Monday, April 30, 2012
Nancy B. Rapoport has written an insightful article on legal education, Changing the Modal Law School: Rethinking U.S. Legal Education in (Most) Schools, 116 Penn. St. L. Rev. 1119 (2012), also available on SSRN.
She opens: "lawyers bemoan the inability of recent law graduates to ‘hit the ground running.’ They’re frustrated by the graduates’ failure to move from drafting competent memos discussing current case law to providing useful advice to clients. They’re also frustrated by the inability of most lawyers to write coherently, make persuasive arguments, and play well with others."
She argues that "discussions of educational reform in U.S. law schools have suffered from a fundamental misconception: that the education provided in all of the American Bar Association-accredited schools is roughly the same." She notes that even the U.S. News rankings do this: " those rankings tend to reward schools that approximate Yale—the top schools that are highly selective in their admissions, with prominent and extremely productive faculties, and numerous career opportunities for their graduates." Rather, she thinks there are three types of law schools: "the elite, the modal [the majority of law schools], and the precarious." "They differ in terms of the composition of their student body and in terms of the opportunities that they offer for their graduates and faculty." She defines "a precarious school as one in which the graduates bear a significant risk that they will fail the bar exam and therefore be unable to support themselves as lawyers."
She is not concerned about students who attend the elite law schools: "Because the elite law schools do not need much ‘reforming,’ the better focus of reform would concentrate on the modal and precarious schools; however, both elite and modal law schools could benefit from some changes to help law students move from understanding the theoretical underpinnings of law to understanding how to translate those underpinnings into practice."
She remarks that "Most law schools provide a good education for their students and a comfortable living for their professors, but they don’t provide the same types of networking opportunities as do the elite schools. . . . if the modal schools are not going to offer better networking opportunities, then they should come up with some reason to justify their tuition rates. . ." One way of justifying tuition rates is better practical training: "Smaller law firms also have lost the opportunity to provide significant learn-by-watching training, and many government jobs throw their new employees into the deep end of the pool on their first day. As a result, if law schools don’t train their students, and employers can’t ‘afford’ to train them, then future lawyers will miss an important developmental stage."
Her main concern is the preparedness of the law students: "I view students who matriculate at the modal law school to have some level of preparedness but to need more coaching in the basics. And I view students who matriculate at precarious law schools as being akin to athletes who may have great potential but who have received little to no training in their sport of choice. Such a student is going to need coaching in all of those skills that he missed along the way."
Speaking of modal law schools, she writes, "But the education at these schools could be much better if the professors were willing to acknowledge that they are teaching students with backgrounds markedly different from their own." She points out: "Very few law schools spend the time to analyze the career paths that most of their graduates take and calibrate the curriculum accordingly in order to provide their students with the best start for their careers. These schools are missing an opportunity to distinguish themselves from the Yales and NYUs; instead, they’re doing their darnedest to mimic them." She asks: "Graduates of most modal law schools won’t find the doors of opportunity pushed open as wide as they are for graduates of elite schools, so why not train them so that they have an edge when they’re competing with the elite-school graduates?"–so they are prepared to hit the ground running and solve their clients problems.
She then discusses the resistance to adopting new approaches to legal education, which results in the "lock-step" model of current legal education. She asserts that "This lockstep model suggests—at least indirectly—that law is an end, rather than a means to an end. For faculty members, perhaps the law is an end in itself. But for the clients of our law school graduates, law is just one tool for lawyers to use to solve their clients’ problems."
Concerning precarious law schools, she avers, "Just as a wholesale revamping of education at the elite law schools is not a pressing need, maintaining traditional educational programs at precarious schools is also a bad use of time and resources." She thinks that "open" admissions is a good policy. However, "the real issue is the disconnect between the promises that these law schools make to their students and their inability to fulfill those promises. At these precarious law schools, too many of their graduates fail the bar exam, giving the lie to the claim that these law schools give their graduates ‘opportunity.’ Opportunity for what? To incur significant debt without a way to pay it back? To read about six-figure starting salaries when the median starting salary for graduates of their own school is dramatically less?"
