century:  Descriptions and Analyses of Students, Financing, and Professional Expectations and Attitudes, authored by Linda F. Wightman, discusses the characteristics of the population of students who entered law school in the fall of 1991.  Roughly 31% of the students scoring in the top quarter in terms of LSAT came from very highly selective undergraduate schools, roughly 31% from highly selective undergraduate schools, and only 17% from the least selective undergraduate schools.  Id. at page 38, Table 20. Thus, it is very likely that these two data points are related – that the greater decline among applicants from more elite colleges and universities is correlated directly with the greater decline among applicants with LSAT scores of 165+.

I want to offer three possible explanations for this differential response to market signals among different populations of prospective law students.  The first two focus on the possibility that market signals are communicated differently to different populations.  The third focuses on how different populations of prospective law students simply might respond to the same market signals in markedly different ways.

Different Pre-Law Advising Resources May Mean Market Signals Penetrate Some Populations of Prospective Law Students More Deeply Than Other Populations of Prospective Law Students.  Focusing first on the nature of the feeder schools, one possibility is that access to pre-law advising resources differs across these different categories of feeder schools resulting in different messages being communicated to applicants from less elite colleges and universities than to applicants from more elite colleges and universities regarding the cost of legal education and the diminished employment prospects for law school graduates in recent years.  Perhaps there are more robust pre-law advising programs among the elite colleges and universities than among the less elite colleges and universities, with pre-law advisors who really have their finger on the pulse of what is happening in legal education and the legal employment market.  Perhaps these more robust pre-law advising programs are engaging in programming and advising that communicates more effectively to prospective law students the significant costs of legal education and the ways in which the challenging employment reality for law graduates in recent years makes the significant cost problematic.  As a result, perhaps larger percentages of prospective law students at more elite colleges and universities are getting more information about the increasing costs and diminished employment prospects for law graduates and are deciding to wait to apply to law school or are deciding to pursue a different career completely. 

Alternatively, pre-law advisors may have different responses to market signals in thinking about their role in advising students.  Perhaps pre-law advisors at more elite colleges and universities are more directive about discouraging students from considering law school while pre-law advisors at less elite colleges and universities are more inclined simply to support student interest in pursuing law school.

There clearly are disparate allocations of resources to pre-law advising across various colleges and universities, different levels of engagement among pre-law advisors and different perspectives on how directive one should be in advising students considering law school.  That said, I am not sure these differences necessarily can be delineated in relation to the extent to which a college or university is considered an elite college or university or a less elite college or university.  Moreover, with so much information now available on the internet, it is not clear that pre-law advisors are the primary source of information for prospective law students. 

These hypotheses would benefit from being explored empirically.  What are the relative pre-law advising resources at the schools down more than 30% in applicants between 2010 and 2012 relative to the pre-law advising resources at the schools down less than 10%? Are pre-law advisors at the colleges and universities down more than 30% in applicants between 2010 and 2012 more inclined to affirmatively discourage students from considering law school than pre-law advisors at  colleges and universities down less than 10%?  Were prospective students at these two categories of schools really receiving different messages about the employment situation for law graduates and the cost of law school?

Different Social Network Signals and Influences --- Another possibility might involve social network signals and influences.  Significant empirical data indicates that on average different socio-economic populations attend different types of colleges and universities.  Among those entering law school in fall 1991 from very highly selective undergraduate schools, nearly three times as many were from families from upper socio-economic status as from lower-middle socio-economic status.  Legal Education at the Close of the Twentieth Century:  Descriptions and Analyses of Students, Financing, and Professional Expectations and Attitudes, at page 38, Table 20.  By contrast, among those entering law school in fall 1991 from the least selective undergraduate schools, nearly twice as many were from lower-middle socio-economic status as from upper socio-economic status.  Id. Similarly, there is fairly significant empirical data indicating that different socio-economic populations generally attend different tiers of law schools with more of the socio-economically elite at higher-ranked law schools and fewer of the socio-economically elite at lower-ranked low schools.  Id. at pages 30-31,  Table 15 and Figure 7; Richard H. Sander and Jane R. Bambauer, The Secret of My Success:  How Status, Eliteness and School Performance Shape Legal Careers, 9 J. Empirical Legal Stud. 893, Table 2 (2012)(analysis of the After the JD dataset looking at a representative sample of law school graduates who took the bar in 2000). 

