Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Skills development in the United States

      Skills (including legal skills) do not develop spontaneously or in a vacuum. Skills reflect a fusion of an array of factors, such as education; experience; mentors; cohesive families; and supportive economic, social, legal, and political institutions and policies. Consequently, acquiring a useful skill involves, typically, a long-term investment by both an individual and others near and far who provide direct as well as indirect support for a person’s skill-development efforts.

      In that context, Tom Friedman’s column in today’s New York Times -- “Can’t Keep a Bad Idea Down” -- highlights Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5, a newly published report from The National Academies Press that offers a sobering view of where the country stands globally in long-term investments in some of those skill-building factors. Friedman writes:

      Here is the story: In 2005 our National Academies responded to a call from a bipartisan group of senators to recommend 10 actions the federal government could take to enhance science and technology so America could successfully compete in the 21st century. Their response was published in a study, spearheaded by the industrialist Norman Augustine, titled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.”
      Charles M. Vest, the former M.I.T. president, worked on the study and noted in a speech recently that “Gathering Storm,” together with work by the Council on Competitiveness, led to the America Competes Act of 2007, which increased funding for the basic science research that underlies our industrial economy. Other recommendations, like improving K-12 science education, were not substantively addressed.
      So, on Sept. 23, the same group released a follow-up report: “Rising Above the Gathering Storm Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5.” “The subtitle, ‘Rapidly Approaching Category 5,’ says it all,” noted Vest. “The committee’s conclusion is that ‘in spite of the efforts of both those in government and the private sector, the outlook for America to compete for quality jobs has further deteriorated over the past five years.’”
      But I thought: “We’re number 1!”
      “Here is a little dose of reality about where we actually rank today,” says Vest: sixth in global innovation-based competitiveness, but 40th in rate of change over the last decade; 11th among industrialized nations in the fraction of 25- to 34-year-olds who have graduated from high school; 16th in college completion rate; 22nd in broadband Internet access; 24th in life expectancy at birth; 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving degrees in science or engineering; 48th in quality of K-12 math and science education; and 29th in the number of mobile phones per 100 people.

      Although not mentioned by Friedman, two years after publication of the original Gathering Storm report, The National Academies Press issued an updating essay, Is America Falling Off The Flat Earth?, written by Norman Augustine, the chair of the Gathering Storm Committee.


October 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Four low cost commercial legal research alternatives to Wexis

Here's a list of low cost legal research alternatives compiled by a Milwaukee law firm librarian courtesy of the Wisconsin Law Journal.  The article appears to be authored before Lexis announced its special solo practitioner rates - which currently makes Lexis a very competitive product - so some of these alternatives may no longer be as inexpensive as they once were.  Also, the article omits mention of Bloomberg Law which offers attractive pricing as well.

The four recommendations are Fastcase, Loislaw, VersusLaw and The (kudos for grabbing that last domain name).  You can read a detailed description of each product courtesy of the Wisconsin Law Journal here.

Hat tip to Eric Young.


October 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

How U.S. News Ranks Legal Writing Programs

Once again, U.S. News has requested my assessment of law school legal writing  programs for the purpose of computing its rankings of these programs. I haven't responded in several years and don't know if I will this year.

Here is how the procedure works. I receive a list of ABA accredited law schools and am requested to place an "x" next to the names of up to 15 law schools with top programs. U.S. News compiles the survey results and, based solely on this information, compiles its rankings.  That's  it.

I probably know as much as anyone about LW programs around the  country, but still am in no position to rank them. High rankers tend  to be law schools whose LW profs are heavily involved  in national LW organizations and who publicize their school's efforts. Being active on the Legal Writing Institute listserv seems to help. In my opinion, some schools deserve to have ended up with high rankings, but some do not. In any  case,  the rankings process is far from reliable.


October 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hard Copy Texts or E-Books?

 According to  a study by the National Association of College Stores, 76 percent of students surveyed preferred hard copies.  The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on the study.


October 27, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

UK law firm uses battery of tests to assess qualified law school candidates

Despite what I said below, one UK law firm has decided to use a battery of psychometric tests, including one designed to measure critical thinking skills, in order to make "better" hiring decisions.  The firm has also made its application form more difficult to complete in order to weed-out the ambivalent.