She asserts, "And when I say ‘change,’ I mean "change dramatically." "[P]recarious schools should figure out a way to provide their students with the preparation that they lack. Maybe they can provide it by starting a semester early, with that first semester devoted to catching up on preparation. Maybe they can do it by requiring prerequisites for matriculation. But they need to do something, or too many of their students will fail the bar and won’t find law jobs." She adds, "Unless the ABA puts teeth in its standards [concerning bar passage rates], precarious law schools have nothing to fear."
She maintains, "With the right changes, schools could move from the precarious cluster to the modal cluster." However, until they do so, "we should stop pretending that these schools are equivalent to the modal schools. We’re talking about apples and anvils here."
She then focuses on the modal law schools: "If we focus on the education that we provide to students enrolled in these modal schools, we could affect a significant number of students. First, though, we must recognize another misconception: that students come to a modal law school with any sort of deep understanding of how to think critically." She then laments the state of undergraduate education: "But we’re also seeing students with much weaker, less expansive educational backgrounds than we saw even fifteen years ago. We’re seeing students who write less ably, who are more gullible about the credibility of references in their research, and who don’t understand the link between what they’re learning in law school and what lawyers do." She remarks: "Instead of our legal writing professors teaching high-level rhetoric and analysis, they have to do a fair amount of remedial training in basic writing skills. That leaves less time for training in the type of analysis and writing that good lawyers must learn. If students can’t write well, they can’t think well. If they can’t think well, they can’t reason well. If they can’t reason well, they can’t solve problems well. And that means that they can’t become good lawyers."
She mentions that one of the problems in the legal academy is the distinction between doctrinal professors and skills professors. "Students can’t become good lawyers without understanding what lawyers do, either. There is a nasty distinction in the legal academy between those who teach substantive (‘podium’) law and those who teach ‘skills’ courses. The podium professors tend to have more prestige, more job security, better salaries, and fewer job responsibilities. The ‘skills’ professors have to evaluate their students more frequently than once a semester, and their subjects convey quite directly what ‘real lawyers’ do. Legal writing is not intuitive: it takes training. So does live-client representation. Although it’s true that one can’t be a lawyer without knowing substantive law, one also can’t be a lawyer without the ability to understand (and deliver, within the bounds of ethics) what a client wants and needs. . . . and ‘skills’ courses come a lot closer to teaching the integration of these other approaches than do ‘podium’ courses. " She declares: "it’s criminal to send the graduates of modal schools out into the world—where they’re more likely to work in smaller firms or as solo practitioners—until we’ve given them the skill sets necessary to avoid malpractice."
Concerning the solution for modal law schools, she asserts, "But we could do much more to teach our students that law is merely one tool in the lawyer’s quiver. Lawyers solve problems—or, if you prefer, lawyers solve conundrums." Students can learn valuable skills in podium classes by being taught that cases are about people and their individual problems and that people have different points of view. She observes, "We could pause and examine a case not just from the point of view of discerning the appropriate law but in terms of what engendered the underlying dispute." Other solutions include teaming up with colleagues from other departments or practicing lawyers and encouraging new types of textbooks that "integrate some real-world materials either as lead-ins to the discussion of cases or as stand-alone methods of teaching a subject."
Another solution for modal law schools include requiring "students to take certain courses to bring them up to speed before matriculating." (She notes that medical schools and business schools already do this). She continues: "The faculties on most modal law schools will push back at the suggestion of prerequisites, arguing that ‘if Yale doesn’t require these courses, why should we?’ But the time for the pretense that all law schools should be (or could be) Yale is long past."
Law schools also need to teach students professionalism: "I’m a big fan of ethics in all podium courses." She points out, "I think that the modal law schools’ failure to teach the transition from knowing the law to using the law is partially responsible for the tendency of some lawyers (even some experienced ones) to use the law inappropriately. Just as some law students will graduate with the mistaken assumption that all arguments are equally "good" and that lawyers should make all arguments (even the silly ones), some lawyers will continue to think that because the law lets their clients do something, they should facilitate their clients’ wishes every single time." She argues, "If we want to train our law students to give good advice, we should also train them to avoid fooling themselves into making their own bad decisions."
