Sunday, April 7, 2013

Shameless Commerce Division: A Promo for Unincorporated Business Entities, 5th Edition

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

If you teach unincorporated business entities (LLCs, partnerships, and agency), you may be interested in the LexisNexis promo in which I shamelessly plug the thing.  My overall reaction:  a face made for radio, but what I'm saying is accurate.

 

April 7, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Law Video that is Destine to go Viral ...

So we might as well face the music now.  This incredibly powerful video was produced by www.rethinklaw.org.   And who created Rethink Law?  The same folks discussed here.

Rethink Law (US) from Liana Guzman on Vimeo.

The revolution is here.  It is going to happen. For a detailed analysis of the rise of what I call "Susskind's World" and the new legal entrepenuers, see Part II.C of The Blueprint for Change.

April 4, 2013 in Current events, Innovations in law, Law Firms, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"Wireless Medicine" -- Is Law Next?

by William Henderson

A good friend of mine, Ed Reeser, who is a lawyer, sent along this video on the "Wireless Medicine" movement, which is apparently led by Dr. Eric Topol, one of the nation's leading cardiologists, author of the book, The Creative Destruction of Medicine.  Its subtitle is, "How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care."  

Seeing a connection to the burgeoning intersection of law and technology, Ed wrote:

"I don't send videos like this around, especially to busy people like yourselves. But this is a much better way to make a point on how technology is totally changing the landscape, and why it is so critically important to understand where it is going and why.  .... The prospect for massively improved capabilities for quality service at lower cost are just beginning to emerge, and this is where the early adopters of the right approaches will have advantage. Understanding which will be right......is just the beginning of the game.  If you think law is being impacted by technology.....watch this. Then, go back to your reflections on law and rethink the possibilities of where technology is going to impact law and how to become a positive driver of change with it, rather than roadkill in resisting it. "

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

April 2, 2013 in Cross industry comparisons, Structural change, Video interviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Question Authority: Law students have an important role to play in the future of legal education

National-jurist-logoI continue to be grateful to the National Jurist for giving me an opportunity to write a column targeted directly to law students.   As an educator, I have found these assignments very useful toward developing a better understanding of my own students at Indiana Law. In the process, I hope I am providing some useful, realistic guidance to the next generation of lawyers

In my 2013 column, I urge law students to ask us law professors tougher questions about the current state of legal education, albeit with respect.  If they ask tough questions, we will all be better off.  It is republished below. [Original PDF]

Question Authority: Law students have an important role to play in the future of legal education, National Jurist (Jan. 2013)

by William D. Henderson

I recently gave a keynote address in which I admonished a large group of law students to “question authority.”  It certainly sounds cliché – after all, it was the rallying cry of countercultural icon Timothy Leary during the 1960s.  A decade later, it was mainstream bumper sticker. But the admonition has a much more distinguished pedigree.  Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said that “the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”  

I wish I had known the source of the quote when I gave the speech.  But regardless, it fit the context. Today’s law students are embarking upon an uncertain future.  Although I can understand the impulse to trust your elders, there are times of extreme upheaval when they cannot be counted upon to deliver wise counsel.  

Reluctantly, through the passage of time, I have become an elder.  And for the legal profession and legal education, we are entering one of those periods of great tumult.   To come out the other side, better and stronger, we need two things from the up-and-coming generation of law students. 

 First, we need your skepticism to question our methods and our motives.  The legal marketplace is undergoing significant changes.   We did not adequately anticipate these disruptions.  In addition, we do not fully understand their breadth and depth.    Because we are human, we are reluctant to admit our confusion.   Even worse, we may even deny there is a problem.  After all, the confluence of high student debt and a soft legal market happened on our watch. 

Second, we need your youthful energy to refashion legal education in a way that is much more consistent with our professional ideals.  All lawyers covet prestige, but over the last decades we have confused prestige with money and rankings.  As a historical matter, lasting legal reputations are disproportionately traceable to a lifelong willingness to doggedly and creatively advance the welfare of others.   Even today, the best lawyers find ways to faithfully serve their clients while simultaneously advancing the public good. We need your generation to lay the foundation for a renaissance in which our collective behavior more closely hews to our ideals. This is a goal worthy of your time and talent.

 If you are going to be effective at questioning authority (and unless you are going to be effective, why do it all?), you need to practice.  Well, I am 50-year old tenured law professor.  I create the syllabus, I decide how you will be evaluated, and I assign student grades.  Much to my chagrin, I have accumulated some authority.  So feel free to practice your questioning on me. 

Here is the world as I see it.  I could be wrong.  But even worse, I may be partially right.  

The entry-level job market for law graduates is tough right now.  But if you had not enrolled in law school, your employment prospects would be no less murky.  As noted by the popular author, Daniel Pink (himself a law school graduate), in his book, A Whole New Mind, we are living in time where every young person must compete against three formidable forces:  Asia, Automation, and Abundance. 

The Asian continent is formidable because nations such as India and China are leapfrogging into world economy with enormous quantities of ambitious, technically competent young people. 

Automation is formidable because so much of human activity, including law, is reducible to patterns.  This means solutions can be standardized, thereby displacing a significant amount of mental analysis that lawyers now perform for clients on a matter-by-matter basis.  (See also my September 2012 column, “Why are we Afraid of the Future of Law?”) 

Abundance is formidable because the flipside of the consumer society that has given us so many cheap, high quality choices is a producer economy in which expensive university educations provide us with skills that becoming more and more fungible.  

To my mind, today’s university educators are not responsible for the challenges created by Asia, Automation, and Abundance.  These are massive structural and economic forces that are hard to forecast and impossible to control.  Yet, as university educators who benefit from your tuition dollars, we are responsible for formulating effective responses.  Although we might prefer to focus on a different set of challenges, this one should take top priority because its weight falls disproportionately not on us, but on you.

 So you need to ask us, “How well is this education helping us adapt to the challenges of Asia, Automation and Abundance?”  Some of us might reply that the threat is overstated.  Well, are you convinced?  What evidence supports this assessment?   

Alternatively, others of us might reply that the challenges are very real, but fortunately, the core elements of traditional legal education are an excellent preparation.  Well, are you convinced?  Further, is it possible that our inability or reluctance to retool may cloud our judgment and influence our reply?  The iconoclastic author and economist John Kenneth Galbraith once observed, “Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” 

A third response may be, “I don’t know.  These are a hard set of issues.  And they need to be solved.”  When a professor responses in this way, it is hard to question their motives.  Further, you may have found someone with authority who is willing to take up your cause. 

