Sunday, December 1, 2013

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)

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 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. 


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)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Would you bet on the future of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)?

I would.  The best example of ODR I have come across is Modria, who's tagline is "Any issue, resolved."

Before dismissing Modria as a trivial Internet parlor game, consider this:  The technology and process at work here got its start at Paypal and Ebay.  Why did Paypal and Ebay become so good at dispute resolution?  Because their goal of becoming mega-volume businesses depended on it.  If you have millions of transactions daily, a huge volume of low-stakes complaints is inevitable.  If dissatisfied customers stay dissatisfied, they don't come back.  Worse, they'll talk to their friends.  

Now watch is video. Note that the target audience is businesses who (a) feel disputes are a drain on their time and energy, and (b) want happy, loyal customers who vouch for them to friends and family.  A prompt, fair resolution to a dispute actually deepens the trust relationship.  That's not speculation.  That's science.  And Modria, and it investors, know that.

In this book, Tommorrow's Lawyers, Richard Susskind talks about ODR as a highly disruptive innovation that will fundamentally alter the legal landscape.  It is hard to fully appreciate that claim without seeing concrete example, like the Modria business model, up and running.  Many businesses could be drawn to Modria, but so could/would many smaller governmental units.  Indeed, several (progressive) county governments have become clients (e.g., on property assessment appeals).

Modria is disruptive because so many forums for resolving disputes, such as courts, repeat-player arbitrations, and various government boards, are not perceived as prompt, fair, and/or just, often times because costs of dispute resolution are so high.  So even if the dispute is resolved correctly on the merits--for the subset who can pay the cost--there remains a large residue of dissatisfaction.

This is fundamentally a problem of institutional design. (The ReInvent Law folks understanding this.)   The goal, or ought to be, a speedy, low-cost, resolution that is maximizes on the uumber of user who perceived the outcome as fair.  Does any state or federal court think this way?   In Tomorrow's Lawyers, Susskind asks whether "court is a service or a place" (p. 99).  Alas, this is a staggeringly very large market. 

Check out the management team of Modia.  These folks come primarily from the dispute resolution programs in business and public policy schools.  It is worth noting, however, that Modria's Board and its big-time investors include several lawyers, including Jason Mendelsohn, a former lawyer at Cooley who now works as a venture capitalist.  Jason has invested in other businesses in the emerging legal vendor space.

Times are changing.  And the pace of that change is picking up. 

October 20, 2013 in Cross industry comparisons, Current events, Data on the profession, Important research, Innovations in law, New and Noteworthy, Structural change, Video interviews | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Understanding Trends in Demographics of Law Students -- Part Two

Trends in LSAT Profiles of Applicants and Matriculants

In looking at trends over the last 12 years, there are two relevant time frames due to changes in how LSAC reported data.  Between 2002 and 2009, the LSAC’s annual National Decision Profiles were based on the average LSAT scores of applicants and matriculants.  From 2010 to the present, the National Decision Profiles were based on the highest LSAT scores of applicants and matriculants.  This post compares trends in LSAT profiles between 2002 and 2009 with trends between 2010 and 2013, noting that the latter period not only has seen a decline in enrollment but also has seen a significant weakening of the overall LSAT profile of first-years.

Changes in LSAT Profiles from 2002-2009 Using Average LSAT

The following chart shows the difference in LSAT composition of first-years in three cycles between 2001-02 and 2008-09.

Matriculants by LSAT Category (Reflecting Average LSAT) 2002-2009

                            165+                        150-164           <150                Total

2001-02               5,889                       30,100             9,097               45,086

2004-05               7,447                       32,007             6,036               45,490

2008-09               7,652                       31,991             8,943               48,586

In the three years between 2002 and 2005, applications grew by roughly 5,000, to roughly 95,000, with growth among those with an average LSAT of 165+ and an average LSAT of 150-164, and a modest decline among those with an average LSAT of <150.  Law schools matriculated only 400 more first-years in 2005 than in 2002, but there were roughly 3,050 fewer first-year students with average LSATs <150, with 1,900 more first years with average LSATs of 150-164 and roughly 1,550 more with average LSATs of 165+.  This three-year period saw strengthening of the LSAT profile of first-year students.

Four years later, with an applicant pool that had declined to nearly 87,000, however, law schools enrolled over 3,000 additional first-year students, 2,900 of whom had average LSATs of <150.  Virtually all of the growth in first-years between 2005 and 2009, therefore, was comprised of students at the lower end of the LSAT profile. 

Nonetheless, in comparison with the 2002 first-years, the 2009 first-years included slightly fewer students with an average LSAT of <150 (down 154 – 1.7%) and larger populations of students with average LSATs of 165+ (up 1,763 – nearly 30% more) and with average LSATs of 150-164 (up 1,891 – or roughly 6.3% more).  In 2009, therefore, the average LSAT profile of all first-years, while less robust than in 2005, was still more robust than in 2002.

Between 2004 and 2008, the ABA approved nine new law schools (with fall 2009 first-year enrollment in parentheses) – Atlanta’s John Marshall (211) and Western State (188) in 2005, Liberty (119), Faulkner (150) and Charleston (241) in 2006, Phoenix (272) in 2007, and Elon (121), Drexel (156) and Charlotte (276) in 2008.  The first-year enrollment of these nine schools in Fall 2009 totaled 1,734, roughly 60% of the growth in matriculants with average LSATs of < 150 between 2005 and 2009.  While many of the first-year students at these schools had LSATs of greater than 150, these schools took students who might have gone to other schools and increased the overall demand for applicants with average LSATs of <150.

Changes in LSAT Profiles from 2010-2013

The following chart focuses on the last three admissions cycles and the current admission cycle, covering the period in which the LSAC National Decision Profiles were based on each applicant’s highest LSAT score. 

Applicants and Matriculants Across Three LSAT Categories Based on Highest LSAT from 2010 to 2013

Adm. Cycle         Total     Total    Apps.   Mat.     Apps.      Mat.       Apps.   Mat.