She concludes: "Some modal law schools are experimenting, too, but most modal law schools are still afraid to experiment because they’re afraid of differentiating themselves from the elite schools. They’re afraid of losing status. Because modal law schools can’t offer the networking advantages that elite law schools have, they should instead offer an education that relates more specifically to the careers that their graduates are likely to have. . . . But they need to stop chasing the tails of the elite schools. There’s room in legal education for a variety of models, as long as we recognize that every law school should have a curriculum that meets the needs of its own students."
Some commentary tomorrow.
Top performing law students provided tips in the previous post on how to do well on final exams. Now law profs offer their advice on what makes a top final exam answer courtesy of the Wall Street Journal Law Blog:
Of course, none of these responses will, alone, unlock the key to success. And an A exam to one might be a B plus to someone else. But taken collectively, they just might shed some light on what the Great Professoriate is looking for. So here goes.
Heather Gerken, Yale: A good law exam answer is . . . evaluative. Too often, students walk through each answer as if all arguments are created equal. They don’t tell me which arguments are strong and which are weak, which facts matter and which don’t, which cases provide strong support for their claims and which ones are distinguishable. And they throw everything into the answer rather than think hard about what belongs and what doesn’t. Good lawyers don’t just know the substantive law; they also have good legal judgment. The mistake students make is not to exercise their own legal judgment in answering a question.
Richard Friedman, Michigan: A good law exam answer . . . answers the question. Banal as that sounds, many students take the question as an excuse to write a canned answer on some area in which they’ve learned the black-letter law. I tell my students, “Imagine you’re riding down an elevator with a boss who knows the law and who has told you the facts but wants your help in advising the client. Don’t repeat the facts to him. Don’t tell him the law. Apply the law to the facts.”
Eric Chiappinelli, Creighton: A good law exam answer . . . is one that does more than tells me what the law is (more or less well) and applies the law to the facts (more or less well) and then stops. The other 90 anonymous answers will do that. You should do two additional things: Tell me up front what the question really turns on – a choice between two applicable rules? Deciding what a particular word or phrase should mean? Then, at the end, give me your opinion of whether the result is good or fair or just. Cutting to the heart of a question immediately and expressing a value judgment about the result are what separate the A’s from the C’s.
Paul Secunda: Marquette: A good law exam answer . . . gets to maybe. By that I mean that too many law students have an undergraduate mentality and seek to figure out the one “right” answer for the question. The point of the law school exam is not necessarily to test for right and wrong answers, but to see whether the student is utilizing critical reasoning skills to understand all the possible issues that the question presents. The more you arrive at a “maybe” in your law exam, the more likely you are seeing all the sides of the question in your answer and will then receive the most exam points.”
Adam Winkler, UCLA: A good law exam answer . . . is rigorous and deep. By rigorous, I mean it references every applicable standard, test, and burden; analyzes every appropriate “branch” in the decision tree; and follows a sound logical structure. By deep, I mean it argues — not just concludes — how the legal rules apply to the facts; analogizes and distinguishes the most relevant cases; and addresses the best counterarguments. There is no “right” answer. It’s all about the argument.
Get additional insight from more law profs by clicking here.
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog asked several top, upper class students what advice they would give 1Ls for doing well on their final exams. Here are some of the responses:
The smartest thing I did while preparing for my 1L first-semester exams was ______.
Of course, some of these responses might strike you as obvious, others as insightful, others a combination of both. We allowed folks to give names or submit anonymously if they so chose.