Given this background, it would seem plausible that graduates of more elite colleges and universities on average represent more of an upper-income socio-economic population who may know more lawyers than graduates of less elite colleges and universities who may on average represent more of a middle class socio-economic population.  The parents of graduates of more elite colleges and universities may be more likely to be lawyers and/or have friends who are lawyers.  Thus, it is possible that graduates of more elite colleges and universities may be more likely to have received negative signals about the rising cost of legal education and the diminished employment prospects for law school graduates in recent years from family and friends than did their peers from less elite colleges and universities.  This hypothesis also would benefit from being explored empirically.

Different Decision Matrices Based on Socio-Economic Status and Opportunity – Another possibility is that regardless of whether students across different types of feeder schools really are getting different messages about the costs of legal education and the challenging employment prospects for law school graduates, they simply may be making different decisions in response to that information.  This hypothesis builds on the possibility that different populations of prospective law students may have different motivations for considering law school or may evaluate the value of a legal education using different parameters given different sets of options that might be available to them.  It is possible that the market signals regarding employment of law graduates are more nuanced than we might generally appreciate.  

For example, it may be that graduates of elite colleges and universities, who also tend to be among the socio-economic elite, have a variety of employment options coming out of college that are more attractive than law school at the moment given the diminished job prospects for law graduates in recent years.  If these students generally value a law degree primarily because of the status associated with acquiring a “prestigious” job in a big firm upon graduating from law school, than the significant decline in big firm jobs might frame their analysis of the value-proposition of law school.  Changes in the legal employment marketplace, particularly significant declines in the number of positions with “prestigious” big firms, may have made the legal profession less attractive to the socio-economic elite, who may be able to pursue job opportunities in finance, investment banking, consulting, or technology, or meaningful public interest opportunities such as Teach for America, that are viewed favorably within their social network. 

By contrast, for graduates of less elite colleges and universities, who are generally not from the socio-economic elite, fewer opportunities may be available in finance, investment banking, consulting, and technology.  In addition, they may lack the financial flexibility to make Teach for America or other public interest opportunities viable.  Moreover, this set of prospective law students may be more motivated simply about becoming a lawyer and acquiring the status that comes with being a lawyer (even if they are not going to become a big firm lawyer, but are simply going to be a family law attorney, or a public defender or a worker’s comp attorney).  This population may be less focused on big firm options and less concerned about the lack of jobs in that niche within the market and may see any position within the legal profession as a path toward financial security and social status, despite the increasing costs of legal education and the diminished employment prospects of law graduates. 

These hypotheses also may merit more empirical assessment.  What are the graduates of more elite colleges and universities choosing to do in greater numbers as significantly smaller numbers apply to law school?  Are there different motivations for pursuing law school among different socio-economic populations?

Regardless of the explanation for the current changes in application patterns, it would appear that the population of law students not only is shrinking, but may be going through a modest demographic transformation, with a somewhat smaller percentage of law students representing the socio-economic elite and a somewhat larger percentage of law students from lower on the socio-economic scale.  First-year students in 2013 may be slightly less “blue blood” and slightly more “blue collar” than they were in 1991.  Whether this is a short-term trend or a longer term reality remains to be seen.  What it might mean for legal education and the legal profession over time also remains to be seen.

November 24, 2013 in Data on legal education, Data on the profession, Scholarship on legal education, Scholarship on the legal profession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Bringing the Disruption of the Legal Services Market into the Law School Classroom

Is it important to help law students understand the disruptions that are now occurring in the legal industry?  Well, let me ask a more fundamental question.  How can a law professor efficiently obtain better information on these complex and diffuse changes? None of us legal academics are experts in this area, and that's a problem in and of itself.

In the process of struggling with these questions, I decided to carve out 15% of the grade in my Corporations class for team-based profiles of NewLaw companies.  Here is how I described the conundrum in my syllabus:

The legal industry is changing in dramatic ways, including the creation of new legal businesses that rely upon technology and process design to solve legal problems that have traditionally been handled by lawyers. These businesses are often financed and managed by nonlawyers, which some of you may find surprising. ...