                            Apps.    Mat.*   165+    165+   150-164 150-164    <150   <150

Fall 2010            87912   49719   12177   9477    47722     32862      26548   7013

Fall 2011            78474   45616   11190   8952     41435     29220      24396   7101

Fall 2012            67925   41422    9196    7571    34653      25425     22089    7906

Fall 2013**        59426   38900    7496    6300    30263      24000     20569    8200

*Note that the total matriculants number is greater than the sum of the matriculants across the three categories in any given year because the total matriculants number includes non-standard test-takers and those without an LSAT.

**The Fall 2013 numbers represent estimates based on the number of applicants in each category and an assumption that 2013 saw another slight increase in the percentage of applicants from each LSAT category who matriculated (consistent with increases in the two previous years in response to the decreasing applicant pool).

During this period, the number of applicants declined by 28,000, or over 32%, but the number of applicants with a highest LSAT of 165+ declined by 38%, and the number with a highest LSAT of 150-164 declined by 36.5%, while the number with a highest LSAT of <150 declined by only 22.5%.  Thus, the pool of applicants is not only smaller in the 2012-13 admissions cycle as compared to 2009-10, but it is “weaker” in terms of the LSAT profile.  

The number of matriculants in the top two LSAT categories also declined significantly between Fall 2010 and Fall 2012, while the number of matriculants in the bottom LSAT category actually grew. 

The number of matriculants whose highest LSAT score was 165+ fell from 9,477 in 2010 to 7,571 in 2012, a decline of over 20%, while the percentage of applicants in this category who became matriculants increased from 78% to 80% to 82% over that period.  If we estimate that 84% of the 2013 applicants with a highest LSAT of 165+ matriculate, then we can anticipate roughly 6300 matriculants for Fall 2013 with a highest LSAT of 165+, a drop of nearly 33% since 2010. 

The number of matriculants whose highest LSAT score was 150-164 fell from 32,862 in 2010 to 25,425 in 2012, a decline of nearly 23%, while the percentage of applicants in this category who became matriculants increased from 69% to 70.5% to 73% over that period. If we estimate that roughly 79% of the applicants with a highest LSAT of 150-164 matriculate, then we can anticipate roughly 24,000 matriculants for Fall 2013 with an LSAT of 150-164, a decline of roughly 27% since Fall 2010. 

Meanwhile, the number of matriculants whose highest LSAT score was <150 grew from roughly 7,000 to over 7,900, an increase of roughly 13%, while the percentage of applicants in this category who became matriculants increased from 26% to 29% to 36% over that period. If we estimate that roughly 40% of the applicants with a highest LSAT of <150 matriculate, then we can anticipate roughly 8,200 matriculants with an LSAT of <150 for Fall 2013, an increase of roughly 17% since Fall 2010. 

Percentage of First-Years from Each LSAT Category Using Highest LSAT-- 2010-2013*

            165+               150-164           <150

2010    0.191               0.661               0.141

2011    0.196               0.641               0.156

2012    0.183               0.614              0.191

2013    0.162               0.617              0.211

*The sum of the percentages in any given year will be slightly less than 1.00 because the denominator -- total matriculants -- includes matriculants with non-standard LSAT and those with no LSAT.

This table shows that if my estimates for 2013 are roughly accurate, while the percentage of matriculants whose highest LSAT score was 165+ in the first-year class has declined between Fall 2010 and Fall 2013 by roughly 16% (from 19% to 16%) and the percentage of matriculants whose highest LSAT was 150-164 has declined by roughly 6% (from 66% to 62%) the percentage of matriculants whose highest LSAT was <150 has increased 50% (from 14% to 21%).

Adjusting from Highest LSAT to Average LSAT to Compare 2002 and 2013

The change in the 2009-10 admissions cycle to using highest LSAT rather than average LSAT resulted in an increase in matriculants with scores of 165+ of roughly 1,800 between Fall 2009 and Fall 2010.  Given that there had been a modest increase in the number of matriculants with an average LSAT of 165+ between 2008 and 2009 (an increase of roughly 600, from 7,023 to 7,652), it might be fair to assume that there would have been another modest increase in the number of matriculants with an average LSAT of 165+ between 2009 and 2010 given the challenging economic environment at the time and the continued growth in applications between 2009 and 2010.  Assume then that of the 1,800 additional matriculants with scores of 165+, 400 would have been included in the category if we were still using an average LSAT of 165+ rather than the highest LSAT of 165+.  That would suggest that to estimate the number of matriculants with an average LSAT of 165+ in 2010, it might make sense to subtract 1,400 matriculants from the number of matriculants with a highest LSAT of 165+ in 2010 and then for the next three years apply the same percentage reduction as reflected in the number of those with a highest LSAT of 165+ over those three years.

The change to highest LSAT rather than average LSAT also resulted in a drop in the number of matriculants with an LSAT <150 between 2009 and 2010 of roughly 1,900 matriculants. Notably, the number of applicants and matriculants with an average LSAT <150 had grown slightly between 2007 and 2009 (applicants from 29,123 to 29,926, matriculants from 7,013 to 7,906).  Nonetheless, to err on the conservative side, assume that the number of matriculants with an average LSAT <150 actually may have declined in Fall 2010 from Fall 2009 rather than continuing to increase modestly.  Assume it would have declined by roughly 5% or 400 (rather than 1,900).  That would mean that to estimate the number of matriculants with an average LSAT of <150 in Fall 2010, we would need to add to the number with a highest LSAT of <150 roughly 1,500 more matriculants and then for the next three years apply the same percentage increase as reflected in the number of those with a highest LSAT of <150 over those three years.

Using these assumptions, the estimated number of first-years with an average LSAT of 165+ would fall to roughly 5,400 as of Fall 2013, while the estimated number of first-years with an average LSAT of <150 would rise to over 9,800 in Fall 2013. 

If the estimates above are close to accurate, then the number of Fall 2013 matriculants with an average LSAT score of 165+ represents roughly 14% of Fall 2013 matriculants (a slightly higher percentage than in Fall 2002), while the number of Fall 2013 matriculants with an average LSAT of <150 represents over 25% of Fall 2013 matriculants (a much higher percentage than in Fall 2002).  The following chart shows the percentage of matriculants for the period from 2002-2013 taking into account the estimates set forth in the preceding paragraph regarding the number of matriculants with an average LSAT in each range over the period from 2010-2013. 