At the beginning of this essay, I failed to mention one key proviso to my “question authority” admonition.  I told the law students that when they question authority, they should do it respectfully.  Indeed, all of my life experience has shown me that effectiveness in human relations requires a foundation of mutual respect.  Your elders did not create the challenges that lie ahead.  We are not your enemy.  Our limitation is that we are human, and therefore imperfect; and so are you. 

 Yet, if you question authority persistently but respectfully, you will be doing yourself, legal education, and the legal profession an enormous service.

 If you think my ideas and analysis are wrong, you are free to question my authority.

April 1, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Losing the Law Business

Logo_financialreviewThe legal industry is changing in ways that very few lawyers understand.  I recently tried to explain these changes to a savvy nonlawyer, non-American audience through an essay I published in the Cayman Financial Review, entitled, "Losing the Law Business"  (original PDF).  I wanted to share this analysis first with an audience that was, frankly, not emotionally or financially wedded to the outcome--hence, they could be objective. Now I want to gauge the U.S. lawyer reaction, so  I am republishing the essay here on The Legal Whiteboard.  

Losing the Law Business, Cayman Financial Review (Jan. 2013)

by William D. Henderson

If you are not a lawyer, you may find this next sentence very good news.  We are entering a period in human history in which we are going to need fewer lawyers, at least the traditionally trained variety.  The world is becoming more interconnected, regulated and complex.  Although regulation and complexity have historically been very good for the lawyer business, something very fundamental is changing.  Clients are increasingly struggling to pay the bills of artisan lawyers who prefer to craft individual, customized solutions for each transaction and each dispute.

In essence, law is facing a productivity imperative.  To cope with globalization, the world needs better, faster, and cheaper legal output.  The artisan trained lawyer just can’t keep up.  To address the productivity imperative – or, more accurately, to turn a profit from this business opportunity—a new generation of legal entrepreneurs has emerged.

Lawyers continue to have a lock on advocacy work and client counseling on legal matters.  But an enormous amount of work that leads up to the courthouse door, or the client counseling moment, is increasingly being “disaggregated” into a series of tasks that does not need to be performed by lawyers.  Indeed, it may be best performed by computer algorithms.  Further, the entire process is amenable to continuous improvement, driving up quality and driving down costs.  This is a job that is likely more suitable for a systems engineer, albeit one with legal expertise, than a traditionally trained lawyer.

Although this change may sound radical, it is actually the logical next step in an evolutionary progression that began in the early 20th century as the practicing bar transitioned from generalist solo practitioners to specialized lawyers working together within law firms.  Now, as clients search out ways to stretch their legal budgets, specialization is losing market share to process-driven solutions, akin to how Henry Ford’s assembly line methods supplanted craft production.

To illustrate this progression, consider the U.S. legal market at the beginning of the post-War period.  At that time, 61% of all lawyers worked as solo practitioners. Not surprisingly, incomes were low.  In 1948, the average lawyer in private practice made $5,200 per year, which was several hundred dollars less than his government lawyer counterpart.   There were private practice lawyers, however, who defied this trend.  Less than 2% of U.S. lawyers worked as partners in law firms of nine partners or more, but these “large” firm lawyers made, on average, five times more than their solo practitioner peers.

Why so much more?  Because the world was becoming more regulated and complex.  And sophisticated, specialized lawyers with deep technical expertise were in short supply.  By combining into a firm, lawyers could specialize in new or existing areas of law, handle bigger and more complex matters, and otherwise coordinate their efforts to better serve clients.  Indeed, the most successful large law firms, such as the New York City firm of Cravath Swaine & Moore, organized themselves so as to optimize the training of junior lawyers in both substantive law and the ability to supervise and delegate (the “Cravath system”).  Fittingly, during the 1930s, the press dubbed these firms “law factories.”  The best junior lawyers eventually became partner; the rest obtained the benefit of excellent experience and training, thus obtaining jobs with clients or partnerships with other law firms.

For the next several decades, firms with significant business clients and a partner-associate training model tended to prosper.  As a measure of longevity of the specialist model, among the largest 100 law firms in the U.S. as measured by gross revenues (the AmLaw 100), the average name partner was born in 1895 and died in 1964 – yet the growth has marched on for another half century.  The period of greatest financial success has occurred during the last three decades.  Between 1978 and 2003, total U.S. legal expenses as a percentage of GDP increased from .4% to 1.8%.  From this growing pie, large firm lawyers where getting the biggest slice.  By the mid-2000s, the profit share of the average partner in an Am Law 100 firm was over $1 million per year.

One obvious drag on the legal industry’s reluctance to embrace innovation is the financial success enjoyed under the old model.  It is hard to convince a group of millionaires that their business model is broken.  A second drag is insularity.  The U.S./U.K system of lawyering is premised on the idea of independence.  In the U.S., ethics rules prohibit lawyers from splitting fees with nonlawyers.  Thus, only lawyers have an equity interest in law firms.  In the U.K. and Australia, in contrast, the ban on fee-splitting has been significantly relaxed, enabling the public listing of law firms and the entry of name-brand companies, such as Tesco (a supermarket retailer), into the consumer legal business.

Ironically, the insularity of the U.S. legal market may have created a more attractive target for capitalists. Among corporate clients, the combination of high law firm profits and low innovation has created discontent among C-suite executives.  They ask their general counsel, “why are legal expenses going up faster than other departments?  What value are we getting for these higher fees?”  The general counsel has no persuasive reply.

Perhaps the best example of new entrepreneurs serving corporate clients is the large number of vendors working in eDiscovery and document review. The explosion in digital data over the last 10 to 15 years has made it untenable to continue using expensive law firm associates for an exhaustive manual review. 

Initially the work went to registry services, which assembled large crews of temporary low-wage “contract” lawyers for large document review projects.  After building a sufficient data infrastructure and security controls, the work flow has gradually expanded to legal process outsourcers (LPOs) in places like India, where a fraction of the wages paid to U.S. contract attorneys could attract highly motivated and able Indian lawyers.  Having achieved sufficient success and scale, the best LPOs are now turning to process engineering, combining this highly motivated and able labor with superior technology and workflow design. 

More recently, new vendors have emerged who specialize in “predictive coding.”  In a case that considered acceptable methods of conducting electronic discovery, a federal judge in New York City reviewed studies comparing the cost and accuracy of computer-based machine algorithms (predictive coding) with manual human review.  Finding that the predictive coding was at least as accurate as manual methods and reduced the number of documents for human review by a factor of 50, the judge ruled that predictive coding was judicially reasonable in many cases involving large numbers of documents.