In no particular order, here are a cross-section of responses:
Rogan Nunn, 3L at UVA and an editor on the Virginia Law Review: By far the most useful thing I did when preparing for 1L exams was to round up a few people from the class and take old exams. Don’t just go through them, take them — pretend it’s the real thing, time limits and all. Then discuss answers. You’d be amazed how much you miss the first time. It can be time-consuming, but all the outlining in the world won’t save you if you can’t spot the issues on the fly.
Anonymous 3L at Vanderbilt and a member of the Vanderbilt Law Review: For me, the smartest thing I did while studying for exams 1L year was to go through each entire course in successively shorter periods of time. . . . By successively shortening the amount of time spent thinking through the entire course, the goal was to be able to go quickly through and understand all the material in a couple of minutes — to see both the forest and the trees quickly for the entire course.
Max Shifrin, 3L at Brooklyn and a member of Brooklyn Law Review: The most crucial thing to do as a 1L, in my opinion, is start outlining early in the semester and finish [your outlines] early enough to take as many practice exams as possible in real time. . . . [P]rofessors test the exact same things year in and year out. If you do enough exams, you’ll begin to see a pattern which will give you a huge advantage on exam day.
Anonymous 2L at Columbia, member of the Columbia Law Review: The first time I saw what my Civil Procedure professor expected us to be able to do in three hours I almost had a nervous breakdown. But by taking practice exams and going over answers in a study group, I was able to get a better sense of the material that is frequently tested . . . . By test day I wasn’t intimidated anymore and could take comfort knowing there weren’t going to be any surprises.
Anonymous 3L at Vanderbilt, member of the Vanderbilt Law Review: I made sure to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. The finals period is already an extremely stressful time, and it is most stressful as a 1L. There is no reason to add to this stress by staying up every night until 3 a.m. working; not only does it add to your stress level, it is not as if the extra hours “studying” are actually beneficial, given that your mind can only take so much studying per day before shutting down.
Click here to read additional student responses.
At the Chronicle of Higher Education, Dean Katharine Stewart offers this advice.
1. Know the criteria on which you will be judged. This may seem obvious, but in my experience, faculty candidates rarely read the policies and procedures for promotion-and-tenure review at the institutions to which they’ve applied. This is like planning a journey without looking at a map. . . . Proactive tenure trackers will ask their department chair and other senior mentors how those productivity standards are applied, so they can gauge where they stand each year relative to those standards.
2. Keep track of everything you do from day one on the job. At most institutions, my own included, important activities fall into three categories: education, scholarship or research, and service.
3. Practice assembling your portfolio long before your review. Some colleges have a “midterm” or “third-year” review that requires faculty to compile many of the components of a tenure packet. Even if your institution doesn’t have a third-year review, I recommend that you work with your chair or mentor to create a “draft packet.”
The full article is worth reading.
While waiting for a train in Dresden about ten years ago, I had a chance to talk to a Russian scientist who had grown up in the Soviet Union. In broken English, he told me that as a student he was taught how to read and write English. However, he was not taught how to speak English. The students were told that they weren't taught how to speak English because they would never need to speak it.
Most law schools today are turning out lawyers that don't know how to practice. Law schools don't need to teach them because they can learn on the job. Of course, practicing attorneys don't have time to teach new hires, and they aren't teachers anyway. This is the way we've always done it, and this is the way we are going to continue to do it.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
The idea has recently been floated by several commentators that one way to help make law students more practice ready without adding to the already high cost of tuition is to shift resources away from funding pricey scholarship toward increasing each faculty member's teaching load so that more students can benefit from the smaller classes needed to deliver individualized instruction in legal skills. A University of Florida undergraduate Dean suggested the same cost-savings reallocation for a computer science department in order to cope with a state budget crunch. That is until the plan was met with a uniformly negative response from both faculty and students which put the kibosh on it. The Chronicle of Higher Ed reports:
Facing a backlash from students and faculty members, a University of Florida dean has backed away from her plan to shift the focus of a computer-science department from research to teaching. Cammy R. Abernathy, dean of the College of Engineering, this month proposed eliminating the department’s graduate teaching assistants and research support staff as a cost-saving measure. The plan would have reassigned tenured and tenure-track faculty to focus solely on teaching. But on Wednesday, citing an “overwhelming negative response” to the proposal, the university’s president, J. Bernard Machen, said in a written statement that it had dropped Ms. Abernathy’s plan. Mr. Machen said that two department chairs in the college were working on an alternative strategy to deal with cuts in state funds.