This graph shows that the percentage of matriculants with an average LSAT of 165+ has varied between roughly 13% and roughly 17% percent over the period from 2002-2013, and appears to have returned in Fall 2013 to a percentage only slightly higher than where it was in Fall 2002.  By contrast, this chart also shows that the percentage of matriculants with an average LSAT of <150 had varied between roughly 19% and roughly 13% until the Fall 2012 and Fall 2013 groups of matriculants, when the percentages increased to roughly 22% (in 2012) and over 25% (in 2013).  While this graph does not include the percentage of matriculants with average LSATs of 150-164, one can infer that percentage as the difference between 100% and the sum of the 165+ percentage and the <150 percentage.  For the period between 2002 and 2011, this generally hovered between 65% and 70%, but in the last two years it has fallen closer to 60%.

This shift in LSAT profile is further evidenced by changes in LSAT profiles among first-year entering classes between 2010 and 2013.  For Fall 2010, there were only nine law schools with a median LSAT of 149 or lower (using highest LSAT for reporting purposes).  For Fall 2011, there were 14 law schools with a median LSAT of 149 or lower.  For Fall 2012, there were 21 law schools with a median LSAT of 149 or lower.  That number may grow to nearly 30 when official data is published next spring on the Fall 2013 entering class.  

If one uses the LSAT profile as an indicator of the “strength” of a given class of first-year students, and uses the framework set forth above for looking at the LSAT profile, then in the last three years we not only have seen first-year enrollment shrink by roughly 10,000 students, but also have seen a significant “weakening” of the LSAT profile.  In terms of LSAT profile, the Fall 2013 entering class is almost certainly the weakest of any class going back to Fall 2002. This may impact the classroom experience at some law schools and may impact bar passage results when the Fall 2013 entering class graduates in 2016.

Why the Differential Response to Market Signals by Different Populations of Prospective Law Students?

What might explain the extent to which different populations of prospective law students have responded to market signals in such different ways, with those from elite college and universities and those with higher LSATs turning away from law school more than those from less elite colleges and universities and those with lower LSATs?  In Part Three I will explore some possible explanations.

October 17, 2013 in Data on legal education, Scholarship on legal education, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What Does a JD-Advantaged Job Look Like? Job Posting for a "Legal Solutions Architect"

Below is job posting for a new type of job called a "legal solutions architect."  

SeyfarthThe job post just appeared on the website of Seyfarth Shaw, a large law firm based in Chicago.  Seyfarth was one of the first to embrace the movement toward technology and process.  See Six Sigma at Seyfarth Shaw, Legal Professions Blog, April 14, 2010.  

Before getting to the text of the ad, a few of observations for what this posting is telling us about legal education and the emerging legal job market:

  • This is a pure JD advantaged job. "Juris Doctor or MBA with legal industry experience strongly preferred job" (emphasis in original). It is full-time, long-term job in downtown Chicago.  it is not reviewing documents. This is a good professional job doing very sophisticated and challenging work.
  • The job is not partner-track.  But it terms of economic potential and job security, does that matter?  In the years to come, folks that understand the overlay between law, technology, and process are going to be great demand and have a lot of options.
  • Undergraduate education matters, but the majors are far from typical among traditional law students:  finance, business administration, computer science, or "other technical discipline."
  • It is easier to get this job if an applicant has familiarity with "extranets, intranets, document assembly, enterprise search, relational databases and workflow."  Also, it is "a plus" to have "familiarity with Agile and Scrum [two software development tools]." We don't teach any of this stuff in law school.  Perhaps we should.
  • The required skills are an blend of technical skills and knowledge plus higher order professional abilities that, frankly, are not explicitly taught in law school.  Law schools need to take notice, as this an order any decent professional school should be able to fill.

Now the actual job posting:

Requisition Number 


Post Date 



Legal Solutions Architect





Seyfarth Shaw is one of the most progressive, forward-thinking law firms in the world. Seyfarth’s commitment to delivering legal services in a new way through its SeyfarthLean program - with an emphasis on value and continuous improvement - has been praised by the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) as being “five years ahead of every other AmLaw 200 firm.”

Legal Solutions Architects anticipate, identify, sell and drive innovative business solutions. Through an understanding of technology, knowledge management, business analysis, process improvement and project management, this role provides solutions that enhance the client experience. These multidisciplinary resources are aligned with Firm strategy and play an important role in driving the Firm’s innovative approach to the practice of law and the delivery of legal services.

This position will report to the Director of the Legal Technology Innovations Office. Seyfarth Shaw recently received awards for 2013 Innovative Law Firm of the Year and Innovative Project of the Year, and the efforts of the Legal Technology Innovations Office played a significant role in earning those recognitions.

Essential Functions

  • Partner with clients, Seyfarth legal teams and legal project managers to enhance the delivery and effectiveness of services provided within legal engagements
  • Translate stated and inferred needs of clients and attorneys into specific technologies and methods
  • Synthesize the needs of multiple engagements and create requirements for systematic solutions that underpin Seyfarth’s varied legal practices
  • Team with the Application Development Group to design and plan for custom solutions and oversee the construction and implementation of these systems
  • Manage multiple projects concurrently, juggling priorities, deadlines and essential duties for each project
  • Collaborate with other Firm departments, including Legal Project Management Office, Practice Management, Finance, Marketing and Professional Development to provide comprehensive solutions
  • Act as an effective change manager – keeping client and Firm culture, group behavior and individual habits in mind in order to best circumnavigate roadblocks and pitfalls for solution adoption
  • Provide presentations to individuals, small groups and large audiences of clients and Seyfarth attorneys in a persuasive and encouraging manner
  • Contribute to continuous improvement, promote the use of technology solutions and help improve the awareness of the impact of the solutions on the business
  • Perform vendor due diligence and serve as a point of contact for third-party technologies leveraged by the Firm
  • Conduct market, external and internal research and convey results to forward assigned projects and to aid projects lead by teammates, other groups and other departments
  • Proactively research and maintain knowledge of emerging technologies and service delivery models and possible applications to the business