Although many large U.S. law firms may perceive document review as “commodity” legal work not worthy of their efforts, the new legal vendors getting into this space are remarkably well capitalized.  For example, one of the larger suppliers of contract attorneys is Robert Half, which has 26 locations through the U.S. and Canada.  Its corporate parent, Robert Half International, is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange (RHI).  Another company in the contract attorney space is Special Counsel, which has 36 U.S. offices.  Special Counsel is a subsidiary of Adecco Group, which is listed on the SIX Swiss Stock Exchange (ADEN).

In the LPO space, Pangea3, which opened in 2004 with $1.5 million in venture capital, was sold in 2010 to Thomson Reuters (NYSE symbol TRI) for an amount reported to be in the $35M to $40M range. [ed: I later learned from a highly reliable source that the true price was just under $100M.]  The original management team was kept intact, as the company has been growing between 40% and 60% every year since its founding.  The company now employs over 850 lawyers, mostly in India.  Because of its emphasis on process improvement, Pangea3 and other high-end LPOs are obtaining a competitive advantage beyond mere wages.  Thus, LPOs have become a much more attractive option for Indian law graduates.  Another competitor is Huron Consulting Group (NASDAQ symbol HURN), which recently announced a new document review facility in Gurgeon (a booming suburb of Delhi), bringing its total global document review workforce to 1,500 in 17 offices worldwide.  Since 2007, Huron Consulting Group’s annual revenues have nearly doubled, growing from $315 million to $606 million.

The major players in the predictive coding space are also well capitalized.  One of the leaders is Recommind, a privately held company with $15 million in revenues in 2011 and approximately 100 employees in facilities in California, London, Germany and Australia.  Similarly, Kroll Ontrack, which started in the hard disk recovery business nearly 30 years ago, has information management services that include predictive coding as part of its broader eDiscovery services.  Kroll Ontrack is owned by Kroll, Inc., which was recently acquired by Altegrity, an information conglomerate owned by Providence Equity Partners.  Providence Equity is a global private equity firm with over $27 billion under management.

Since 2008, revenues in large U.S.-based law firms have been relatively flat.  A recent article in Managing Partner magazine acknowledged that law firms are losing market share to the LPOs –which broadly includes all the companies mentioned above—as general counsel are increasingly contracting with LPOs directly.  The savings are perceived to be in the 50% range with no diminution in quality.  According to the article, the LPO business is estimated to be a $1 billion per year industry that will double in size over the next two to three years.

Unlike traditional lawyers, the competitive advantage enjoyed by these new entrants is that they have learned how to learn.  If law is like other industries, these companies will move up the value chain and find new ways to satisfy the needs of large corporate legal departments.  Law is not just for lawyers anymore.  This genie is permanently out of its bottle.

March 27, 2013 in Current events, Data on the profession, Innovations in law, Law Firms, Legal Departments, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Thank you to an Anonymous Alum

Each year, the instructors in Indiana Law's 1L Legal Professions class coordinate with Indiana Law's Office on Career and Professional Development (OCPD) to run the Career Choices Speakers Series -- 16 lunchtime forums on Thursdays and Fridays throughout the second semester.  It has been an enormous hit with students.  Although our 1Ls are required to attend at least three, a huge proportion of the 1Ls attend over ten.

Below is a photo of this Thursday's pizza run for the session on Direct Service Public Interest Lawyers -- 22 pizzas and the laptop/scanner used for attendance.  Over the course of semester, we will purchase well over 300 pizzas.  Who pays for all of this food and equipment (plus about a dozen dinners for students and alums that occur before and after these events)?  An Indiana Law alumni who profoundly believes in the role of ethics and integrity to achieve personal and professional success in life.  And he has done so quietly, behind the scenes, every year for the last five.

I thought our alum would enjoy seeing the pizza gurney.  Thank you!  You are opening students' eyes and helping them make better decisions, all through relationships with other lawyers.

Careerchoicepizza

[photo credit, 1L Dakota Scheu, via iPhone].  For additional information on this highly effective program, see my prior post, A New Tool for Lawyer Professional Development.

[posted by Bill Henderson]

March 24, 2013 in Current events, Data on legal education, Innovations in legal education | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

ReInvent Law is a Really Big Deal

KatzknakeI was at the ReInvent Law Silicon Valley event last week.  Following up on Jerry's thorough remarks, I can honestly say it was unlike any legal education and lawyer conference I have ever attended (the only thing close is Law Without Walls).  There is a new guard in the legal academy taking shape, and it is led -- truly led -- by Dan Katz and Renee Knake at Michigan State. 

Admittedly, Dan and Renee lean heavily toward my bias.  Most of us law professors talk.  Dan and Renee, in contrast, are doers.  Shortly after becoming assistant professors, they each moved quickly from ideas to action to actually having the audacity to attempt to build new and relevant institutions. Moreover, they both did it untenured--Dan is only in his second year of teaching and Renee just cleared the tenure hurdle earlier this year.  They did all of this without a net. To my mind, they are winning the "Game of Life."  If other junior faculty follow their example, the legal academy is going to truly change.  And right now, that is what we need.

One of my favorite Paul Lippe quotes is this, "In hindsight, the new solutions are all going to look obvious."  ReInvent Law was 40 speakers tied together by a common interest in experimentation. Were all the ideas good?  If history is any guide, and the criteria is moving from concept to implementation to financial and institutional sustainability, the answer is surely no. But it was invigorating to be in a room of doers who are all willing to risk failure.  That is the courage and leadership we need right now.  To me, it looked obvious that we need a place like ReInvent Law where insurgent ideas can be expressed with enthusiasm, even if only a handful or fewer will transform the legal landscape.

I was fortunate to be one of the presenters.  Dan Katz was kind enough to take my picture when I gave my Ted-style talk (all the talks were Ted-style or "Ignite").  If you zoom-in on me, I look ridiculous.  I am no showman.  But you have to admit that the lighting is pretty spectacular.  The green screen, by the way, is the running twitter feed, an idea that I can assure you was not stolen from the ABA or the AALS.

  ReInventLaw

Amidst all these "revolutionary" ideas, I think my presentation was probably the most conservative.  My central claim is that 100 years ago, as the nation struggled to find enough specialized lawyers to deal with the rise of the industrial and administrative state, some brilliant lawyers in cities throughout the U.S. created a "clockworks" approach to lawyer development.  These clockworks filled the enormous skills and knowledge gap.  Firms like Cravath, Swaine & Moore, through their "Cravath System," finished what legal educators started.  (I use the Cravath System as my exemplar because its elegant business logic was written out so meticulously in the firm's 3-volume history.)  