And here are five study tips for the bar exam from the Lawyerist blog:
Whether you are taking the bar exam in three months or three years, the bar exam is one of life’s big events. You need to plan ahead.
. . . .
If you won’t be taking the bar exam for a while, you can sign up for the courses in law school that can prepare you. Take your school’s bar-prep course. If you need help, go to Academic Support.
And if you are taking the bar exam soon, and you are determined to pass, then the two or three months of bar prep must be an intense period when you are totally focused on preparing for the bar exam, nothing else. It’s a marathon.
Here is a check-list for getting ready early for the bar exam.
- Have You Eliminated All Distractions?
- Do You Have a Dedicated Study Space?
- Are Your Finances in Order?
- Have You Arranged to Take Two Months Off From Work?
- Have You Persuaded Your Family and Friends to Support You?
You can read more detailed advice about each one of these tips here.
For me, meetings are one of the burdens of the academic life. At the Chronicle of Higher Education online, Ms. Mentor responds to this inquiry:
Question: My department chair, "Zippy," is addicted to meetings. We need a new computer gizmo? Let's have a meeting. We've got a sadistic heating system in our building? Let's have a meeting. We have to do something about bathroom graffiti, accreditation, plagiarism, sexual harassment, sick leave, cyberbullying, layoffs, chalk, or new shelves and curtains for the lounge? Let's have a separate meeting for each one!
Let's meet, meet, meet!
Zippy lives alone and doesn't have a life, but we do. How can we get him to leave us alone?
In her response, Mrs. Mentor offers gripping, but amusing descriptions of interminable meetings that eat up time and patience. She concludes:
A good meeting is for decision-making. It's not for announcements or incessant frothing and ventilating. Ideally everyone leaves feeling that something's been accomplished. People know what they need to do to make this a better department and a better world. The best meetings are short and pointed, like a good stick.
Worth reading, but I wonder if there is cause for optimism. When I chair committees, I try to conduct as much business as possible by email.
Saturday, April 28, 2012
That's the prediction Professor Nancy Rapoport (UNLV) made to a Bloomberg Law reporter during the recent American Bankruptcy Institute meeting in D.C. When asked if Congress might amend the bankruptcy laws to allow heavily indebted law students to discharge their educational loan obligations, Professor Rapoport, who also serves on a Congressional committee considering changes to the bankruptcy code, said that's unlikely. So what government relief, if any, can debt-burdened law grads expect? Professor Rapoport says that Congress could provide some debt relief to those who work in under-served, rural legal markets as a more palatable compromise but at present that's speculation on her part.
On the other hand, Professor Rapoport does expect that some law schools will close as a consequence of the student loan crisis. Demand will remain high for the elite schools that possess the "right stuff" but marginal schools will see their revenue stream dry up as students decline to take on lots of debt in exchange for the limited job opportunities these schools offer.
Hat tip to the TaxProf Blog.
No, according to a New York Times article by Frank Bruni.
"The thing is, today’s graduates aren’t just entering an especially brutal economy. They’re entering it in many cases with the wrong portfolios. To wit: as a country we routinely grant special visas to highly educated workers from countries like China and India. They possess scientific and technical skills that American companies need but that not enough American students are acquiring."
While this article is on college graduates, I think the same thing is true of law school graduates. I wonder how much applicants and law students actually think about what they want to do when they graduate. Do they pick the right law school for what they want to do (or do they just rely on U.S. News)? Do they take the right courses to prepare them for practice? Of course, the students over at Law Schooled might reply that they haven't been given the opportunity to take the right courses.
In any event, applicants and law students need to think more about what they want to do with their lives, and law schools need to help them.