  • Highly motivated self-starter with an entrepreneurial bent
  • Uses intelligence, creativity and persistence to solve varied, non-routine problems
  • Possesses an understanding of knowledge management, process improvement and legal project management and an appreciation of the benefits to law firms employing these approaches
  • Passion for legal technology, including technical platforms, specific technical applications and their impact on the practice of law
  • Keen grasp of project management, flexible in project execution and able to meet aggressive deadlines
  • Strong business analysis approach
  • Visualizes how raw data can be converted into useful information for client and Firm decision-makers
  • Pays attention to detail but still maintains focus on the bigger picture
  • Comfortable working both independently and in diverse teams
  • Excellent written and verbal communicator that is able to distill complex concepts into simple messages
  • Familiar with the software development cycle
  • Capable of managing and motivating up, down and across the organization
  • Appreciation for user interface and user experience design
  • Embraces change and seeks to create order from chaos


  • Bachelor’s degree, preferably in finance, business administration, computer science or other technical discipline
  • Juris Doctor or MBA with legal industry experience strongly
  • Experience working within a large law firm preferred but not required
  • Familiarity with extranets, intranets, document assembly, enterprise search, relational databases and workflow preferred
  • Familiarity with Agile and Scrum a plus

Seyfarth Shaw is committed to working with and providing reasonable accommodation to individuals with disabilities. If, because of a medical condition or disability, you need a reasonable accommodation for any part of the employment process, please call (312) 460-6545 and let us know the nature of your request and your contact information. We offer an outstanding benefit package which includes: medical/dental, 401k with employer contribution; life insurance; transportation fringe benefit program; generous paid time off policy; and long-term and short-term disability policies. Equal Opportunity Employer M/F/D/V

Apply online

Send this job to a friend

October 15, 2013 in Current events, Data on legal education, Innovations in law, Law Firms, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Measuring the Value of Law Firm Pedigree

General counsel from large legal departments are becoming increasingly skeptical of the value provided by leading brand-name law firms, such as the AmLaw 20 or the Magic Circle.  That is the conclusion of some compelling research just posted on the HBR Blog Network, the online idea forum run by Harvard Business Review.

AdvancelawThe research was conducted by AdvanceLaw, which is a company that vets law firms and lawyers on an as-requested basis on behalf of legal departments.  Some of AdvanceLaw's clients include Google, Nike, Sherwin-Williams, Lenovo, Towers Watson, Mastercard, Panasonic, eBay, Mastercard, Deutsche Bank, McDonald's, Molson Coors, Nestle, Heinz, Clorox, Unilever, CSS, Starwood Hotels, etc.  

AdvanceLaw is a good example of what Richard Susskind calls a "closed legal community."  See Tomorrow's Lawyers, chapter 5.  Some essential background on AdvanceLaw is discussed below. But I am sure readers want to see the data first. The reported research was based on responses from 88 general counsel, who answered two questions:

  1. How does law firm pedigree affect their buy decision for a high-stakes matter? 
  2. Is law firm pedigree associated with more or less client responsiveness?

Below are the results posted on the HBR Blog Network:


Readers are probably wondering, "Who is AdvanceLaw and why are they asking these types of questions?"  I have some intel on this topic.

FirozAdvanceLaw was formed four years ago by Firoz Dattu, a Harvard-trained lawyer who spent time in BigLaw (Paul Weiss).  Firoz eventually found his way to the Corporate Executive Board, which a publicly traded company (NYSE: CEB) that specializes in subscription-based research organized by industry and function.  CEB uses the aggregated research for value-add services such as benchmarking and best practices.  

Because they specialize in factgathering for strategy and management,  CEB has a long history of employees leaving to start niche businesses.  That is what happened here.  Firoz helped launch, and ultimately ran, the General Counsel Roundtable (GCR), which is a CEB functional group that cuts across industries.  I have been to a GCR meeting (it is invitation-only for outsiders).  Suffice to say that a persistent theme of conversation was controlling legal costs without compromising quality.  A seemingly tall order, right?

Firoz started AdvanceLaw because of perceptions by general counsel that they were being overcharged and underserved by large firms in the major markets.  Any GC who has reviewed data from TyMetrix would quickly draw the same conclusion, as a large firm lawyer with 20-years experience in, say, Minneapolis often has a lower billing rate than a second-year at a mega-firm in NYC.  AdvanceLaw has positioned itself as a trusted advisor that can provide reliable guidance in shopping for value outside the big brand-name firms. 

So how does this service work?  As noted earlier, AdvanceLaw is an example of a closed legal community.   To get into the AdvanceLaw network, prospective law firms are run through a rigorous RFP process that evaluates things like expertise, innovation, quality, compensation systems, and track record on diversity.

If a firm makes the AdvanceLaw cut, they start getting assignments from participating legal departments.  But here is the enormous differientator.  Feedback is collected by AdvanceLaw and shared with the law firm and other AdvanceLaw legal departments.  What is the effect?  

  • For law firms, changing their behavior to (a) protect their reputations, and (b) get more work. 
  • For legal departments, to the extent they are getting value, migration of their legal work out of pedigreed law firms in the major markets to lower cost yet high quality regional and super-regional firms.  The savings are roughly 30-40% with no loss in quality and better responsiveness. Some of the winners in the AdvanceLaw tournament are listed here

AdvanceLaw also has a globalization overlay, which has been created with GC assistance.    For instance, in Argentina and India, AdvanceLaw works with quite prominent firms who also exhibit efficiency. In the UK and Canada, the firms are substantial players, but are slightly less pedigreed than the Magic Circle and Seven Sisters, respectively.  

So let's boil down AdvanceLaw's business model into its simplest terms: It gathers information so they legal departments don't pay excessive prices for the CYA (cover-your-ass) benefits of hiring high-prestige Big Law.  

CYA still matters, of course.  But through AdvanceLaw, pedigree is being given a more accurate valuation.  A likely large second-order effect of AdvanceLaw is the acceleration of AFAs through AdvanceLaw firms, as feedback (on quality) and publicity (to drive volume) is what is needed to make that transition.  

Susskind is right.  Closed legal communities are going to be major disruptors in the legal marketplace. 