The whole purpose of the clockworks was to create a "better lawyer faster."  This is a quote from volume II.  The company I co-founded, Lawyer Metrics, incorporated it into our trademark -- the value promise is that compelling.  See the slides below.

Here is the Slideshare description:

The original Cravath System circa 1920 demonstrated the power of a "clockworks" approach to lawyer development. The system was a meticulously designed and mechanized way to create specialized lawyers who could service the needs of America's rapidly growing industrial and financial enterprises -- lawyers who were in perennial short supply because the requisite skill set could only be learned by doing. The System endured for a century because it solved the specialized lawyer shortage by making every stakeholder better off -- junior lawyers (received training), partner-owners (large, stable profits), and clients (world class service and value). 

Today's legal employers and legal educators would benefit by revisiting this system's powerful business logic. The clockworks approach to lawyer development still works. The only difference is that the specifications for a great lawyer have changed. Like the original Cravath System, a new clockworks would create a "better lawyer faster." 

[posted by Bill Henderson]

March 13, 2013 in Current events, Data on legal education, Data on the profession, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Innovations in law, Law Firms, Legal Departments, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Suffolk Law Presents Susskind on "Tomorrow's Lawyers"

Image010Legal futurist Richard Susskind, author of The End of Lawyers? and Tomorrow's Lawyers will headline the launch of Suffolk University Law School's Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation on April 18 in Boston, MA.

According to the school's announcement, "Professor Susskind will discuss some of the key concepts from his new book, offering a close look at where the profession is heading and what we'll find there -- a challenging new world for some, and a vibrant future for others."

The program will include a panel discussion on the implications of Susskind's remarks, moderated by Andrew Perlman, Suffolk Law Professor and Chief Reporter for the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20.  The panelists are Jordan Furlong, Partner at Edge International and Senior Consultant with Stem Legal, Krish Gupta JD '96, Senior VP & Deputy General Counsel at EMC Corp., and Regina Pisa, Chairman of Goodwin Procter LLP.

A reception will follow.  The cost is $75 ($35 for academics and Suffolk alums).  Registration is available online.

[Jeff Lipshaw]

March 11, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Thoughts on the Future of Law from ReInvent Law - Silicon Valley

I had the privilege of attending ReInvent Law—Silicon Valley – on Friday, March 8.  Special kudos go to Professors Renee Knake and Daniel Martin Katz from the Michigan State University College of Law and to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for sponsoring the event and bringing together a significant number of thought leaders who are engaged in thinking about how to use technology to improve the access to and the provision of legal services in the United States and globally.

There were too many presentations to try to summarize everything that was shared during the day. Nonetheless, there were a few themes that showed up throughout the course of the day that merit attention as we think about where the market for legal services might be headed.

First, several people made presentations focused on the increasing importance of data analytics, knowledge management and process management.  These included Josh Becker of Lex Machina (discussing generating economic value from analyzing large volumes of patent litigation data), Kingsley Martin, of KMStandards and Sol Irvine of Yuson & Irvine (both discussing knowledge management relating to contract language to develop more efficient processes for drafting contracts), Karnig Kerkorian and Rudy Minasian of Velawsity (discussing process management tools to help solo practitioners by more efficient), and Sean McGrath of Propylon (discussing temporal data management tools that allow searchers to identity the effective language of regulations or statutes at a specific time) to name just a few.

Second, several people emphasized the need for broader access to legal services at affordable prices and discussed the use of process management and alternative structures to better meet the need for legal services for middle class people and small business owners.  These included Stephanie Kimbro of Burton Law (encouraging unbundling of legal services and greater participation in branded networks), Chas Rampenthal of LegalZoom (imagining what legal services might look like if a major retailer decided to offer legal services), Raj Abhyanker of LegalForce (discussing process management and data management as key to growth of Trademarkia (predecessor to LegalForce)) and Charley Moore of RocketLawyer (discussing the needs of small business owners to have more affordable guidance regarding how to deal with regulatory structures and legal problems). 

Third, related to the access question, there was significant discussion of the constraints of Rule 5.4 and the revolution taking place in the United Kingdom following the authorization of Alternative Business Structures for providing legal services.  Presenters discussing the evolving legal services market in the United Kingdom included Ajaz Ahmed of Legal365.com (discussing a legal services market ripe for disruption from businesses focused on client service) and Andy Dawes of Riverview Law (discussing the growth of its fixed fee model of providing services to corporate clients).

In addition, our own Bill Henderson made a presentation on the training model that might be necessary to better prepare lawyers to be effective in the new normal, with greater emphasis on data analytics, knowledge management and process management in addition to traditional legal knowledge and relationship skills.

One of the most thought provoking presentations for me was the presentation by Colin Rule of Modria regarding the growth of Online Dispute Revolution.  Modria is an outgrowth of the dispute resolution components of EBay and PayPal where 60 million disputes have been resolved in an “extrajudicial” context, with many being resolved only through use of software (without the intervention of other humans).  This prompted me to realize that if one reconceptualizes the access to legal services issue as an access to justice issue, there may be a variety of more efficient ways to offer people access to justice that might completely bypass the current legal system. 

There was much to think about regarding a legal services market that is facing the reality of disruptive innovation.  What the conference highlighted for me is that change is happening and that there are a number of very bright, very thoughtful people who are trying to invent the future by taking advantage of data and technology to find better, more efficient, more affordable ways to provide legal services to a broader array of clients.  Not all of the innovators in attendance at the conference are going to have an economically viable model, but some of them will, and that will mean some of them will be winners, and some of those who continue to do things the traditional way are going to be losers.

[posted by Jerry Organ]

March 10, 2013 in Data on the profession, Innovations in law, Law Firms, New and Noteworthy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Law of Too Many Words

Ron Friedmann sees something that a lot of us law professors are failing to see, here.

[posted by Bill Henderson]

February 28, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Poor Man's Newcomb Problem, aka The Game of Life

LifeI have a running philosophical and existential debate with my good friend Jeff Lipshaw.  If I did not love Jeff, I would not blog with him. Anyway, Jeff has a tendency -- in my opinion -- to get bogged down in high theory. See, for example, his post on the Newcomb Problem.  Here is a poor man's version of the Newcomb Problem.  It has been described to me as "The Game of Life": 

Imagine that the game of life is played in an arena with a small rectangular field in the center.  Only 25% go onto the field.  75% stay in their seats waiting for more information.  Of the 25% who go onto the field, 4 out of 5 come back to their seats when they realize that they may not win the game.  They don't want to be embarrassed, so they quit.  In the end, only 5% are really living – doing their best with no guarantees but knowing what it is like to be fully alive.

