Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dean Nick Allard (Brooklyn) on the NY Times Controversy

Dean Nick Allard of Brooklyn Law School has written the following message to fellow deans. He asked me to post it here as well.

Dear Colleagues,

While the New York Times editorial of Sunday, October 25th, “The Law School Debt Crisis,” weighed in primarily on the ongoing student loan debate, it is symptomatic of a much broader and urgent challenge because it underscores and extends the continuing negative drum beat that is demeaning law schools, law students, and the entire profession.

The time has come for the legal community – and law schools in particular – to press the reset button on the reputation of our profession. As Deans, we should not stand silent as those with biases and outdated or inaccurate information recycle myths and tired, predictable versions of their “wisdom” about our profession, law schools and the quality of newly minted lawyers. Over and over again.

The overarching challenge facing lawyers and the law school community across the country is that there is virtually no effective public counterweight to offset the worn perceptions repeated by high visibility media and others. We must, together, come to the defense of the value of law and lawyers, and make the compelling case for lawyers’ contribution to society in general and America’s national experiment in democracy, in particular. We need to highlight how valuable lawyers are to our nation’s leadership around the world, and the important role our law schools play in developing lawyers that will provide the legal expertise necessary to assure our nation’s stability in the future.

As we seek to attract the next generations of practitioners, we should remember to keep front and center the relevancy of our central message and vision: the value of our profession in these absolutely essential pursuits.

Regrettably, lawyers have too often allowed our fellow citizens to forget the essential contributions of lawyers to government, society, and to our commercial enterprises. Regrettably, legal educators in particular, have not been sufficiently and effectively vocal about the most salient aspect of our profession’s role in society going forward - - focusing on the new, critical roles lawyers will play in a global marketplace, and confronting the challenges of disruptive technologies, borderless geopolitical entities, even more splintered competing interests, and enduring threats to freedom and equal rights.

Into this vacuum have stepped critics, who for whatever reason are seeking to define our profession and our training in ways that neither reflect the realities nor in ways that we can control.

Let's stop the hand wringing, whining and the recycling of misperceptions. Let’s instead call attention to the positive value of our profession and the contribution we, our colleagues, and our students make. Let’s challenge ourselves and our institutions to do better. We could begin by focusing our energy on the following imperatives and begin the process of recalibrating America’s thinking about lawyers:

• Tomorrow’s lawyers must be seen as agents and facilitators of change within American and around the world;
• The legal enterprise must be seen as the engine that can stimulate innovation, the economy and international well being;
• We must do all we can to change the perception of lawyers from that of disruptors who cause commercial and social stagnation to navigators who foster compromise and progress;
• We must train our students to be both foundation builders and architects for a dynamic social system and market economy;
• Lawyers must be viewed as crusaders for peace, individual freedom, market driven economies and global stability;
• Lawyers must be trained to be integral components of tomorrow’s global society.

Entry into the legal profession must be justifiably understood to be a noble pursuit with new relevance for the 21st century. We must rebrand American lawyers and re-engineer the perceptions of how lawyers are trained if we are to change the flawed projections of our profession by others. We must advocate for more, not fewer, of a new breed of 21st-century attorneys who will continue to perform in new ways the essential functions of American society: bridging divides, finding solutions, breaking gridlock, enabling commerce, freeing innovation and forging speedier consensus on a range of commercial, legal, policy, regulatory and social issues among all the competitive interests, not just in the U.S., but around the world.

Many innovative and forward-looking law schools already have adapted their curricula to enable new lawyers to be optimally prepared to meet these imperatives.

We are the ones who can help renew our country. We are the ones who can help make it less splintered, less litigious and more solutions oriented. If not us, then who? What choice do we have? Amidst transformative societal change, we need more than ever what lawyers do: help clarify and move issues forward to resolution through Analysis, Advice and Advocacy. This is work lawyers, not lay people or computers, must do. It is work worthy of the time, energy and money our students invest in earning their law degree.

Today, we must, and can, do better making our case in the affirmative. I look forward to hearing and watching you make the case.


Nick Allard

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No data or even argument refuting the NY Times article at all. Just grand statements on refocusing legal education.

Posted by: Jackie Chiles | Oct 30, 2015 12:30:55 PM

Not even a word of lip service addressing sky high tuition rates, an oversaturated lawyer market, and declining enrollment numbers. Could this guy be any more out of touch with reality?