October 13, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Cross industry comparisons, Important research, Innovations in law, Legal Departments, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Podcast Conversation on the Rise of the Legal Tech Sector

The Legal Whiteboard was created to focus on "facts, trends, and ideas on law and legal education."  Well, nothing is more salient these days than the rise of the legal tech sector which -- trust me here -- is growing rapidly and will soon hit a tipping point.  What happens at the tipping point?  The tastes of clients and highly talented workers shift, leaving old institutions very vulnerable.  

If you are interested in this topic and want a time-efficient primer, check out this ABA Journal podcast, which went live yesterday.  It is 15 minutes long and can be downloaded.  Thanks to good questions from ABA editor Reg Davis, and some editing magic, the interview is a pretty good starting place for the uninitiated -- the only downside is that you have to listen to me, as interview keys off the "Who's Eating Law Firms' Lunch" story (Oct ABA Journal).

Our conversation is also transcribed.

October 1, 2013 in Current events, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mark Harris of Axiom Answers Hard Questions

Somehow I missed this interesting Bloomberg Law interview of Mark Harris, CEO of Axiom Law.  Anyone interested in the future of the legal industry ought to be watching and listening to Mark.  Why?  Because his company -- which now grosses north of $150 million per year -- has the ear and the pocketbook attention of the general counsel of the world's largest companies.

In the 15 minute video interview below, Mark answers several hard questions: 

  • Is Axiom Law a law firm?  No.  That is why it can take outside non-lawyer investment. 
  • Is Axiom Law competing with BigLaw?  In some contexts, the answer is clearly yes. 
  • Is Axiom Law considering an IPO?  Not now, but perhaps someday in the future.  "There would be some advantages to being a public company."

All of this adds up to a lot of potential disruption.  Mark uses that very word.  For additional background on Axiom Law, see American Lawyer story, "Disruptive Innovation."

September 25, 2013 in Cross industry comparisons, Innovations in law, Structural change, Video interviews | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 23, 2013

"This is just an education design problem"

A few years ago I had the good fortune of teaming up with Rachel Zahorsky for a series of feature stories in the ABA Journal, including  "Paradigm Shift" (July 2011), "The Law School Bubble" (Jan 2012), and "The Pedigree Problem" (July 2012). The fourth article, "Who's Eating Law Firms Lunch," is now online; and without a doubt it is my favorite.  

KatzjpgWhy?  Because of the final vignette in the story, which features Dan Katz of ReInvent Law fame.  We were sitting at the bar at the January 2013 AALS Conference in New Orleans when Dan told me this story. My jaw just dropped.  Dan has faith in his students, just like Bellotti had faith in him.  Dan believes, so Dan just does.  No fear.  No bullshit.  It was, suffice to say, quite refreshing.

I am reposting the whole vignette in the hope that a few more academics, lawyers, and law students will read it.  The title of the post is the last line in the story.  To my mind, that Dan Katz line sums up the next ten years of innovation in legal education.  Please keep reading until you get to that final line.  The insight is worth the effort.

For the past two years, MSU’s Katz was the only full-time law professor who spoke at the LegalTech conference. Katz and Knake are creating a curriculum relevant to the emerging law and technology sector, albeit primarily for companies like Novus Law and Recommind, whose competitive advantage is rooted in process and technology.

Within the legal academy, Katz is an anomaly. Aside from his JD, he has a PhD in political science and public policy from the University of Michigan. However, he focused almost all of his graduate study on complex systems. It’s a relatively new scientific field that uses mathematical modeling to understand how a multitude of human and nonhuman factors interact and influence one another. Human society and the human brain are two examples of complex systems. Neither can be effectively modeled by conventional math or statistics.

The late Larry Ribstein at the University of Illinois was one of Katz’s early mentors. When he went into teaching a few years ago, Katz says, Ribstein told him: “I bet you must feel like an alien. I greatly admire your work. You are definitely on the right track. But the rest of the legal academy is just not ready for you.”

In June 2011, Katz joined the faculty at MSU Law. Michigan State partnered with the Detroit College of Law in 1995 and moved the law college into a building in East Lansing two years later. Though the school’s rebranding efforts did raise its profile, to most of the profession, MSU Law remains a nonprestigious regional law school located in the heart of the Rust Belt.

None of this dissuades Katz from his sincere belief that it is possible to turn any institution into the preferred recruiting grounds for the nation’s emerging law-and-tech industry.

“When I was 18 years old,” explains Katz, “I had the privilege of joining a transformative organization”— as a kicker for the University of Oregon football team, the Ducks. “We were in the Pac-10, but it’s in Eugene, Ore., where it is often cloudy and raining. We had no shot at all with the top recruits from Southern California. So coach Mike Bellotti had to figure out ways to stretch and optimize what some might call second-tier talent.

“Oregon is now a national powerhouse, but the seeds of that success were sown much earlier. It was difficult to be bigger or faster than USC or UCLA. So Coach Bellotti decided we would be better on the details of the game. We would be better conditioned and we would pay significant attention to special teams. Our emphasis on special teams got us better field position. And by the third or fourth quarters, our opponents would have their hands on their burning legs. But because of our conditioning regimen, we had more stamina. Our success became contagious. Over time, we were able to get prized recruits. It was a culture of innovation.”

During Bellotti’s tenure at Oregon, from 1995 to 2008, the Ducks had only one losing season, blotting out decades of mediocre performance. The year that Katz graduated, the Ducks were co-champions of the Pac-10, a feat that makes him beam with pride.

Katz’s “secret sauce” for ReInvent Law is arguably much more important than a degree in complex systems. He looks at the 25 students entering the ReInvent Law Laboratory as raw human potential. Katz also actively recruits potential law school applicants to his program, though he declines to discuss his strategy.

Katz understands that the most attractive candidates for the law and technology sector are those with special skills that are often obtained through prelaw work experience. “But there is no reason why some of those key skills and experiences cannot be learned and obtained right here,” Katz says of the MSU program.

He notes that virtually all law students have high cognitive ability. He feels the key to their future success is mastery of domain-specific knowledge—often in areas that are complementary to law—and the ability to collaborate across disciplines. This requires engagement and an immense amount of time spent on the task. So how does one develop the educational program that will prepare the law student for legal-tech jobs—some that may not yet exist?