Remarkably, very few practicing lawyers grasp the type of industry context described above ...  Yet, the influx of financiers and technologists is likely going to have a dramatic effect on your future legal careers.  These changes are extremely foreign to the substance of traditional legal education – we (the legal professoriate) just don’t understand the breadth and depth of the changes that are now occurring.  Rather than sweep this uncomfortable fact under the rug, let’s do what great lawyers do with their clients.  Let’s learn about the business and the industry so that we understand the context.  Armed with this information, we can make better decisions with regard to our own careers.

Two months ago, I circulated the full assignment to the class, divided the class into teams, and gave students two weeks to select a company.  The only restrictions were no duplicates, so first-come first-serve, and the company had to be a non-law firm business operating, partially or entirely, in the legal industry.  (BTW, JB Ruhl's Law Practice 2050 course at Vanderbilt Law tackles this topic head-on.)

Students made their presentations this past Monday evening (Nov. 18) in Indiana Law's Moot Courtroom.  It was a marathon session that ran nearly four hours.  Because of the novel content, several practicing lawyers showed up to see the presentations. The following companies where profiled:

  • AdvanceLaw.  Privately held company that operates a closed community of legal departments who share information on law firms and individual lawyers in order obtain better quality at a lower cost.  Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Axiom Law.  Venture and private equity-based company that helps legal departments more efficiently manage and source their legal needs. Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Black Hills IP.  Privately held onshoring company that does highly specialized IP-related paralegal work -- their internal motto is "innovate and automate."  Founders were involved in an earlier LPO that sold to CPA Global a few year ago. Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Datacert.  An e-billing platform for legal departments that has added on a large overlay of data analytics so legal departments can more aggressively benchmark and monitor their expenses to outside counsel.
  • Ernst & Young.  Big Four accounting firm that hires an enormous number of law grads each year for its tax and consulting practices.  Very much set up for the tastes and preferences of Millenial professionals including training, work space, and work-life balance.
  • Exemplify.  Start-up company founded by Professor Robert Anderson at Pepperdine Law and his student.  Used super computer technology and inductive computational linguistics to identify the market standard language in a myriad of forms found in the SEC Edgar database. Will speed up negotiations on what is "market"; setting stage for eventual market convergence on standards.
  • Huron Consulting.  Publicly held consulting firm that formed out of the ashes of Arthur Anderson's post-Enron collapse.  Although a business consulting organization, a surprisingly large part of their business is e-discovery through attorneys in U.S. and India.  This group trudged through the company's 10Ks, which was a great educational experiemce for them. Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Integreon.  Venture- and private equity-based LPO that has tried to distinguish itself with its global platform and language capabilities.  The company recently cut a deal with Microsoft to handle a large tranche of their patent portfolio work.
  • KM Standards.  Privately held legal knowledge management company that is trying to deconstruct the logic of contracts into standardized terms to enable autonmation and reduce ambiguity (and thus litigation).  Potentially very disruptive.
  • LegalForce.  Privately held company hoping to recapture the lost consumer and start-up market through a novel storefront strategy.  Financed at least initially through LegalForce's  enormously successful online trademark practice run by the company's founder, Raj Abhjanker.  More trademarks granted by PTO than any other law firm.
  • Manzama.  Privately held company in Bend, Oregon that scrapes the Internet with machine learning technology to filter business intelligence for law firms and other professional service firms track.  Enormously scalable. Daily results presented through a dashboard technology. 
  • Modria.  Online dispute resolution system that enables businesses and governments (mostly municipalities) to avoid costly, in-person legal proceedings to resolve a steady stream of similar disputes that are part of running a business or government. Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Neota Logic.  Privately held company founded by former Davis Polk partner and CIO Michael Mills.  The company specializes in the creation of expert systems that can improve the quality and efficiency of many transactional and compliance related activities.  
  • Pangea3.  LPO with substantial operations in India.  Initially back by venture capital in 2004 but subsequently sold to Thomas Reuters in 2010.  Employs roughly 1,000 lawyers in the US and India.  Discussed on the LWB here.
  • Recommind.  Privately held company that specialized in predictive coding for use in document review and e-discovery.  Founders were graduate students in Artificial Intelligence programs at Stanford and UC Berkeley in early 1990s.  Discussed on the LWB here
  • Stewart Richardson.  A privately held Indianapolis-based deposition services company that has gradually and successfully expanded into a broader array of law firm support services.  Very focused on technology to make the job of clients easier.  

