May 1, 2009
The grimmest side of the legal economy
As a summer associate, I worked for Mark Levy at Mayer, Brown, and Platt in Chicago. His suicide yesterday, reportedly just as people were being laid off by his current firm, Kilpatrick Stockton, comes as a shock. Mark was a highly accomplished appellate attorney, and one I admired.
At a very personal level, this news makes clear to me how significantly the legal world outside of the academy has been rocked by the economy. Yet, I don't get the sense that we are doing much different in the way we approach our students, at least on a macro level. Personally, I see many more students come into my office who want to be prosecutors, one of the few jobs out there at the moment. I tell them how to go about that type of job search, and wonder what the effects will be of that market now becoming flooded. In doing so, I struggle to see how they will all find a place, at least in the next few years.
Empathy and compassion are too rarely traits we emphasize in our work, but perhaps that is one thing we might reconsider.
-- Mark Osler
April 29, 2009
Some real-world insights from some real-world lawyers
This interesting new article from the Fulton County Daily Report, headlined "Best Lawyers' Panels Agree That Law Schools, Firms Need Retooling," say a lot about the modern realities facing lawyers and law schools. Here are a excerpts from a must-read:
Seismic changes in the legal profession engaged the concern of seasoned attorneys at a conference held last week by the Best Lawyers of America.... At Friday's panels on the future of legal education and the legal profession, the tenor of questions showed a lively concern for where the profession is headed.
The practice of law has changed radically in 25 years.... Law schools must retool legal education, the deans agreed, but exactly how still is not clear. "You're producing a product that very few people want. Firms have hiring freezes. Why not stop producing the product -- or create new markets for what you're producing?" one lawyer challenged the deans. "You're like the auto manufacturers who produce a product for which there is no demand."...
Organizational behavior and product management skills plus strategic business thinking are important competencies for lawyers at firms handling today's giant matters, said the deans. But they said the current criteria for law school admission -- college grades and LSAT scores -- do not assess these competencies. [Dean Richard] Matasar challenged lawyers who think legal education is out of step with the demands of the market to "go back to your place that manufactured you and put pressure on them. You have the power of the pocketbook."
Another lawyer in the audience objected to the idea that legal education should merely supply product to private firms and companies. "We're not talking about cars. We're talking about minds. ... This is supposed to be a profession," he protested. Massive discovery demands have shifted legal work away from thinking and analysis to product management, said another attorney. "When we were in law school, discovery meant two or three banker boxes of documents. Now it means two or three hundred boxes. That demands widgets -- not thinking," he said.
Members of the panel on the future of the profession agreed that the vastly expanded scale of electronic discovery has transformed legal work. The panel's moderator, Philip K. Howard of Covington & Burling, pointed to another fundamental change: the increase in the number and complexity of laws.
"Layers of law have accumulated like concrete. Some is productive. So much of it is not. Congress never goes back and revises," said Howard, who addresses this issue in his latest book, "Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans From Too Much Law."...
[Robert] Clifford, a member of plaintiffs firm, the Clifford Law Offices in Chicago, cited gargantuan discovery requirements as one of the culprits for the disappearing jury trial....
[Charles] Stillman, the panel's white-collar criminal practitioner, said federal sentencing guidelines also have chilled jury trials. Defendants prefer to cut a sentencing deal rather than take their chances in court. Stillman is a founder of Stillman, Friedman & Shechtman and a former federal prosecutor.
He warned of a new development -- the government's increasing use of private firms to handle internal investigations of companies.. Subcontracting investigations to firms is another shift in power from public law enforcement agencies to the private sector, said Stillman. "So lawyers are increasingly viewed as an arm of government. This is a very serious challenge to our profession, which I find quite scary," he said.
Posted by DAB