So applying this insight to Jeff's Newcomb problem, the moral of the story is very simple:  Pick Box B, and only Box B.  Everything else is just mental obfuscation.

[posted by Bill Henderson]

February 24, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Newcomb Problem of Going to Law School, Vet School, or Becoming a VAP

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

When I teach contracts, one of my catch phrases is "you pays your money and you takes your chances."  It's consistent with my view, expressed ad nauseam in this article and elsewhere that thinking of any kind (whether or not "like a lawyer") only gets you so far.   To tap into my inner existentialist for a moment, life is about choices.  Making a choice is a mental process, but it's not quite the same thing as sorting things out rationally.  Making a choice (particularly one on which you then act) is more akin to the action than the thought.  (One might even say that making a choice but not acting on it isn't really making a choice because there's no consequence to it.)

NewcombAn ancillary catch phrase to "you pays your money..." might be "hope springs eternal."  My heart goes out to all of those who have made rational life decisions that have not panned out.  I'm an old guy who made a career in a different time, and I have no idea if I'm good or lucky, but I'm closer to the end than the beginning than most of my current professional peers, with a completely different set of life burdens.  So I observe the battle from the standpoint of one who has fought in it but has since been evacuated to safety.

To get  a sense of the turmoil, one need only have read the dozens of almost uniformly anonymous posts of law students whose debt obligations presently exceed their income expectations.   Then, in this morning's New York Times, David Segal, the author of a similar series on young lawyers, writes about debt-laden and unemployable young veterinarians.   And, over at The Faculty Lounge, it's hard not to be moved by the story of someone who committed to be a VAP and has similarly been caught in the backwash of the bursting of the law school and legal profession bubble.

I know that every one of my current students applied to and matriculated in law school (i.e., committed to the battle) after it was clear that the bubble had burst.  Why are they here?  Why apply to vet school after reading today's Times?  Why be a VAP?

There's a thought problem in decision theory called the "Newcomb Paradox."  The graphic above lays it out.   In the problem, assume an all-knowing and all-powerful "Predictor" and a "Chooser."  The Chooser has in front of her two boxes.  Box A is transparent and she can see it holds a $1,000 bill.   Box B is opaque.   It either contains nothing or $1,000,000.  Her choices are limited to the following:  (i) choose only Box B, or (ii) choose both Box A and Box B.  Here's the rub.  The Predictor (being all-knowing and all-powerful) has already predicted how she is going to choose.  And Chooser knows this as well.  So, if she goes with choice (ii) (both boxes), the Predictor will have predicted that and Box B will contain nothing.  If she goes with choice (i) (only Box B, thus giving up the sure $1,000), then the Predictor will have predicted that, and Box B will contain the $1,000,000.

Here's the paradox.  A causal decision theorist says choose both boxes because what is done is done.  Chooser's choice can't change the past, so there ought to be $1,000,000 in the box, and Chooser will get both the $1,000,000 and the $1,000.  The evidential decision theorist says, no, the best present evidence of what the Predictor has put in place is Chooser's present choice, and so Chooser ought to choose only Box B, even though it means giving up a sure $1,000.  Each side, the causalist and the evidentialist, thinks the other is irrational.  As Robert Nozick observed, there is no "knockdown" argument for either side.

Elsewhere, I've suggested this is a helpful way of looking at the illusion (or delusion) that we can beat the market.  It's a causal world, but one in which real causes are so complex and remote that they might as well have been put in place by the Predictor (or God).  So, like the evidentialist Chooser, we rely on evidence, part of which is our own assessment of our own abilities to make probabilistic judgments about the future of the causal world.  And hope springs eternal.  If we don't believe in our assessment of our own ability to go for broke, then unlike the sad VAP, we never leave the safe confines of our Big Law job (the $1,000 bill in the transparent box) for the big reward - a tenure track position in an accredited law school (which may or may not be in the opaque box).

Daniel Kahneman refers to this as the "illusion of skill."  My critique of Kahneman is that, while his is an undoubtedly accurate empirical assessment of the behavioral heuristics and biases of what I would more plainly call "self-deception," merely applying more thought to the problem leaves you with the very same problem you started with:  is my own assessment of my own self-deception itself an illusion of skill (the skill here being self-knowledge)?  No wonder I conclude:  at some point, you pays your money and takes your chances.

I know that's no comfort to those disappointed by the outcomes in the real, causal world.  But it's the only way I can understand the inner process of making the commitment decision - whether it's going to law school, becoming a vet, or trying to be a law professor - in a world we inhabit, don't control, and in which can only make educated guesses about the future.

February 24, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

ReInventLaw Silicon Valley 2013 @ The Computer History Museum

Posted by Dan Katz, Assistant Professor of Law, Michigan State University and Co-Director, ReInvent Law Laboratory @ MSU Law.

Screen shot 2013-02-14 at 4.20.19 PM

On March 8, 2013 - The ReInventLaw Laboratory - Founded by Daniel Katz and Renee Knake from Michigan State will host ReInventLaw Silicon Valley 2013 @ The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.

Topics to be covered include: 
LegalTechStartUp, Lawyer Regulation, Quantitative Legal Prediction, Legal Supply Chain, Project Management, Technology Aided Access to Justice, Design, 3D-Printing, Driverless Cars, Business of Law, Legal Education, Legal Information Engineering, New Business Models for Law, Lean Lawyering, Augmented Reality, Legal Process Outsourcing, Big Data, New Markets for Law, Virtual Law Practice, E-Discovery, Information Visualization, E-Discovery, Legal Entrepreneurship, Legal Automation … and much more.

What do I need to know?

  1. At all price points, the legal services market is rapidly changing and this disruption represents peril & possibility.  This meeting is about the possibility ... about some of the game changers who are already building the future of this industry.
  2. This is a 1 day event featuring 40 speakers in a high energy format with specific emphasis on technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.
  3. It will highlight the new and growing portion of the legal services industry. It will not be boring.  
  4. For more on our lab and related events please see: http://reinventlaw.com/ 

How Much Does it Cost?
This event is generously sponsored in part by the Ewing M. Kauffman Foundation, Michigan State University College of Law and the ReInvent Law Laboratory. 
Thus, tickets are FREE but limited.

There will only be 400 tickets for this free event.  Many of them are already taken and when they are gone, they are gone. Thus, if you or your friends/colleagues/students would be interested in attending -please sign up today. 
http://guestlistapp.com/events/129990

Final Thoughts …
As I mentioned to Bill Henderson the other day … the old internet adage applies with equal vigor in the legal services industry "the future is here … it is just not evenly distributed."  

Come join the future already in progress at #ReInventLaw Silicon Valley March 8th, 2013  (and at our other free public events in London and New York later in 2013). 