At the Legal Whiteboard blog, Professor William Henderson summarizes his recent essay. According to his chronology, lawyers have gone from being generalists, to become specialists, and now are moving to be project managers. Here’s his summary:
A simple framework for understanding the U.S. legal profession is gradual progression through three generations of lawyers: the generalist, the specialist, and the project manager. The transition from one generation to the next is driven by the familiar story of supply and demand. The generalist era (colonial period to the end of World War II) gave way to the specialist era (post-War to early 2000s) because of a shortage of sophisticated business lawyers capable of serving the needs of large, growing, and increasingly regulated industrial and financial clients. Over a period of several decades, leading local practitioners with business expertise transformed their small local practices into regional and national powerhouses. The common feature of all these transformations was an associate-partner training model, which enabled firms to build sufficient human capital to keep pace with -- and thus profit from -- the legal needs of their clients.
In contrast, the U.S. legal profession is now in transition from the specialist to the project manager era. This era is driven by the need for clients to obtain more and better legal work at a lower and more predictable cost. To keep pace with these new client needs (i.e., demands), lawyers working for large corporate clients will increasingly layer their specialized legal knowledge with the skills of the project manager. To the extent that outside lawyers and law firms resist this gravitational pull -- perhaps because they are too wedded to the success and prosperity of the specialist era -- they will lose their seat at the economic table. Thus, as the project manager era unfolds, old hierarchies in the U.S. legal profession will fall and new hierarchies will be created.
Friday, April 27, 2012
LawWeek Colorado has a story on Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers here. This is the most important paragraph of the story:
"The challenge for the program is communicating to law firms that students with this kind of training are farther up the scale than those who haven’t had this training," Kourlis said. "We’re hoping firms will see people from these schools often enough to seek them out for jobs."
This is Professor Richard Delgado's review of the book The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law by Professors Nancy Levit and Douglas O. Linder. It's titled Recent Writing on Law and Happiness and can be found at 97 Iowa L. Rev. 913 (2012).
From the introduction:
Are lawyers happy? If not, what can they do about it? Is unhappiness an inherent risk in the practice of law--at least as carried out today?
Lately, these questions and ones like them have been very much in the public eye. A 2011 Gallup Poll asked Americans if they were happy and ranked the results state-by-state on a numerical scale. Perhaps sensing a scoop, the New York Times displayed Gallup's information in the form of a map of the entire country showing happy states in a cheerful orange, middling-happy states in pale yellow, and glum or miserable ones in gray or black. An accompanying article identified America's happiest man: a five-foot-ten, sixty-nine-year-old, Chinese-American, Kosher-observing Jew, married with children, and living in Honolulu.
Drawing on a different set of studies, another New York Times writer concluded that those who waited longest to have sex and took the smallest number of partners were happier than their precocious or bed-hopping counterparts, while a third analyzed whether Internet searching made one happy or unhappy. (Answer: It depends.) On the other side of the Atlantic, England's Prime Minister David Cameron announced the creation of a national happiness index that would provide quarterly measures of how his countrymen were feeling about their lives.
Not to be outdone, a number of legal writers, including Deborah Rhode, Mary Ann Glendon, and Anthony Kronman, have weighed in with books on happiness and its opposite in the legal profession. Perhaps sobered by some of their findings, students at one top law school took things into their own hands and signed a pledge refusing to work for law firms that overwork associates and make them miserable. As though sensing a trend, the American Bar Association Journal devoted several pages of a recent issue to the “happiness movement,” while two sections of the Association of American Law Schools (“AALS”) weighed in with a joint session at its 2011 annual meeting on this very subject, drawing an overflow crowd.
In short, people are talking about happiness and its opposite. The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law, by Nancy Levit and Douglas O. Linder, thus arrives at a propitious moment when many lawyers, as well as ordinary citizens, are considering the hedonic quality of their work lives and what can be done to improve them.