As Legal Week reports:

Applicants will now visit the firm twice as part of the initial recruitment process but will only be interviewed by a fee earner if they pass a first-round assessment consisting of a number of written tests, including a newly-added psychometric testing element.

The top 15 UK law firm [Simmons and Simmons] said the changes were partly implemented in a bid to reduce the time fee earners spend on the recruitment process.

After a consultation earlier this year, Simmons has added the Watson Glaser test, which examines critical thinking, to its trainee recruitment process and plans to also roll it out to vacation scheme applicants next year.

Maybe Professor Henderon is right after all.

You can read more about this UK firm's new twist on job candidate assessment here.

Hat tip to the online ABA Journal blog.


October 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Will a law school's USNWR rank count less as law firms look to other factors to assess law student success?

Professor William Henderson of Indiana University School of Law predicts, in connection with a possible fundamental change in the legal market place, that a law school's USNWR ranking will matter less to employers than more individualized ways to measure a law student's potential for success in practice such as psychological and behavioral testing.

According to his article in the July, 2010 NALP Bulletin entitled "Class of 2009:  Recession or Restructuring":

Changes in the recruiting model are being forced on law firms by general counsel who are refusing to pay exorbitant hourly rates for first and second year associates. 'If law firms have to absorb the cost of training first and second year lawyers, they have a strong incentive to hire fewer of them and keep them longer.'

These dynamics do not necessarily favor the most highly ranked law schools. . . Going forward, we can expect to see fewer associates hired by large corporate law firms and more rigorous screening, including behavioral interviews, psychometric tests, and parsing of résumés in search of non-academic indicators associated, at statistically significant levels, with long-term success within particular law firms. In an environment where clients increasingly evaluate firms based on value, grades and law school attended are less important.

I'm  a bit more skeptical than Professor Henderson because I think that the decision about whom to hire will always be driven by cost and thus employers will continue to rely on school and individual class rank because they are "free" assessment methods despite their inexactitude.  Don't get me wrong; I agree that USNWR and class rank don't tell the whole story as far as measuring a law student's potential for success as a lawyer, but I still think most employers will choose the cheaper path for making hiring decisions despite the inevitable mistakes that result.  I hope I'm wrong.

You can read more about Professor Henderson's predictions for the changing legal job market as published in the NALP newsletter here


October 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In addition to skills, you'll need a good visage to run a profitable law practice.

That's the implication of this study reported in the online ABA Journal Blog that analyzed the facial features of managing partners at the AmLaw 100 firms.  According to the study, managing partners with "powerful" faces were able to leverage their "good looks" into greater profits per partner while having a "warm" face, plus $1.50, will get you a cup of coffee. 

Here's an excerpt:

'Appearance matters a great deal when it comes to judging people,' the press release says. According to previous studies, 'Senate candidates whose faces were judged more competent than their opponents won three-quarters of their races, and the more powerful the faces of CEOs of Fortune 1,000 companies looked, the more profits that their companies earned.'

The data in the latest study could suggest that society expects people who look a certain way to be good leaders, according to one of the researchers, assistant psychology professor Nicholas Rule of the University of Toronto. Perhaps people who look powerful are given more opportunities to develop their leadership abilities, Rule tells the ABA Journal.


Interestingly, the "power" face used to illustrate the article is Ropes & Gray managing partner John Montgomery who is someone I used to work for when I was in private practice.  It never occurred to me to think of him as having a "power" face but he was certainly a very nice man who treated colleagues, including young associates, with respect.  My hunch is that that has been a key factor in his ascension to power within the firm as well as his financial success.  But whether his face has caused an increase in partner profits across the board is an intriguing theory indeed.

You can read the rest of the ABA Journal article here.