February 17, 2013 in Current events, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Important research, Innovations in law, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Jim Moliterno Answers Questions on W&L's 3L Program; Supplies Additional Data on W&L

My previous post on Washington & Lee's 3L Program stirred a lot of interest and commentary, including some disbeleiving critics.  Fortunately, Professor Jim Moliterno agreed to write a reply essay, below, that completes the cycle. [Bill Henderson]

  MoliternoJim Moliterno Replies  [This is a long reply, so a PDF version online here]

A number of comments to Bill’s January 28 post and posts regarding it on other blogs cause me to enter this conversation.

Are students really coming to W&L because of the new curriculum?  Yes, to a significant extent. How do we know?  Because the entering students say so. As do many law schools, we administer a questionnaire to our enrolling students. Among the questions asked is the obvious one: why are you here?  

In the most recent such survey the students were asked to rank the strengths of the law school. Here are the top ten, in order, according to the entering students:

  1. Third Year Curriculum
  2. Ranking / Prestige
  3. Quality of Life
  4. National Reputation
  5. Job Placement
  6. General Cirriculum
  7. Clinical Program
  8. Faculty
  9. Financial Aid Award
  10. Size of Lexington

The curriculum reform was first.  Financial aid awards were 9th, just ahead of the “size of Lexington.” The data does not support the unsubstantiated claims of some bloggers that students are choosing W&L because of the generosity of financial aid awards. 

The curriculum reform has steadily moved higher on the “strength” rankings given by enrolled students since 2009. The 2011 and 2012 surveys are nearly identical, and the written comments of students about their reasons for coming to W&L (none reprinted here), are more striking than the numbers themselves.

I don’t know of any better data on this proposition but the statements of those whose reasons are under study. If that data is unsatisfying to some, then they will continue to be unsatisfied.

Are there other reasons students come to W&L? Of course. W&L has a highly productive, highly visible  faculty engaged in scholarship and projects at the highest levels. Some students undoubtedly value W&L’s faculty prowess.  W&L is highly ranked. Some students undoubtedly are affected by a top 25 ranking. It has an excellent reputation as a small, closely-knit academic community.  Some students select for the sense of community and size. No reason will ever be the only reason for prospective students to choose a law school.  Changes made by law schools will affect student choices for or against a particular law school. The W&L curriculum reform is positively affecting a significant number of students’ calculus about choosing W&L.   

And some do come because of the financial aid package they were offered.  But the financial aid reason is unlikely to explain the increase in applications since 2008. Some students, the recipients of aid, undoubtedly come in part because of the aid.  That is no different than the students who choose [insert name of any school] because of the financial aid they were awarded.   In 2012, about the same number of offers of admission were made as in previous years, but instead of the usual 130 or 135 admittees choosing to attend, more than 260 made deposits. Some were asked to defer their attendance until 2013 and once the dust settled we had a class of 187 instead of the usual 130 to 135. This same class entering in 2012 listed the curriculum reform first and financial aid ninth as strengths of the law school.

What else was happening in 2008 and 09 when the applications increased by nearly 33% per year? 

In 2009 and 10, while W&L applications were on the rise, the US News ranking fell from 25-34 (while its reputation rank among academics stayed steady).   It has now recovered to 24.  If anything, that should have led to a drop in applications during 2008-2011 rather than the sharp increases that actually occurred.

Can we exclude all other possible explanations than those previously mentioned?  Of course not.  It could be that being in a small, beautiful mountain town is all the rage among young adults and 33% more students want that now than wanted it in 2007. I know of no data to prove or disprove that proposition, so it remains one that could be true. The reality is that the students who have come in recent years rate the curriculum reform among the top reasons (often the most important reason) for their attendance at W&L. That matters.

There is empirical evidence that the W&L curriculum reform is engaging students more than in the traditional “no plan” third year curriculum. Is it perfect evidence? Of course not.  Is it definitive evidence that has no flaw? Of course not. Is anything ever supported by perfect, definite evidence that has no flaw? Not to my knowledge.  We make all of our most important decisions in life based on the best available evidence. As long as the evidence is empirically sound and statistically significant, it is worthy of respect. The evidence of W&L 3L engagement increases is sound and statistically significant and marks a path toward further research and verification.

One commenter suggested that the data is suspect because the peer schools have not been identified. Their data belongs to them, not W&L.  LSSSE does not make specific school data available to other schools.  So W&L has only a composite score for those peer schools. And it would be unseemly for W&L to reveal the specific schools.  I will not do so here. But to be sure, W&L asked LSSSE to calculate the data from a list of schools because they are the schools with whom W&L competes for students and competes in the rankings. It would not have served W&L’s research interests to learn how it compares with a list of schools that it does not compete with in the marketplace. No one at W&L has the data for any specific school. 

Nonetheless, do not be mistaken, the schools with whom W&L is compared in LSSSE data are the schools anyone would expect them to be: schools that by their geography, rank and quality compete with W&L in the relevant markets for students and placement.

One observation: in the legal profession and legal education in particular, the status quo never seems to need empirical justification.  Only change is suspect and wrong until proven definitively to be otherwise. Is there any empirical evidence that the status quo third year is the best possible third year except that it has been done that way for a long time? None that I know of. The old adage, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” does not apply here.  The third year of legal education is “broke”.

Amid calls for its abandonment by some, dating back at least to the early 1970s report by Paul Carrington, the third year is widely acknowledged to be of the least value among the three years. (See below on W&L’s largely unchanged  approach to years 1 and 2.) The Roman Legions (and more than a few other military powers) have found out that the mere fact that something has been successfully done before is not sufficient evidence that it will prevail in the present or future. Arguing in favor of the status quo based on no empirical evidence, . . . based only on instinct and the argument that it is the way things are currently done, is an approach doomed to failure.  Just ask Kodak. (And see my forthcoming book: “The American Legal Profession In Crisis,” Oxford, March 2013.)

How about the claim that “[W&L’s LSAT has] gone down every year since [the new curriculum was announced], while its GPA rank has, after a plunge, more or less returned to where it was.” The blogger made that claim, once again without any data, let alone empirically credible data.  Actually the W&L median LSAT was steady at 166 from 2005-2010, dropped 2 points to 164 in 2011 and stayed at 164 for 2012. It has not “gone down every year since [the new curriculum was announced in 2008].” Meanwhile, the GPA of entering classes, which was in the 3.5 and 3.4 range in 2008-2010, has gone up to the 3.6 range (3.65 and 3.62) in 2011 and 2012. The two modest changes in LSAT and GPA have essentially off-set one another in US News points. Hardly the reason for pause suggested by the blogger.