The assignment was an experiment, albeit one that worked very well.  Both students and the visiting lawyers reported surprise at the depth and breadth of the innovations taking holding the legal market.  

Although some of the innovations where clearly eroding the need for traditional legal service jobs, the profiles also revealed the tremendous opportunities for those willing to stretch into the law and technology space.  Many students commented that the evening drove home the point that they need to proactively obtain new skills and knowledge.  Why? Because the emerging market has no secure place for the complacent or mediocre.  Better for them to discover it in the course of an assignment than for me to say and have it fall on deaf ears.

Many thanks to the profiled company, who exhibited enormous generosity in helping my students complete this assignment.   Remarkably, most groups had the benefit of a lengthy conference call with senior leadership.  My only regret is that more practicing lawyers did not attend.  My students, who have have 1L team and presentation experience, brought their "A" game.  I will fix that in the next class, as there is no shortage of NewLaw companies to be profiled. 

November 23, 2013 in Current events, Data on the profession, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Important research, Innovations in legal education, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

An Update on Milbank's Big Bet

Two years ago, when all other large law firms were slashing expenses to prop up partner profits, Milbank Tweed went in the opposite direction and invested heavily in an executive education program for midlevel associates. The program, called Milbank@Harvard, required all 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th year associates to spend one week per year at Harvard University taking course work from HLS and HBS professors along with Milbank partners.  At the time, I wrote an in-depth analysis for the Am Law Daily. See Milbank's Big Bet, May 11, 2011.

In the video below, Bloomberg Law provides an update on the program via an interview with David Wolfson, the Milbank partner who oversees the firm's professional development programs.  Here are three takeaways from Lee Pacchia's interview with Wolfson:

  • Two years in and its a big success.  Law firms are innovating these days, but they don't always advertise what they are doing lest their failures become public or their successes get copied.  Why is Milbank talking about this very expensive program?  My best guess is that the firm's bet is paying off.  Thus, the firm is in an ideal position to use the program to differentiate itself in the minds of clients and prospective recruits, including laterals.  In short, this is the branding component of a longer term strategy.  To get his payoff, Milbank started three years ago and invested--back of the envelope calculation--$20 million, which amounts to $150,000 to $200,000 of forgone profits per equity partner. 
  • The skills gaps are primarily in business and leadership.  Wilson criticizes law schools for not doing more in this area, particularly in the collaboration and leadership areas.  But he also acknowledges that the biggest part of hard skills gap, financial literacy and acumen, requires learning in context.  At year four, the associates know what they don't know.  The original Cravath System was a lawyer development machine.  So is Milbank@Harvard, albeit the specifications have been updated.
  • The idea for Milbank@Harvard came from a German partner.  One of the many fruits of globalization is getting an outsider perspective on old problems.  Perhaps U.S. law firm partners are too embedded in the year-to-year AmLaw league tables to see and appreciate the power of a longer-term strategy based on aligning the needs of clients, partners, and associates.  That said, the American brain trust at Milbank was smart enough to listen their German partner.

The video:

In this book, Tomorrow's Lawyers, Richard Susskind predicts that the market for high-end bespoke legal services will consolidate to "20 global elites."  That said, 50 to 100 US and UK firms are hoping to make that cut.  This gradual winnowing process is what is causing all the groaning these days from millionaire BigLaw partners.

Milbank is one of the few firms, however, that is pursuing a unique, public strategy:  (a) attract, develop, and retain mid-level associates who know they need business training, (b) impress clients through improved value in the mid-level ranks, and (c) as I noted in the original Milbank's Big Bet essay, make Milbank the preferred recruitng grounds for in-house legal talent. 

To my mind, that is a compelling and likely winning strategy.

November 17, 2013 in Current events, Data on the profession, Innovations in law, Law Firms, New and Noteworthy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Is Axiom the Bellwether for Disruption in the Legal Industry?