“This,” Katz says, “is just an education design problem."

September 23, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Current events, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Big Data is the Big Opportunity" for Legal

BigdataSo says a just published article in the Global Legal Post by Sandeep Sacheti, an executive with Wolters Kluwer Corporate Legal Services.   The article is called "The legal industry's new reality."

Perhaps the key insight is that "data by itself is useless. To extract value from it, you need the ‘three Ts’:  talent, technique and transformation.  

  • Talent.  "When you start out, you don’t need the top experts to start making sense of your data. You may just need people with curiosity, good statistical skills and a desire to learn. These are the kind of people who will quickly see how data can be managed and packaged to solve problems. And once they do, they will want to get better at it."
  • Technique.  "Big Data needn’t mean Big Complexity. ... [A]nalytical techniques can be sophisticated, but it’s also possible to keep it simple – especially at the start of the journey. Get the basics right first, and then you can become more advanced as you get better at it."
  • Transformation.  "Becoming a data-driven legal team – law firm or corporate – is a journey. Change is slow, so don’t expect an overnight transformation. The best approach is to bring the whole organisation with you - if everyone from the partners and CEOs to the interns buy into your data strategy, it will start delivering returns faster."

So who will be the big winners when it comes to Big Data?  Definitely some start-ups become they they don't have to transform -- it's a clean sheet operation from the very beginning; they also have more patience and tolerance for trial and error.   Yet, BigLaw is sitting on top of a lot of the essential data, so there will be some winners there too.  To my mind, it will turn on the ability of some BigLaw shops to leverage talent and technique into some early victories that will aid the tranformation project.  If it works, it will be a case study in strategic leadership and effective change management. 

By the way, Wolters Kluwer Corporate Legal Services is a sophisticated place.  They own TyMetrix, which is the perhaps the best current example of BigData operating in the BigLaw ecosystem.  TyMetrix's Real Rate Report is being used to agressively control lawyer billing rates.

September 23, 2013 in Cross industry comparisons, Current events, Innovations in law, Law Firms, Legal Departments, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Revolving Door Among First Generation Legal Innovators

Disruption in the legal industry appears to be crossing an important milestone -- the emergence of the revolving door among the first generation innovators.  Evidence comes from this press release published on the Wall Street Journal website.

Huron_logoIn 2010, a BigLaw partner leaves BigLaw (DLA Piper) to take a high-level job at Axiom, the most well-known disruptor in the legal industry.  Then, 2.5 years later, he leaves to run the Discovery Services practice at Huron Consulting Group.  Huron Consulting, by the way, is a publicly traded company (NASDAQ: HURN) with $626 million in revenues in 2012.  Legal is one of Huron's core industries.  It currently has 1,500 "seats" for conducting 24/7 document review services in the U.S., Europe, and India.  

Let's summarize: BigLaw to legal start-up to publicly held company trying to expand its wedge in the legal industry.  Granted, career moves are motivated by a wide range of factors, not just a string of successes that create better oppportunities.  Outsiders can only speculate why someone changes jobs.  That said, in a start-up environment where the market opportunity is large but the know-how to tap into it has to be developed through trial and error,  false starts are just part of the learning curve -- the building block of future success.  Indeed, there are books and articles on this topic.  

What is revealed by the emergence of the revolving door among legal innovators is that there is tremendous opportunity to make traditional legal services better, faster, and cheaper.  Talented people are persisting and betting their careers on it.  The biggest unknown is timing -- it is risky to get there too early, and disastrous to get there too late.  Alas, it is better to wrestle directly with the issue of timing than to deny that the change is real. 

September 22, 2013 in Cross industry comparisons, Current events, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Clockworks Approach to Lawyer Development

Lawyers can successfully adapt to the disruption of the Information Age just like we adapted to the legal challenges of the industrial era -- build a system to create the human capital that is in short supply.  This was original logic of the Cravath System, which created teams of specialized business lawyers who could handle the legal needs of rapidly growing industrial and financial clients in the early 20th century. This Clockworks approach still works, but the specifications of the system need to be updated. At the end of this presentation, I offer a prototype of what we might include in a 21st century Clockworks approach to lawyer development.

Presented at the "Innovations in the Law: Science and Technology" Conference, Oregon District of the Federal Bar Association (Sept 20, 2013)

September 21, 2013 in Current events, Innovations in legal education, Law Firms, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dan Katz on Legal Prediction and Legal Metrics

This presentation by Dan Katz is worth reviewing.

posted by Bill Henderson

September 17, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Cross industry comparisons, Current events, Innovations in law, New and Noteworthy, Scholarship on the legal profession, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Trend Toward Legal Onshoring -- What It Tells Us about the Future of Law

The trend toward outsourcing of legal work to India may be giving way to "onshoring."  What is the attraction of moving legal jobs back to the US?  The wage gap between India and the US is closing, but more importantly, innovation and continuous improvement are significantly aided by proximity. 

I heard this perspective from a friend of mine who was part of the management team of a successful LPO that was sold (at a substantial profit) to a much larger legal conglomerate.  Indeed, he contemplated getting back into the business, but this time running an onshoring operation. 

BlackHillsIP-logo-RGB-2color-xsThis identical perspective is on display in a recent Minneapolis StarTribune story on Black Hills IP, a 2.0 legal process outsourcer that provides various types of managed services for all things related to intellectual property.   According to its website, Black Hills IP is a "US-based IP paralegal service that is faster, more accurate and more cost-effective than in house departments and off-shore providers."  The company appears to be growing, as it did a PR-blitz to commemorate its 100th client.  The company was originally started in Rapids City, South Dakota but has since expanded to Minneapolis.

Cpa globalWhat make this story especially interesting is that many of the folks who started Black Hills IP were sophisticated Minneapolis corporate lawyers who created a company in the early 2000s called Intellevate, a 1.0 LPO that was sending legal work to India.  In 2006, Intellevate became part of CPA Global, a much larger LPO.  In other words, the folks at Black Hills IP are industry players with much better information than the rest of us who are making bets with their own money. 

Unlike traditional law firms, these types of legal vendors are growing rapidly.  Their secret sauce appears to be combining high-quality processes with capable, motivated paraprofessional talent. 