Part II of this essay outlines the Levit and Linder book, paying particular attention to its treatment of topics that other books on the subject rarely cover, including the social-scientific and neurological foundation of happiness, as well as prescriptions for a happy life in the law. Part III critiques the book, while Part IV puts forward my own analysis of what the debate on lawyers' happiness needs to include in order to secure lasting gains.
Mustafa Ali, Associate Director of Communications for EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, has launched the Environmental Justice in Action blog. He writes:
My goal for this blog is to make this a resource for you and to provide an opportunity for everyone to join the conversation on environmentalism. So, it is important that we hear from you! Let us know what types of information would be most useful and interesting to you. What do you want to learn more about? Please post your thoughts and comments here and on future posts to help us better design this blog to meet your needs. While the government can provide support and assist in building capacity in communities, putting environmental justice into action takes you!
The blog provides this standard disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.
This column from slaw (Canada’s online legal magazine) caught my eye. Paula Black encourages legal professionals to innovate and looks to other industries for examples.
“Think outside the box. Look to other industries for inspiration. Challenge the status quo. And show your open-mindedness EVERY SINGLE DAY. YOU my friends will lead the way to new business models… Yes, I do mean MODELS. It is my belief that there will be several… not one size fits all.”
She recommends the following book: "Best Practices are Stupid… 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition" by Stephen M. Shapiro.
Hat tip Greg Lambert (@xlambertg)
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Earlier this week, one of my co-bloggers posted an article from Bloomberg Busines Week, which argued: "[There is a] fundamental challenge facing the legal profession: At all levels, the industry suffers from excess labor." Later, it stated: "We have a lot of decrepit bridges in this country, factories that could use modernization, and clean-energy technologies that need inventing. It’s a moment for more engineers and entrepreneurs, not more lawyers."
This article has missed the fact that many segments of our society are underserved by the legal profession. While there may be too many corporate lawyers, the poor are going without legal advice. The poor have as many legal needs as the middle-class (and one could argue that the middle class is not well-served, too), but they can't get help because of the high cost of legal representation and the government's failure to properly fund legal programs for the poor.
Here's an interesting table from Paul Lippe, the forward thinking commentator behind the ABA Journal's "New Normal" column, reflecting old law firm methods and values versus new ones.
Old Normal New Normal Information location File cabinet. “Cloud.” Most important tool “My” brain + pen. Connected brains + Web-based collaboration. First instinct Make things more complex. Make things more simple. Metaphor Brain surgeon. Utility. Center of gravity Law firm library. General counsel’s office. How often is law relevant to clients? Occasionally. Systematically. Geography National. Global and online. Orientation Every matter is unique—to think otherwise is to devalue, “commoditize” the profession. Every matter is similar to other matters—start with similarity, and refine with unique elements— “reinventing the wheel” leads to mistakes, excess costs and clients avoiding lawyers. Approach to negotiation, conflict Win-lose. Win-win. Cost Expensive. Reasonable, consistent with other services. Effort Maximum—any less is unethical. Appropriate—focus on outcomes, not inputs. Most common metric Hours. Outcomes assessment. Organizational norm Hierarchy. Distributed authority based on accountability. Intellectual style Reasoning. Inquiry. Most common phrase “Avoid risk.” “Achieve opportunity.” Most common billing method Billable hours. Billable hours—but with more performance kickers. No. 1 source of law firm profits E-discovery work in jumbly investigations. Success-based bonuses. Meeting place Law firm conference room. Cyberspace. Law firm strategic objective Maximize this year’s profit per partner. Maximize cash flow in 3-5 years. Key young lawyer skill Legal research. Project management. Where work goes if it doesn’t go to law firm Legal department headed by former firm partner. Legal department headed by executive who worked in firm only briefly, and legal process outsourcer. Iconic figures Christopher Langdell, Nick Katzenbach and Thomas Barr Richard Susskind, Mark Chandler and Fred Bartlit Second most highly paid person in legal department Head of litigation. Head of legal operations. “Unit of production” Individual expert. Team. Rare and high compliment “Ethical.” “Operationally excellent.”