Axiom-law-logoI think the answer is yes.  For the last several years, I have been an avid watcher of Axiom's growth, but this article in Friday's Houston Business Journal finally convinced me that the top-end of the legal industry is changing and that Axiom is setting the standard for disruption.

On a surface level, many of the facts in the HBJ article are unremarkable.  Axiom opened its Houston office back in May 2012.  Since then, it has grown to 30 lawyers  and expects to add another 15 over the next 12 months.  Yet, during this same period, the boom in the energy sector has caused several national and international law firms to also open offices in Houston, including Reed SmithDentonsKatten Muchin, and K&L Gates

Axiom and large law firms are definitely targeting and servicing the same clientele -- Fortune 100 legal departments. The substance of their work is also very similar -- sophisticated, complex legal work related to disputes, transactions, and compliance.  But in many cases, the solutions offered by Axiom are radically different.

Okay, now a reasonable expectation of any reader is likely to be, "Now explain that difference."   Back in 2010, Axiom's CEO Mark Harris told Law Practice magazine that Axiom was "trying to invent a whole new category of law firm.  When you’re doing that there is no vocabulary [to describe your business model]." 

In my experience, the opaqueness of Axiom's business model actually works to its advantage.  Specifically, it encourages Axiom's primary competitors (large law firms) to put Axiom in a box based on an outdated caricature.  That, in turn, gives Axiom more running room to fully implement the "whole new model."  Let me start with the caricature; then I will do my best to explain what the company actually does. 

The Inaccurate Axiom Caricature

In its early years, Axiom was described by many as a high-end "temp" service for legal departments. See, e.g., Peter Lattman, Axiom: A Different Kind of Legal Practice? WSJ Law Blog, Nov. 27, 2007 (describing Axiom as having developed "a niche as a provider of high-end temp services to blue-chip corporate clients").

The simplified version runs like this.  Lawyers working in large law firms trade-in their partner status, or shot at partnership, for more autonomy and a better work-life balance.  By brokering relationships between legal departments and skilled but disaffected lawyers, Axiom ditches the "class A" overhead and reduces the allocation of legal fees that would otherwise support record law firm profits.

Under this caricatured model, all parties are made better off -- the client (who gets the same quality work, but cheaper), the lawyers (who get off the billable hour trend mill and are able take vacations again), and Axiom (which collects a fee).  The caricatured model also enables large law firms to dismiss the Axiom model on the belief that only a small tranche of legal work is at risk of being siphoned away.  And that work is lower margin and price sensitive -- so-called "commodity" legal work.  Finally, the lawyers leaving for Axiom are not the heavy-hitter equity partners who control client relationships.  Hence, the analysis is complete: Axiom represents zero threat to the BigLaw model.

Yet, if brokering lawyer services was originally the core of Axiom's business, they have subsequently expanded their offerings.  Back in 2007, Axiom was #73 on Inc magazine's list of fastest growing companies, with revenues of $17 million per year and 1000%-plus growth over three years.   Since then, its revenues have grown another ten-fold.  Earlier this year, Axiom took $28 million in outside investment, which it plans to invest in technology. See Mark Harris of Axiom Answers Hard Questions, Legal Whiteboard, Sept. 25, 2013.

With this kind of growth, and the backing of very serious venture capital funds, perhaps its time to check the assumptions surrounding the Axiom caricature.

The "Managed Services" Business Model

Based on my own discussions with Axiom management and several articles on the topic, see, e.g., Adam Smith,  ABA Journal, Strategic Legal Technology Blog, the fastest growing part of Axiom's business is its "Managed Services" practice. 

Part of the managed services practice is analyzing and redesigning workflows so that in-house lawyers have the cost and quality information needed to make better sourcing decisions. Because Axiom is helping to redesign the workflows, including the specifications for sourcing decisions, it is well-positioned to do much of the resulting work -- indeed, unless it can manage both the design and execution of the work flow, Axiom can't warranty the results.