It seems that as long as someone is arguing against change, no rules apply to the arguments’ underpinnings.

Here is what the empirical evidence from the LSSSE surveys shows and what it does not show: students are more engaged in their work and their work includes more writing, more collaboration and more problem solving. Here are a few charts even more striking than those Bill used in his post. Together they say that significantly more than their peers or their predecessors at W&L, current third year students are working more, writing more, collaborating more, applying law to real world problems more, and preparing for class more often. Overall, they describe a harder-working, more engaged student body. And they are working harder at acquire the skills that matter to success as a lawyer.

Wlone

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February 13, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, Data on legal education, Innovations in law, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy, Scholarship on legal education, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Deciding Whether the Best Lawyers Have the Most Excellent "Slow Brains" Takes Something Other than a Slow Brain

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Bill and I have been having this friendly debate for a number of years now.   I believe the insights of Tversky and Kahneman are fully deserving of every accolade they receive, but they don't answer all the questions.  Personally, I think describing a lawyer as a having an excellent Kahnemanian "Slow Brain" is like describing a baseball pitcher as having a 102 mph fastball - it's a necessary but not sufficient ingredient of excellence (you need control as well as velocity).  

ImagesAs I've argued at length, it's because pure analytical ability (the "slow brain" quality) fails to capture the subjective and bottomless experience of judgment - in short, as Kahneman acknowledges, sometimes your fast brain answer is the right one, so if you use your slow brain to decide whether the fast brain or slow brain is giving you the correct judgment, are you making a mistake?

"Metacognition" - thinking about your own process of thinking - is all the pedagogical rage right now.  To the extent it encourages what I call "epistemic humility," I'm all for it.  But it's no silver bullet.   To quote myself:

I have a reasoned skepticism about our ability to navigate through life on a wholly reasoned and rational basis, concluding instead that sometimes being wise means understanding we just have to conclude, to decide, to act, to pay our money and take our chances. I recognize fully the abstraction of much of what I have said here. But I have wanted to counter the underlying rational, objective, and scientific underpinnings of much of the professional mindset: we can figure it all out and control it if we just think hard enough. More practically, as some have suggested, there is a real question whether any of this state of mind can be taught in school. I think we can rigorously and ethically help young lawyers develop one- handedness, but that must be the subject of another article.

For more where that came from, see Dissecting the Two-Handed Lawyer:  Thinking Versus Action in Business Lawyering, coming soon to a prestigious law review near you.  (The conversation I describe at pp. 49-50 of the SSRN draft was with Bill!)  The abstract follows the break.

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February 11, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Do the Best Lawyers have Excellent "Slow" Brains?

We were born with a fast brain, but we need a slow one to advance civilization, among other things. I am talking about insights of behavioral economics being applied to lawyer decisonmaking and judgment, and I think the answer to my question is "yes".  Indeed, I think the insights of behavior econonomics put a whole new and important gloss on the tired adage, "Thinking like a lawyer."   

We cover the basics of this topic in my 1L Legal Professions class.   Apparently, it resonated with one of my many attentive students, as he/she  sent me this amazing science video.  It boils down all of Dan Kahneman's brilliant Thinking, Fast and Slow treatise into four very engaging minutes.  This is a vegetable that tastes like chocolate.  (H/T to a wise anonymous 1L at Indiana Law.)

[posted by Bill Henderson]

February 10, 2013 in Cross industry comparisons, Fun and Learning in the classroom, Important research, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy | Permalink | Comments (5)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

"LPOs Stealing Deal Work from Law Firms"

That is the title of this video interview of  law firm consultant Kent Zimmermann of the Zeughauser Group.  In the interview, Zimmermann relates a story from a recent large law firm retreat in which one of the partners raised her hand and said that one of her major clients in the healthcare industry recently used Axiom in an M&A deal.  Not for due diligence.  They used Axiom for the whole deal.

For what it is worth, I think we have a language / perceptions gap at work here.  At least in the winter of 2013, the phrase "Legal Process Outsourcers" tends to connote masses of low-level attorneys toiling away doing low-level work in India, the Philippines, South Africa or in small or middle market cities in the U.S. -- i.e., a simple labor arbitrage play.  

But Axiom's competitive advantage is in understanding the clients' needs and working backwards to a solution.  The value here is in (a) listening carefully to the client (e.g., "we want the same or better quality but lower and more predictable pricing"), and (b) in designing and building a system that delivers that outcome.

For background on Axiom, read this eyeopening article, "Disruptive Innovation", from The American Lawyer.  Axiom has backing from Sandhill Road venture capital and Wall Steet private equity.  One of their investors is quoted, “Axiom has an opportunity to disrupt an industry that hasn’t materially changed in a century. ... With a worldwide legal market that is a trillion dollars each year, there is plenty of running room to build a successful business."

Water runs downhill.  There is a lot of money to be made by making law more efficient and affordable.  Lawyers need to facilitate this outcome, not obstruct it, as society needs and wants better, more affordable access to legal solutions.  Process-driven legal services and legal products are the future.  Indeed, as the cyberpunk science fiction writer, William Gibson, once quipped, "the future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed."

For my own views on the incipient revolution that threatens 100 years of established hierarchy, see "Losing the Law Business," Cayman Financial Review (Jan 2013); for the implications for legal education, see Section II.C of A Blueprint for Change.

[posted by Bill Henderson]

February 9, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, Data on the profession, Innovations in law, Law Firms, Legal Departments, New and Noteworthy, Structural change, Video interviews | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, February 4, 2013

"We Need a New Kind of Learner"

Via the Big Think, [though I added in the references to law students] BigThink

The 21st century requires a new kind of learner—not someone who can simply churn out answers by rote, as has been done in the past, but a student who can think expansively and solve problems resourcefully. The traditional academic skills of reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic must be replaced with creativity, curiosity, critical thinking and problem solving, and collaborative and communication skills in order to solve the complex problems of tomorrow. ...

[I]magine that knowledge is a multisided box. When we teach [law students] to simply memorize material so they can pass tests, we give [law students] access to the knowledge on only one side of the box. So when life tosses this box up (as it certainly will), it may not land on a side that is visible and accessible. In this case, the [law students] don’t have access to the knowledge. ...

[Students] need to learn to navigate the course of acquiring knowledge—essentially, to get to the answers by being curious and coming up with a lot of questions, a lot of whys. They need to get accustomed to learning from different directions, playing with concepts, and figuring out how to ask the whys in order to gain access to knowledge. This process is more important than having the knowledge itself

The author is Ainissa Ramirez.  She is an author and science evalengist who recently wrote the ebook Save our Science: How to Inspire a New Generation of Scientists. I think the identical issues apply to law students.  Education needs to be cheaper, yes.  But to hold our society together, it also needs to be better.