Read Paul's commentary about the above here.
Good advice via the New York Law Journal:
These are challenging times for the legal market. The market for summer associates has retracted significantly from its peak in the 2006 to 2008 time period. Most firms have not gone back to the size of the summer associate classes they used to hire and are remaining conservative with their class sizes for the 2012 summer and beyond. Consequently, becoming a summer associate and obtaining an offer is highly competitive. Therefore, you have to approach your summer associate position with a healthy amount of trepidation and be the best version of yourself at all times. Your mere presence at the employer for the summer will not guarantee an offer—it has to be earned. The standard length of a summer program (eight to 12 weeks) is not a lot of time to prove being worthy of a permanent offer. To make the most of this experience, here are few things to keep in mind during the summer.
Be Social, but Not Too Social
A summer associate program is almost never without a social component. The social activities may be presented to you as optional, but in the interest of your future employment, these activities are actually mandatory. If we want to distill the entire purpose of a summer associate program down to one word, it might be "fit." The entire purpose of social activities as a part of a summer associate program is to integrate "Summers" into the culture of the firm and make sure they are a good "fit."
. . . .
This seems like an almost laughable thing to mention. Of course, Summers are going to work hard during the few weeks they will spend with the firm, right? Summer programs are rigorous programs designed to give a real world experience of what being an associate at that firm really means. Summers need to do excellent work at all times. The first thing to do is be prepared. When asked to go into a lawyer's office to take instruction on an assignment, show up with pad and pen ready to take notes. Appear eager and pay attention. Lawyers (as most people) hate having to waste time and repeat themselves. Summers must manage and juggle assignments professionally.
One of the biggest complaints from partners is that young associates often do not know how to prioritize their work.
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Find ChampionsIn other words, get one or more mentors.
Always remember that there are people lined up for your position. If you are difficult in any way, the employer simply won't keep you. No one wants to work with someone who is nasty or difficult. Keep in mind that your attitude towards support and administrative staff counts.
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Read the rest here.
They held a day before exams where stressed-out law students could play with dogs.
They offered yoga and foot massage to these future titans of trials.
Now the University of Toronto’s law school could become the first in Canada to scrap the often nerve-wracking letter grades of A, B, C, D and F for the kinder, gentler ratings of Honours, Pass and Fail.
Less stressful grading work for the professors as well.
You can read all about it here (and see photos of the dogs as well).
Today’s edition of The New York Times includes a Q&A with Michael H. Trotter, “a partner at Taylor English Duma in Atlanta who, in addition to a five-decade career as a corporate lawyer, has written two books about the economics and management of law firms.” Among other things, he addresses the “grim environment” at Big Huge & Gargantuan LLP:
Law firms expect associates to put in 1,800 to 2,000 billable hours, and at some firms it’s up to 2,500. That’s 50 hours a week, 50 weeks a year. And that’s just the billable time. Every lawyer has to make an investment every day of time that’s not billable. You have to study and learn, improve your skills, administer to your practice. If you’re working 50 hours a week of billable time, you’re probably working 65 to 70 hours of total time. So the burden is tremendous. Now, with the Internet and cellphones, you’re in demand possibly every hour of every day of every week.
He also answers a question about whether he would advise his grandchildren to go to law school:
I would not. It’s extraordinarily competitive. We are turning out 45,000 or so law school graduates a year. The quality is very high, and there aren’t jobs for them. Roughly half the lawyers in the country are sole practitioners. Seventy percent practice in firms with fewer than 20 lawyers, and for the most part they do not have the very high levels of income enjoyed by the major firms. Making a go requires three years of your life and $150,000 for a legal education. If you get a job at an elite firm, the odds of becoming a partner are probably less than 10 percent. So, it’s a very rough row to hoe, and much of the work that’s done is not challenging and interesting work.
Peter Lattman, “Dewey & LeBoeuf Crisis Mirrors Legal Industry’s Woes,” N.Y. Times, April 26, 2012, p. B7 (national edition).