What is the goal of the workflow redesigns?  To reduce legal risk and legal cost at the same time, primarily through process, measurement, and feedback loops.  Virtually the entire law firm and law school universe is stuck in a mental frame that believes that better, faster, and cheaper are in permanent tension with each other.  This is because our mental frame of reference is based on artisan-trained lawyers working in a traditional office environment with Word, email, and a searchable bank of forms and briefs. 

Yet, when systems engineers, information technologists, and project managers because equal members of the team, "better, faster, cheaper" becomes a straightforward problem that can be solved through a four-part continuous process: design, execute, measure, repeat.  

BayneaxiomMuch of the key design and execution work at Axiom is done by nonlawyers who formerly worked for global consulting businesses.  See, e.g., this opening in Axiom (Chicago) for Project Management Director of Managed Contracts

Indeed, the head of Axiom's Houston office is Brian Bayne, a business development professional with an MBA from the University of Dallas.  Before joining Axiom, Bayne worked for IBM.  Here is how Bayne described Axiom to the HBJ:

"The heart of what motivates us as a company is to be seen as an agent of change ... . We want to be a leading voice for transition in the industry. It really is a new way of doing business and offers a completely different value proposition that most law firms are not in a position to do."

Is Axiom a Law Firm?

Over at the E-Lawyering Blog back in April, Richard Granat did a very careful job trying to answer this question, and concluded that the answer was "no." In fact, Axiom is a Delaware C-Corp with nonlawyer investors as equity shareholders. 

So, how is Axiom getting around the Rule 5.4 ban on fee-splitting with nonlawyers?  The answer to this question has a lot to do with the nature of outsourcing and managed services within legal departments.   A general counsel for a corporation controls the legal functions of the company. Because he or she can't do all the work themselves, they hire in-house legal staff and outside counsel.  In recent years, legal departments have also contracted directly with LPOs, particularly on matters related to e-discovery and M&A due diligence. When it comes to non-law firm options, such as LPOs, the general counsel and his or her staff are "supervising" the work within the meaning of the legal ethics rules.

When a general counsel of a corporation uses a managed service provider, such a Axiom, they are diverting a tranche of work they control.  The value of the managed service provider is process expertise plus economies of scale and scope.  Axiom, through a contract with the legal department, manages some of that legal workflow that supports in-house lawyers in their counseling and compliance roles.  Yet, the buyer of the managed services is himself a lawyer, and that lawyer is ultimately responsible for advising the corporation on legal risk. 

On one level, Axiom is a niche business.  As Granat notes, "If you don't have an in-house counsel, then you can't use Axiom's services. Not being a law firm, Axiom cannot provide services to the public (individuals or organizations) directly."  Yet, this niche accounts for a huge proportion of the entire legal services market.  In this American Lawyer article, one of Axiom's venture capital investors, opined "With a worldwide legal market that is a trillion dollars each year, there is plenty of running room to build a successful business."

Ultimately, the value proposition very simple.  As an in-house lawyer, you can educate yourself on the Axiom managed services approach and be comfortable that, through process and measurement, you have a solid handle on this tranche of the company's legal work, likely within budget.  Or you can have the CYA coverage of a brand name law firm and continue to do battle with your CFO over rising legal fees. If you were an investor, which approach you would bet on?

So Axiom can't help you with your divorce, will, or personal injury case.  Don't worry,  Jacoby & Meyers, Legal Zoom, Legal Rocket, and others are trying to tap into that market.  See Legal Futures, Nov 8, 2013.  In the meantime, Axiom may be gunning to be a service provider to your large corporate employer.

The Last Days of a Bloodless Revolution

I am sure that a state bar regulator, taking a very formalistic approach, can take issue with Axiom's construction of Rule 5.4, which prohibits profit-sharing between lawyers and nonlawyers from income generated from the practice of law.  But the purpose behind Rule 5.4 is to preserve lawyer independence so that the quality of the underlying legal advice won't be compromised by the nonlawyer's pursuit of profit.

In the case of Axiom, however, the person making the buying decision is a highly sophisticated lawyer who is struggling to manage his or her organization's legal needs within a budget.  Stated bluntly, the GC of a multinational corporation does not want the kind of consumer protection that a formalistic construction of Rule 5.4 would provide.