October 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Creating Stronger Passwords

Strong passwords are ones that are easy for you to remember, but hard for others to guess. They protect you against hackers and cybercrime. In  his “ITS E-Newsletter,” attorney Dan Siegel offers five tips:

 1. Use Long Passwords

The longer your password, the better. In general, stronger passwords are anywhere from 8 to 14 characters. An easy way to do this is to use phrases, which only you are likely to remember. For example:

MswboA251999 ("My son was born on August 25, 1999")

MfciSDC&Iw2gb ("My favorite city is San Diego and I want to go back") 

2. Mix Up Capitals & Lowercase Letters and Other Characters
Security experts routinely suggest that a mixture of uppercase and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols make it far more difficult to hack passwords. That's why so many banks and other online companies require you to mix up the characters in your passwords.

 3.  Avoid Real Words

There are many programs that can crack passwords, and they begin by searching for actual words in the passwords, so don't use them. Remember, in 2009, InformationWeek analyzed the login information for the 20,000 users of its site, and discovered that the most common passwords on its site were 123456 and password.

 4.  Change Your Passwords Regularly

Many businesses require users to change their passwords every two to three months - to avoid unauthorized users from logging in to their networks. The more often you change a password, the less likely it will be hacked.

5.  Don't Use "Password"

The word "password," and its variations, are the most common passwords and hackers often begin with them. So don't use them.

 Dan’s website is


October 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

The legal issues raised by blogging

I blog, you blog, everyone blogs!  In light of that, you may find this post from the E-Commerce blog helpful.  There you'll find a link to a recent PowerPoint presentation on the legal issues raised by, um, blogging.  There's also a link to written materials prepared by E-Commerce blogmaster Jonathan D. Frieden

Thanks to the E-Commerce blog.


October 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Consensus Builds: Legal Education Reform is Necessary

From guest blogger Christine Mooney at Villanova:

The march toward legal education reform continues.  The latest conversation took place at a conference at the University of Wisconsin Law School on October 22-23 entitled “Legal Education Reform after Carnegie: Bringing Law-in-Action into the Law School Classroom.”  Attendees included educators from around the country including Anne Colby and William Sullivan, two of the authors of the Carnegie Foundation report, “Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law.” The keynote presenter was David Wilkins, the Harvard organizer of the Future Ed program who hosted the FutureEd 2 in Cambridge the previous weekend.

            The Wisconsin conference included a heavy emphasis on interdisciplinary teaching as well as ethics, including a panel focused specifically on teaching ideas for incorporating ethics into Legal Writing.  One of the many examples of interdisciplinary teaching is Wisconsin’s Center for Patient Partnerships, a program that brings together students and professionals in law, medicine, public health, social work, pharmacy, public affairs and science to advocate on behalf of patients. Programs like these offer students the chance to partner with other professionals outside their own discipline.  These experiences not only broaden student perspectives, but also prepare students for the team approach that clients increasingly seek from their lawyers.  It seems to me that the key to success in developing these programs is to build around the strengths and resources already available at your institution. Initiatives can start with a partnership with one other discipline and expand to include others as the program develops.


October 26, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Law firm associates who don't curb web-surfing habits may get fired

This past summer at the Legal Writing Institute's biennial conference I moderated a panel discussion consisting of attorneys representing a variety of employers including BigLaw, a regional firm and two public interest agencies who all spoke about the skills they expect new law grads to have.   An interesting comment from the panelist representing BigLaw was that associates at that particular firm have been warned that the firm monitors associates' surfing habits and even visiting the website Above the Law while at work will get you fired.  Apparently associates at this firm take the warning very seriously and have learned to control their web-surfing at work. 

It's an interesting and important point as faculties continue to debate whether to turn off the internet in their classrooms.   For those who feel it's either unimportant or futile to control student web-surfing during class, one counterargument is that professional expectations will require law grads to curb their surfing habits and there's no place better to learn good work habits and professional expectations than law school.

What do you think?  Please feel free to leave your comments below. 


October 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Classic anthology on legal advocacy republished by Scribes

Scribes - The American Society of Legal Writers recently republished a classic anthology of essays on legal advocacy. Originally issued in 1960 as Advocacy and the King's English and edited by George Rossman, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Oregon, the publication has been retitled Classic Essays on Legal Advocacy and includes a new preface by Bryan A. Garner, who describes the collection as "without doubt the finest anthology of articles on advocacy ever published." Available directly from the publisher, The Lawbook Exchange, or through


October 25, 2010 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Avoid Social Media Burnout

Keeping up with social media can take over your life. In the Texas Lawyer,, attorney and blogster D. Todd Smith offers five tips for keeping your potential electronic addiction under control: (1) At the outset, define your purpose in using social media and come up with a plan for attaining your goals. (2) Be selective. (3) Use available tools for managing selected content. (3) Turn off notifications. (4) Don’t hesitate to “de-friend” or “unfollow.” (5) Take time away from the internet.