McCrackinThe challenge for law schools and many practicing lawyers is getting our heads around the fact that, from a pure market perspective, bright legal minds may be less valuable than well-designed and well-executed legal processes and systems.  This state of affairs is just as much an opportunity as it is a threat.

One last interesting note suggesting that companies like Black Hills IP are part of the same ecosystem as traditional law firms and law schools: The CEO of Black Hills IP is Ann McCrackin, a former professor of law at Franklin Pierce (now University of New Hampshire School of Law), where she was director of the Patent Prosecution and Procedure Program.  Prior to that, McCrackin was a shareholder in Schwegman, Lundberg & Woessner, a large patent law firm based in Minneapolis that specializes in high technology.

posted by Bill Henderson

September 16, 2013 in Current events, Data on legal education, Data on the profession, Innovations in law, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Competition is for Full-Time, Professional Law-Related Jobs, Part II

As noted in Part I of this post, the competitive dynamics among law schools are about to change due to a combination of two factors: (1) the ABA's collection and publication more granular data on school-level employment outcomes, and (2) the decision by U.S. News to make JD Bar Passage Required and JD Advantaged the primary measures for the employed-at-9-months input to its rankngs formula.

The histogram below reveals a near perfect bell curve for this revamped US News input [click on to enlarge].  This is a huge change from prior years when schools were all bunched at the 95% level because employment of any kind was all that mattered.  Under the old methodology, any law school that limited itself to full-time, professional law-related jobs would have plummeted in the rankings 10 to 50 spots. 

Because spring 2013 was the first year with the new methodology, the impact of the change is not well understood.  The most stark fact of the new environment is that the full-time, professional law-related jobs are in short supply.  Among the class of 2011 (the stats used for the 2013 rankings), this desirable outcome was achieved by only 63.0% of graduates.  When we subtract out full-time, long-term law-related professional jobs funded by law schools -- a luxury that only a small number of mostly first-tier law schools can afford -- the total drops to 61.9%.

Digging deeper, some other significant patterns emerge. 

800px-California_in_United_States.svgRegional labor markets really matter

The vast majority of law schools feed into the regional labor markets where they are located.  In places like California, those markets are saturated. 

Among the ABA-accredited law schools in California, 46.5% of the class of 2011 obtained full-time JD Bar Passage Required jobs. The comparable figure for the remaining ABA-accredited law schools was 56.0%.  Likewise, there is also a disparity for JD Advantage jobs: 6.2% in California versus 8.3% for schools in all other states.  In fact, among the 19 ranked California law schools, only four -- Stanford, UC Berkeley, USC, UCLA -- are above the 63.0% average for full-time, professional law-related jobs.

Based on these data, it should come as no suprise that no law school located in California went up in the 2013 U.S. News rankings. Stanford, USC, and Santa Clara hung onto their ranking, but 11 California law schools dropped, with an average decline of 11 spots.  Five other Calfornia schools remained in the unranked fourth-tier category. 

In contrast, some of the biggest winners in the methodology change were flagship public law schools that are relatively big fish in smaller regional markets.  Students at these schools tend to stay in-state and get JD Bar Passage Required jobs at rates far higher than the 54.9% average for the class of 2011 average. 

Below are the top 15 non-national public law schools based on the proportion of FT Bar Passage Required jobs. 


Between 2012 and 2013, the average rankings gain for the above schools was +9 spots.  Among this group, the only school to go down in the rankings was ASU Law (-3).  And that decline was largely due to the fact that ASU reported a 98% employed-at-nine-months figure for the class of 2010--a figure that drew suggestions of aggressive gaming.  See Brian Tamanaha, When True Numbers Mislead, Balkanization, April 2, 2012.

The heavier weighting for JD Bar Passage Required jobs also benefits a handful of lower-ranked private law schools that are practice-oriented and tend to feed smaller firms within their regional areas.

  • Campbell (71.4% FT bar passage jobs) went from unranked to #126. 
  • South Texas (64.4% FT bar passage jobs) went from unranked to #144
  • St. Mary's (78.3% FT bar passage jobs) went from unranked to #140.

Part-Time Law Schools Dominate JD Advantaged Jobs

JD Advantaged Jobs count the same as JD Bar Passage Required Jobs.  But what, exactly, is included in this category?  According to the ABA,

A position in this category is one for which the employer sought an individual with a J.D., and perhaps even required a J.D., or for which the J.D. provided a demonstrable advantage in obtaining or performing the job, but which does not itself require bar passage or an active law license or involve practicing law. 

See ABA Class of 2012 (definitions).  Many professionals enroll in law school on a part-time basis to improve their career prospects.  It should be no surprise, then, that schools with part-time programs tend to be the largest producers of graduates with full-time JD Advantage jobs.  In many cases, it is the full-time job that the student held during law school -- and presumably retains upon graduation -- that confers the advantage. 

Of the top 10 schools based on the percentage of JD Advantage law school jobs, eight had part-time programs and the other two were located in a state capital, which tends to increase the number of opportunities related to government and public policy.


The schools listed above gained an average of 3.5 spots in the rankings, albeit the average is pulled down by the inclusion of Southwestern, which had to weather the brutal California legal market. 

It is worth noting that the percentage of JD Advantage jobs is negatively correlated with the percentage of JD Bar Passage Required Jobs (-.33) .The table below summarizes the differences between schools with Part-time versus Full-Time only programs.


The higher percentage of JD Advantage jobs (10.1% versus 6.9%) for schools with part-time programs is unlikely the results of chance, as the differences in means are statistically signficant at p < .001.  But what does this inverse relationship mean?

Part-time programs tend to be affiliated with lower ranked law schools, which in turn would produce a lower average percentage of JD Bar Passage Required jobs.  Yet, part-time programs are also in larger, urban locations.  Thus, in addition to the continued employment of part-time students with their current employers, the sheer proximity to large, specialized regional economies probably increases the proportion of JD Advantage jobs.  Indeed, any school in an large metro area would be foolish to ignore the human capital needs of non-legal employers, as knowledge of the law is very helpful in navigating through an ever more complex, regulated, and interconnected world.