A betting person, such as a nonlawyer Axiom investor, would likely conclude that the bar regulators are not going to pick a fight with the largest corporations headquartered in their jurisdiction.  Why would they?  The subtext of economic protectionism would set them up for ridicule in the legal and mainstream press--who, exactly, is being harmed besides the law firms who are losing market share?  And is there a principled basis to distinguish LPOs from managed services? 

Expect to read more about state regulators in the "risk factors" section of Axiom's S-1 registration statement if and when Axiom decides go public.  I think these risks will likely remain hypothetical, but as my friend Ed Reeser is known to say, "That is just my opinion.  I could be wrong."

Truth be told, the nonlawyer revolution in U.S. legal services is occurring right now.  And there is a good possibility that the whole revolution will take place without a single shot ever being fired.

Back to Houston

The HBJ reporter asked a local Houston legal recruiter about the future prospects for Axiom.  The recruiter commented that he was "[n]ot sure how well they will do in Texas, given the conservative nature of the legal business here." 

In my own experience, general counsel in Texas are among the most innovative and entrepreneurial in the country.  The General Counsel Forum was originally founded in Texas as a state-level organization, and it is now rivalling the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) in terms of eduational programming for in-house lawyers and sharing best practices and benchmarking.

Lawyers as a group may be conservative, but within that distribution there is a small cadre of innovators and early adopters.  Although most people don't change their behavior in response to abstract ideas, innovators and early adopters are at least drawn to the possibility.  Not every idea will be successful -- indeed, the trial and error of the innovators is often a basis for dismssing them as fringe players.  Yet, when an innovation produces a significant leap forward, the resulting success eventually sets off a widespread diffusion among the broader population.

DiffusionofinnovationThere is a rich sociological literature on this topic, which was pioneered by Everett Rogers in his 1962 book, Diffusion of Innovation.  It turns out that self-interest is often inadequate to overcome inertia and prejudice, at least in the short- to medium-term.  The classic example is hybrid seeds, which have a host of advantages for producing more bountiful, disease-free crops.  Yet, that innovation took decades to take hold among farmers.

Looking for another example?  In the early 1980s, Bill James was publicizing the benefits of his stats-driven approach to baseball.  The advertised benefits were clear -- "you can win more baseball games."  Isn't that what every baseball team wants?  But what's the cost?  "Well, you'll have to change the way your evaluate talent."  For nearly twenty years, the implicit answer of the baseball establishment was "no, that price is too high."   Within the last decade, however, the stats-driven appoach has become commonplace in baseball and in other sports as well. The innovation has become diffuse.

I suspect that Axiom's senior management fully understands these dyanmics.  Looking at the distribution model from Everett Roger's book, if you are trying to sell your unproven innovation, you are literally wasting your time trying to sell to your wares to 85% of the market. Indeed, if you are in the very early stages of innovation, 98% of the potential buyers are likely to be resistant to your pitch. 

Rogerdiffusioninnovationcurve

The problem here is not economics --  its human nature.  This may be hard for many lawyers to believe, but lawyers, including general counsel, are human beings.  And human beings are prone to a series of predictable reactions when presented with various stimuli, such as new ways to perform their work.  Rather than process the merits of the idea, many human beings, including lawyers, will instead gauge the reactions of the market leaders.  If the market leaders react with approbation, the early and late majority become willing to actually engage with the idea. 

What this means is that the merits of a good idea are not enough to ensure its success, at least immediately.  This is a key practical insight that the reformer/innovator class seldom grasps.  Without understanding Roger's Diffusion of Innovation curve, an innovator's success becomes a function of timing and luck -- that is the story of Bill James. 

But if you understand the diffusion process, it is possible to construct a filter that locates the innovator/early adopter class.  And if you study their beliefs and problems, you can more effectively tailor your pitch. This approach saves time and money and holds the team together in the belief that they will ultimately be successful.

So, where is Axiom on the Rogers Diffusion Curve? 

My best guess is the "early adopters" stage, as Axiom has relationships with roughly half of the Fortune 100 and is working hard to widen those relationships with more ambitious projects.  Their goal, as best as I can tell, is to generate a clear proof-of-concept that they have solutions to the risk/cost conundrum that plagues so many legal departments and causes them to blow their budgets.  With sufficient market testimonials, and as in-house lawyers with exposure to Axiom migrate to other legal departments, the broader legal market will begin to tip. 