October 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

How to avoid procrastination when it comes to writing - good advice for profs and students alike

This article from Inside Higher Ed notes that procrastination when it comes to writing projects can be particularly problematic for academics who work independently and thus only answer to self-imposed deadlines.

Here are some tips for you and your students to help avoid procrastination when it comes to writing projects:

  1. Examine your habits and tendencies.  Consider your recent progress as a writer and look ahead to what you expect to work on in the next few weeks and months. Develop a timeline to map out the small steps you will take to reach your goals. Consider transferring your timeline goals into your daily planner.
  2. Make a commitment.Making steady progress as a writer is like committing to an exercise routine. It’s a challenge to get on track, but once you do, the feelings of confidence and satisfaction begin to sustain your every move. Consider your personal style and work habits and develop an appropriate routine, and then you’ll have a writing regimen that will be more likely to work for you.
  3. Celebrate your accomplishments.  Honor your commitment to putting writing in the forefront of your schedule as a faculty member, as the “ring” of the circus where you are the star. Celebrate small goals, cherish the positive moments you experience as a writer, and realize the value of reclaiming writing time.

You can read the rest here.


October 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Is Law School a Good Investment?

Yes, if the new lawyer’s salary is $65,000. So says Northwestern Law Dean David Van Sandt. Two law professors think the break even point may be higher. With higher tuition rates and an ongoing recession, they also predict that less prestigious law schools may close. For a report from the ABA Journal Online, click here.



October 25, 2010 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Billable Hour Credit for Blogging?

That’s one proposal put forward by Dallas lawyer Michael Maslanka who encourages law firms to implement a social media policy. Here’s the first paragraph of his article in the October  issue of the Texas Bar Journal:

Here are a few radical ideas. Law firms should allow billable hour credit for lawyers and paralegals who use social media. Lawyers who manage, encourage, and educate colleagues about the uses of social media should receive bonuses. Law firm websites should be given a sense of immediacy with podcasts, blogs, and videos.

 To read his full article, please click here.


October 25, 2010 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A couple of new cases illustrate the importance of attorney engagement letters

This is something we should be teaching in law school, if it isn't already covered by a professional responsibility course.  Thanks to Professor Mitch Rubinstein at our sister publication, the Adjunct Prof Blog, for pointing out this article from the New York Law Journal noting the two recent cases. 

Since the NYLJ is subscription only, thanks (again) to Brother Rubinstein for summarizing the pertinent parts here:

The [first] case [unnamed but presumably from N.Y.] . . . implicitly recognizes the value of preparing non-engagement letters when dealing directly with unrepresented parties. An explicit communication of non-engagement is especially valuable when the law firm has formerly represented the now opposing, non-represented party. Any communications with non-represented parties should begin with a written statement that the lawyer is not representing that party, and recommending that the party retain his own attorney if he feels it is necessary.

The second case, from New Jersey, also illustrates the importance of crafting engagement letters to identify with clarity who are—and who are not—intended to be the clients in a newly forming attorney-client relationship. In Kurre v. Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith, Ravin, Davis, and Himmel, LLP, 2010 WL 2090092 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div., April 16, 2010).

Read the rest at the Adjunct Law Prof blog here.


October 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Is there something wrong with 20-somethings?

That's the question asked by this article from the New York Times Magazine.  More specifically, why are 20-somethings taking so long to grow up?

This question pops up everywhere, underlying concerns about 'failure to launch' and 'boomerang kids'. . . . A cover of The New Yorker last spring picked up on the zeitgeist: a young man hangs up his new Ph.D. in his boyhood bedroom, the cardboard box at his feet signaling his plans to move back home now that he’s officially overqualified for a job. In the doorway stand his parents, their expressions a mix of resignation, worry, annoyance and perplexity: how exactly did this happen?