[posted by Bill Henderson]

February 4, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Cross industry comparisons | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Who Are These Companies?

Below is a photo of the exhibitor list at the LegalTech New York trade show.  [Click on to enlarge]

Nyclegaltech

There was a lot of money sloshing around this trade show.  What do these companies sell?  How do they make money?  Who are their clients? Who founded these companies and who financed their growth? Are lawyer-employees a key part of their business models?  These are the questions I am asking.

If you think that the ethics rules (MR 5.4) are keeping nonlawyers out the legal industry, you need to come to LegalTech.  

[Posted by Bill Henderson]

February 2, 2013 in Current events, Innovations in law, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Washington & Lee is Biggest Legal Education Story of 2013

Here it is in a nutshell. There is empirical evidence that Washington & Lee’s experiential 3L curriculum is delivering a significantly better education to 3L students—significantly better than prior graduating classes at W&L, and significantly better than W&L’s primary competitors. Moreover, at a time when total law school applicants are on the decline, W&L’s getting more than its historical share of applicants and getting a much higher yield. When many schools are worried about revenues to survive next year and the year after, W&L is worried about creating the bandwidth needed to educate the surplus of students who enrolled in the fall of 2012, and the backlog of applicants that the school deferred to the fall of 2013.

[This is a long essay.  If you want it in PDF format, click here.]

Alas, now we know:  There is a market for high quality legal education. It consists of college graduates who don’t want to cast their lot with law schools who cannot guarantee students entree to meaningful practical training.  Some might argue that W&L is not objectively better-- that the 3L curriculum is a marketing ploy where the reality falls well short of promotional materials and that, regardless, prospective students can't judge quality. 

MoliternoWell, in fact there is substantial evidence that the W&L 3L program delivers comparative value.   The evidence is based on several years' worth of data from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE). I received permission from Professor James Moliterno, someone who took a leadership role in building W&L’s third year program, to share some of the key results (each school controls access to its LSSSE data.) They are below.

But before getting into empirical evidence, I want to put squarely on the table the most sobering finding that likely applies to virtually all of legal education. It is this: On several key LSSSE metrics, W&L has made impressive gains vis-à-vis its own historical benchmarks and its primary rival schools. But even for this leader, there remains enormous room for improvement. More on that below.

Here is the bottom line:  Traditional legal education, when it is measured, does not fare very well. Yet, as W&L shows, substantial improvement is clearly possible. We law professors can respond to this information in one of two ways:

  1. Don’t measure, as it may disconfirm our belief that we are delivering a great education.
  2. Measure—even when it hurts—and improve. 

I am in the second camp. Indeed, I don’t know if improvement is possible without measurement.  Are we judging art work or the acquisition of key professional skills needed for the benefit of clients and the advancement of the public good? 

Moving the Market

I doubt I will ever forget Jim Moliterno’s September 2012 presentation at the Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers (ETL) conference at the University of Denver. He presented a single graph (chart below) showing W&L actual applicant volumes since 2008 versus what would have happened at W&L if its applicant volume had followed national trends.

WL applicant volume

While law school applicants crested a few years ago, W&L enjoyed a large run-up in volume of applicants, presumably due to the launching of their new 3L program.  This larger applicant pool effectively served as a buffer when applicant declines began in 2011 and 2012.  Since 2008, overall law school applicants are down -19%, yet W&L is up overall +33%.   

But much more significantly, after their experiential 3L year was up and running and the overall legal job market continued to stagnate, W&L yields spiked. Ordinarily they would enroll 135 students. But for the fall of 2012, they received enrollment commitments from well over 260 students. Indeed, at the ETL conference Jim Moliterno said the school had to offer financially attractive deferments to get the class to approximately 185 incoming students -- a 50 student bulge.

When Jim Moliterno showed the above graph and explained the corresponding changes in yield, my good friend Gillian Hadfield, a skeptical, toughminded, evidence-demanding economist who teaches at USC Law, leaned over and said to me, “that is the single most important takeaway from this entire conference.” I agreed.  The market for a legal education with practical training is, apparently, much more inelastic than the market for traditional JD programs.

Yet, what is perhaps most remarkable is that a large proportion of incoming students at W&L were enrolling based on little more than faith.  Nobody knew for sure if W&L  had the ability to pull off their ambitious 3L curriculum. The program relies on a large cadre of adjunct professors, after all, and W&L is located in remote Lexington, Virginia.  Many law faculty outside of W&L, and perhaps some inside, thought (or perhaps think) that the program could not live up to the hype.  Well, as shown below, the program appears to have produced meaningful gains.

The only data-driven critique anyone can muster is that the gains remain significantly short of perfection. But that critique bites harder on the rest of us.  To use a simple metaphor, W&L is tooling around in a Model-T while the rest of us rely on horse and buggy. What ought to be plain to all of us, however, is that, just like automobile industry circa 1910, we are entering a period of staggering transformation that will last decades. And transformation will be roughly equal parts creation and destruction. See Schumpeter.

W&L Data, Internal Historical Benchmark

LSSSELSSSE is a phenomenally rich dataset – nearly 100 questions per year on a wide variety of topics related to student classroom experience, faculty interaction, type and quantity of assessments, time allocation, and perceived gains on a variety of dimensions related to personal and professional development. The survey instrument is online here.  

Aside from a host of questions related to demographics, career goals, and debt, major sections in the LSSSE include:

  • Section 1, Intellectual Experience (20 questions)
  • Section 2, Examinations (1 question)
  • Section 3, Mental Activities (5 questions)
  • Section 4, Writing (3 questions)
  • Section 5, Enriching Educational Experiences (9 questions)
  • Section 6, Student Satisfaction (7 questions)
  • Section 7, Time Usage (11 questions)
  • Section 8, Law School Environment (10 questions)
  • Section 9, Quality of Relationships (3 questions)
  • Section 10, Educational and Personal Growth (16 questions)

W&L deserves to be a detailed case study. But frankly, legal education can’t wait. So I will do the best I can to cover the landscape in a blog post. I hope every law faculty member who reads this post makes a strong plea to their dean to enroll in LSSSE. Why? So your school can benchmark itself against the detailed LSSSE case studies that are bound to flow out of W&L and other innovative law schools.  Though they don’t get much press, there are, in fact, other innovative law schools.

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January 29, 2013 in Data on legal education, Important research, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy, Scholarship on legal education, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (20)