I find the Axiom story refreshing, primarily because the legal market has fallen under the spell of the fast follower strategy.  In my travels, I often encounter the attitude "Let someone else prove that it can be done differently and better and then we will follow."  When virtually the entire market adopts this worldview, incumbent institutions begin to relish the false starts of others and a general sense of complacency begins to set in.  Frankly, I find this whole dynamic unprofessional is the classical sense of that word -- i.e., at variance with professional standards and conduct.

Axiom, in contrast, is on the brink of demonstrating the benefits of the first mover advantage in law.  This is bound to have the beneficial, balancing effect on the rest of us.

Related posts:

November 10, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, Data on the profession, Innovations in law, Law Firms, Legal Departments, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Clayton Christensen Explains How Disruption Will Occur in Higher Education

InnovativeuniversityClayton Christensen is the Harvard Business School professor who wrote The Innovator's Dilemma, the seminal book on why successful businesses so rarely stay on top over the long term. Although focused on the tech industry -- where product cycles are very short -- Christensen's framework has a much wider application, including legacy industrial enterprises and countries.  In 2011, Christensen published a book called The Innovative University, which applied the Innovator's Dilemma framework to higher education.  

Below is a YouTube video of Christensen explaining his thesis to a conference in Dallas organized around the future of public universities.  His talk is very long by online video standards (80 minutes) but worth the time of anyone who wants to understand the Christensen framework and its application to higher ed.  At approximately minute 45, Christensen specifically mentions law schools.  Below the video is some additional context on Christensen.

Remember that near presidential coup at University of Virginia, which was reported in the New York Times Magazine last fall (link)?   Well, Christensen's ideas had begun to propagate within the university trustee community, thanks in part to a letter than Christensen and Henry Eyring had recently written to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA).

As discussed in the New York Times article, the coalition that was animated by Christensen's ideas was ultimately defeated by the palace guards.  But that was the first attempted coup at a major research university, not the last.  As Christensen points out in the video, universities are feeling pressure from innovative models that "compete against nonconsumption."  In other words, lots of people would like the knowledge taught in the great universities, but that demand goes unsatisfied because of selective admissions requirements, tuition, and geography.  

MOACs are the first volley in figuring out this untapped market.  Those that dismiss MOACs as irrelevant are missing the bigger picture of what early stage disruption looks like.

Specifically, according to Christensen, here is the recurring dynamic: the new entrants siphon off work from the bottom-end -- work that the high-end says it does not want anyway.  The cycle repeats itself a few times until, much to the incumbents' surprise, the bottom-end becomes more economically relevant and powerful.  Why does top-end let this happen?  Because the incumbents have come to view success as elite status and high margins, which is an unrealistically high long-term bar unless you are continuously innovating.  Eventually, the so-called high-margin niche becomes insufficient to sustain the enterprise, and giants fall -- see the automotive industry, steel, computer hardware, televisions, consumer electronics, etc.

That said, does the university model of education have a life cycle, or is it above these coarse market considerations?  I think it probably does.

In the year 2013, lots of knowledge is free or incredibly cheap. Next year, even more, and so on for the foreseeable future. As a result, many people are able to become astonishingly  knowledgable and skilled because of the sheer joy of learning and becoming more competent.  It turns out that university credentials are a pretty noisy signal for knowledge and competence -- a small positive correlation, yes, but not much more.  This is an information gap problem.

In terms of sheer productitivity, most employers would prefer the folks who are driven to learn and continuously improve.  Google has already figured this out, as a substantial portion of their high-end workforce has never completed college.  Google employs them for their abilities, not their degrees. 

When opportunity is unbundled from university credentials -- i.e., the  information gap problem described above becomes cost-effective to solve -- the demand for university education as it currently exists (expensive and in limited supply) will go down.  From a social perspective, this is a good thing.  But it means that universities will have to innovate in the years to come in order to justify our tuition and fees.

November 8, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Cross industry comparisons, Current events, Important research, New and Noteworthy, Structural change, Video interviews | Permalink | Comments (1)