Posted by: Bob Loblaw | Oct 30, 2015 1:36:07 PM

I appreciate where Mr. Allard is trying to go with this, but I'm afraid that a letter such as this is, in itself, a prime and pristine example of the PROBLEM with lawyers. It's a bunch of slogans and catch-phrases strung together without any concrete solutions--plus plenty of fuel for future cognitive dissonance, once you digest Mr. Allard's proposals at anything deeper than a superficial level.

The reality is that a lot of law jobs are funded by rent-seeking. The same "gridlock" Mr. Allard wants to get rid of is lawyer profit that goes to pay off massive educational loans--for the graduates lucky enough to get a job as a lawyer. A lot of time is spent filing and defending cases where the lawyers' fees outstrip the total value of the amount in dispute, so no matter who wins, society loses. Procedures that are more efficient and less litigious, such as mediation, arbitration, etc., will only eliminate more lawyer jobs in an already tough and difficult market. High student debt at graduation will only make this worse, as law graduates will have to rely on loan forgiveness, rather than salaries, to erase the debt--which is an additional cost imposed upon the commons. An increasingly higher percentage of these graduates will never, ever pass a bar exam, and thus the value to society for funding these diploma-mills is essentially zero.

Law schools themselves should be the first arena in the profession to take Mr. Allard's advice. Instead of funding bloated salaries in a massively inefficient training exercise where graduates walk across the aisle mystified as to how to obtain, file and manage an actual case, schools need to continue down the path of practice-based training, but they need to do so at a lower cost. Because the reality is that there IS a dearth of legal representation out there--it just comes from people who have no income to pay for legal services. This also comes at a time when Government and Public Interest law jobs are increasingly scarce and under-funded due to multi-faceted fiscal pressures. Governments of all levels are being pinched by a combination of tax evasion (legal and illegal), bloated pension obligations, and growing infrastructure problems, among other things. The result is that young law grads are unable to actually represent people that need representing.

A good start to fixing this problem would be to restore full funding to the Legal Services Corporation, which obviously funds a lot of legal non-profit work. Political battles over its funding are as old as the organization itself, but the Obama Administration hasn't been able to do much with a Republican Congress. The other thing would be to end the sequester, so that Federal Agencies can re-start their Honors Programs, etc. and hire new attorneys once again. There's plenty of evidence of a severe shortage in public defenders across the nation, but there's no positions open. Even in flyover states, Legal Aid jobs get THOUSANDS of applications for just ONE position paying $35K per year. There are that many attorneys willing to work for such a small salary out there (the PSLF will take care of their debt), but there are simply no positions open.

Instead of soliciting donations to fund modern-day castles for law buildings, and mid to high six-figure salaries for law deans and professors, perhaps law school endowment money should go to boosting funding for non-profit represenation. As they are currently set up, law schools are engineered to be incredibly expensive pipelines to big firms so they can outdo their peers with their salary statistics. But those that can't get (most law grads) or don't want big firm jobs are left to twist in the wind, with no idea how to handle a case, and an insane amount of debt, no one willing to train them, and no guidance. No legal employer other than big firms can afford to spend years training a graduate how to be a lawyer. This is especially true of non-profits and governments. So instead, these non-profit/government entities, even in the rare event that there are jobs availble, are turning more and more to hiring experienced lawers, who they can count on to handle a case from day one.

As of right now, a law student can't just count on getting a PSLF-qualifying job as a fall-back option if they miss out on a big firm at OCI. Even for lower-level government jobs such as a SSA Attorney Advisor position (a position where you do not really build marketable skills), they have to limit applications to the first 200 applicants because so many people apply. Many times an avalanche of resumes will come flooding in, and the position will close in a day or two. My own government agency gets thousands of applications every time a job opens up for positions with very mediocre pay. About half of these are from chronically underemployed younger law graduates, and the other half are from mid-career attorneys looking for any stable job they can find. We get to pick the cream of the crop in this hiring environment. Newer grads have zero chance of making it to the top of the list.

The first step to solving this crisis is to admitting that either law schools have to reduce the number of graduates, or there needs to be an expansion of job opportunities. Continuing to stick your head in the sand, plug your ears, and sing "la-la-la-la" while throngs of young attorneys cannot even make the interest payments on their loan debt, and expect the Federal Government (who is now responsible for backing that debt) to say nothing while this all goes down, is to live in denial. If all that money spent forgiving law school loans went to funding legal services jobs, we'd have half the crisis we have today.

Posted by: JohnSB | Oct 30, 2015 10:40:12 PM

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