What is the Best Strategy for Maximizing Full-Time, Professional Law-Related Jobs?

Largely through happenstance, the ABA and U.S. News have created an environment where law schools have to ask this basic but very important question.  Part-time jobs will no longer cut it.  And few law schools have the cash to hire their own grads full-time for a year past graduation -- and if they do, there are probably better uses for the millions of dollars needed annually to prop up a school's ranking.

The new gold standard employment outcome is full-time, long-term professional law-related jobs. The issue of how to maximize this outcome is so pressing and intricate that it may warrant trade-offs in the admissions process, favoring students will lower credentials but more rock-solid employment prospects on the backend at graduation.  This is the topic I will take up in Part III. 

Part I

[posted by Bill Henderson]

June 30, 2013 in Blog posts worth reading, Data on legal education, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (8)

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Competition is for Full-Time, Professional Law-Related Jobs, Part I

NALP recently released the employment outcome data for the class of 2012.  The good news is that the absolute number of JD Bar Passage Required jobs went up from the prior year.  The bad news is that a significantly larger class of entry-level lawyers were competing for those jobs.  The class of 2011 totaled 41,623, versus 44,339 in 2012 (+2,716, or +6.5%).  And note, the class of 2013 is likely to be even bigger -- roughly +1.6% based on the size of the entering 1L classes in the fall of 2010 (see ABA enrollment data).

Setting aside the year-over-year flucuations, the trendlines suggest a relatively large and persistent shortfall in the number of full-time, professional law-related jobs.  I assembled the graph below from NALP data [click on to enlarge].

NALP 2007 to 2012 breakdown

[Methodological notes:  NALP used the JD-Preferred category until the class of 2011, when NALP and the ABA collaborated on the creation of the JD Advantage category.  According to NALP, the jobs in the two categories are "largely the same."  See NALP, Detailed Analysis of JD Advantage Jobs (April 2013).  The figures for 2012 are estimates of full-time employment calculated from (a) NALP's just released figures for 2012 class size and the percentage breakdowns by job category, and (b) the percentage breakdowns of full-time versus part-time from the prior year, which also relied on the new JD Advantage definition. In short, basic algebra.]

A reasonable expectation of a 3-year, $100,000+ financial commitment is that nine months after graduation, the entry-level lawyer has secured a full-time professional job. See Legal Whiteboard, June 26, 2007.  Those outcomes are reflected in the blue-red-green bars above.  Since 2007 (the first year that NALP collected data on full-time versus part-time employment), the percentage of jobs fitting these criteria has fallen from 85.0% to 73.9%.  So the overall size of the purple bar -- part-time jobs, nonprofessional, unemployment, etc. -- has grown from 15% to 26.1%.  

Unfortunately, the pain does not end there.  With a limited pool of  full-time professional jobs and the number of graduates trending upward, the law of supply and demand kicks in.  Consider this arc of median entry-level salaries of employed graduates: $65,748 for class of 2007, $72,000 for 2008, $72,000 for 2009, $63,000 for 2010, $60,000 for 2011, $61,245 for $2008.  So, in short, the odds of landing a full-time professional job have gone down, and so has the starting pay.  Yet, tuition and student debt continue to edge up.  These unsustainable trends have made law schools fair game for criticism by the media and law student bloggers.

That said, a market correction is clearly underway.   A considerable number of prospective law students are deciding (rationally) not to apply to law school -- from 98,700 when the class of 2007 enrolled in the fall of 2004 to an estimated 58,424 for the fall of 2013.  Likewise, law schools, to the extent they can afford it, are enrolling fewer students.   From the high water mark in the fall of 2010 (49,700), law schools only enrolled 41,400 1Ls in the fall of 2012, and the numbers are sure to be even lower this fall.  See Jerry Organ's estimates, Legal Whiteboard, May 20, 2013.  To weather this storm, law schools are running significant deficits or drawing down their endowments.

So, can we conclude that the market correction will be complete when the relatively small class of 2017 enters the job market four years from now?  I certainly think the smaller number of graduates will help.  But I would argue that two things have fundamentally changed:

1. Revenues versus credentials.  Law schools are struggling with the need to balance their desire to hang onto respectable LSAT/UGPA medians with a need to generate sufficient revenue to cover their operating costs.  If a law school favors revenues this year, its US News rankings could drop, affecting its applicant pool in future years.  On the other hand, the combination of shrinking 1L classes and lavish scholarships -- a strategy being pursued by dozens of law schools -- is unsustainable over the medium to long term.  A decision to enroll fewer students this year is a three-year commitment to lower revenue.  If the smaller entering class is repeated next fall, the budget pain doubles.  Do it three years running, and the revenue shortfall triples.  Many law schools are not trying to outrun the bear; they are trying to outrun other law schools in their regional market. Some law schools may not make it out of this trough.

2. Competition over full-time, professional law-related jobs. If there is one silver lining that has emerged from this troubled period in U.S. legal education, it is the willingness of the ABA to collect and publish more granular employment outcome data at the law school level.  In turn, U.S. News has incorporated these data into its rankings formula.  Instead of propping up our rankings by hiring our own students or benefiting when they got jobs nine months out working as a retail manager or a cab driver, under the new 2013 U.S. News rankings formula, only full-time, long-term jobs that are JD Bar Passage Required or JD Advantaged are given "full weight." 

It is this second point that is going to push change in how law schools do business--we now have an employment outcome in which the ranking payoff is now fully in allignment with what law students want--full-time, professional law-related jobs.

Specifically, the employed-at-nine-months input to the U.S. News rankings formula is currently given 14% weight.  According to the U.S. News law school rankings methodology, the magazine is weighting 22 of the 35 employment outcomes collected and published by the ABA.  Among these 22 factors, we don't know the internal weighting.  What we do know based on the "full weight" given to JD Bar Passage Required and JD Advantage jobs, is that the highest employed-at-nine-month scores will go to law schools with the highest percentages in these two categories. This is a completely new world for law schools -- one that incentivizes what law students care about when they make the decision to enroll.

Part II to follow ...

[Posted by Bill Henderson]

June 28, 2013 in Data on legal education, Innovations in legal education, New and Noteworthy, Structural change | Permalink | Comments (1)