It’s happening all over, in all sorts of families, not just young people moving back home but also young people taking longer to reach adulthood overall. It’s a development that predates the current economic doldrums, and no one knows yet what the impact will be — on the prospects of the young men and women; on the parents on whom so many of them depend; on society, built on the expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions supported by the next crop of kids who finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and on and on. The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un­tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.

You can read the rest of the NYT's magazine article here but also check out this article from Inside Higher Ed. which offers this explanation:

The rigid scripting of childhood and adolescence has made young Americans risk- and failure-averse. Shying away from endeavors at which they might not do well, they consider pointless anything without a clear application or defined goal. Consequently, growing numbers of college students focus on higher education’s vocational value at the expense of meaningful personal, experiential, and intellectual exploration.

Read more from IHE here.


October 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Despite grim employment prospects, applicants still want to come to law school

Forget what I said the other day about law schools' moral imperative to give applicants the straight scoop on average starting salaries and the burden of student loan debt - they want to come anyway.  That's the finding of a recent survey conducted by Veritas, a law school application consulting firm targeting would-be students.  As reported in the National Law Journal:

Veritas . . .  polled 112 prospective law school applicants in June and July, and 81% said they would still apply even if "a significant number of law school graduates were unable to find jobs in their desired fields." Only 4% said they would not apply to law school under that circumstance.

At the same time, more than half the survey respondents — 63% — were concerned about finding a job after law school, and 70% said they were worried about finding a position in the field of their particular interest.

"I think there could be one of two things that are leading factors in explaining this paradox," said Veritas Chief Executive Officer Chad Troutwine. "It could be the idea that there is still a perceived value in the legal education one gets law school. That's different from why people go to business school, which is to increase their chance of financial success."

Alternatively, prospective law students could be suffering from that well-known American affliction of overconfidence — "Hey, that's somebody else's problem, not mine," he said.

Many people still take-up smoking despite the well-documented risks.  Maybe law school is the same sort of thing - you can warn people about the associated financial risks but they'll come anyway.  Law school does indeed provide a great education - just make sure you apply with your eyes open and have realistic expectations.

You can read the full NLJ coverage here - as far as I can tell, the Veritas survey is not available for free.


October 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Several suggestions for better helping law students prepare for practice.

Thanks to our sister publication the Law Librarian Blog (and Joe Hodnicki) for alerting me to this post from 3 Geeks and a Law Blog entitled "What would you tell a law student before they enter the 'real world?'"  In the post, commentators representing a variety of perspectives including those who work in small firms, client services, business development, information technology, Internet marketing, library, and human resources.

Here's a summary of what they say:

  • Solo / Small Firm Perspective: You'll Have Enough Debt From Law School, Don't Add To It! By Jim Calloway
  • Client Services Perspective: Solve A Real Person's Problem. By Ayelette Robinson
  • Business Development Perspective: How You Develop Relationships Will Determine How Well You Do as a Lawyer. By Toby Brown
  • The Human Resources Perspective: If You Want To Know How Your Doing... Then Just Ask! By Greg Lambert
  • Information Technology Perspective: Embrace Law Firm Culture, It Will be Noticed. By Scott Preston
  • Internet Marketing Perspective: You're Already Marketing Yourself - So Think Before You Update Your Status! By Lisa Salazar
  • Library Perspective: Did You Know... By Mark Gediman

Joe Hodnicki adds that he thinks one of the most helpful things a new associate can do when tackling a research project is to ask a law librarian for help.

[H]ead straight to one of the firm's law librarians if it is a research assignment (and to one of the firm's more experienced paralegals if it is not and, don't forget those legal secretaries who are old enough to be your parents, assuming there are still some working at your firm!) Not only are these folks likely to know the assigning attorney's work product preferences but some can provide face-saving cover. Back in the day, I certainly did by going to the assigning attorney to say, "I'm helping so-and-so out, but I need more specificity to get the job done efficiently." Law librarians, and not just firm librarians, have plenty of experience with getting clarification for the vague, open-ended research assignment.

Read more of Joe's thoughts here and you can read the full version of the 3 Geeks and a Law Blog post here.


October 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)