September 03, 2013

"Tech skills are the key to law students’ future employment ..."

Though I have not blogged in this space for a very long time, my own long history here of discussing how I think technologies should be at the center of law school innovation prompted me to want to blog about this new ABA article which has a headline that provides the basis for the title of this post.  Here is how the article starts:

Law professor Daniel Martin Katz is betting the pot – his future and those of his students – on a radical model of legal training and job placement.

Katz's ReInvent Law Laboratory, which he co-founded and co-directs with fellow Michigan State University College of Law professor Renee Newman Knake, aims to prepare students and practicing lawyers for what the face of law will become as traditional delivery models stagnate and legal technology startups and alternative service providers continue to expand.

"The part [of the legal profession] that is actually growing – the Clearspires, the Axioms, legal process outsourcers and software companies – they need people with particular sets of skills who have domain expertise and can build software that works to solve legal problems," says Katz, an associate law professor with a tech and public policy background – an unusual combination in legal academia. "They need lawyers who know the law, understand software and technology, and [know] how to mesh the two."

Katz's familiarity and expertise with visual design, computer science and big data are missing from most law school faculties, says MSU Law dean Joan W. Howarth, who recruited Katz to be a change agent at her school. "I was especially pleased when Dan took his expertise and his passion to questions about the future of the legal profession and industry," Howarth says, "because he has the skills to be able to think about, write about and push forward any kind of subject."

To that end, the ReInvent Law module includes a core curriculum of classes designed to teach students and practicing lawyers "hard skills" such as quantitative legal prediction (including technology that predicts whether a client has a case, the odds of winning it and which arguments should be used in support). The program also promotes the research and development of legal service models that are affordable, accessible and widely adopted through startup competitions and free daylong seminars designed to spark ideas and conversation among leading entrepreneurs and legal innovators. That crowd includes Katz's students, who are gaining the attention of legal employers – and getting hired.

Some related prior posts:

Posted by DAB

September 3, 2013 in Legal profession realities and developments | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 17, 2012

Should law schools help "incubate" solo practicioners?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this article in the National Law Journal, which is headlined "The next solo incubator will be in San Diego."  Here are excerpts:

Recent graduates of Thomas Jefferson School of Law who want to launch solo practices will soon have some extra support from their alma mater.  The school is the latest to start a solo incubator — a post-graduation program intended to provide affordable office space and mentoring from law faculty and alumni to help graduates gain experience and learn how to run their own practices.

The City University of New York School of Law was the first to create such a program in 2007, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and Pace Law School have followed.

"We don't take part in their law offices, but we'll provide mentorship and support," said Thomas Jefferson professor Luz Herrera, who is spearheading the initiative. "We'll also have a listserve that will put them in contact with more experienced attorneys."

The school will start taking applications for the program in July, and expects to have between six and eight participants initially.  They will spend between 12 and 18 months in the incubator.  Assisting them will be MBA students at San Diego State University, who will research the solo practitioner market in the city to help identify unmet legal needs and suggest prices for their services, Herrera said....

Fred Rooney, who developed CUNY's solo incubator, traveled to San Diego to help Herrera and other Thomas Jefferson faculty to help develop to the program.  He said he has been fielding requests from many law schools for information and ideas.  "As more solo incubators are conceptualized by law schools, each one is going to be unique," Rooney said. "I think the Thomas Jefferson model is going to emphasize cross-border matters," given that San Diego's close proximity to the Mexican border.

Thomas Jefferson will start a solo practice concentration within its curriculum next fall to prepare students who want to go that route. The school has asked local bar associations and practicing attorneys to submit proposals for what that curriculum should cover, Herrera said. The preliminary plan calls for a series of practicing attorneys to lecture on topics ranging from how to market yourself to how to maintain good relationships with opposing counsel.

I have long feared that too much of the professional and professionalism training that I try to give to my students in both doctrinal and skills courses unduly reflect only the large-national-firm "BigLaw" realities I experienced in my years in practice.  Thus, I very much like the idea of law school classes and related programming that is focused around a different model/structure for legal practice.

That said, I have always wonder how effective and successful  a true "solo" practitioner can be over time without eventually getting significant help from other lawyers and/or professional staff.  For that reason, I am not sure I like the idea of encouraging young lawyers to be thinking about a "solo" practice rather than a "small" practice.  Put differently, before embarking on a sustained effort to "incubate" solo practioners, I think a law school might be best served by exploring what kinds of small firm structures appear to be most successful in their region -- as judged by the client market and in the view of lawyers working therein -- and then developing programming to help junior lawyers join or develop these kinds of small-firm structures.  Such a program might not only serve the students, but also local small firms (which, I suspect, have little time/ability to recruit and train junior lawyers, even if/when they have the need for them as their legal business increases).

Posted by DAB

May 17, 2012 in Employment, Legal profession realities and developments, Service -- legal profession, Serving students, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 16, 2012

"While legal academia dithers over reform, the profession may be passing them by"

The title of this post is the sub-heading of this new piece in The National Law Journal, which carries the main headline "What is law school for, anyway?". The piece is a must-read for all would-be law school innovators, and here are excerpts:

The state of the profession has not traditionally been a focus of law professors, said George Washington University Law School professor Thomas Morgan, author of the book The Vanishing American Lawyer.  That remained true until about one year ago, when more people within the academy started taking note of the rumblings within the profession, he said. "We need to try and bridge what is a mutual set of problems," Morgan said.

Still, there remains a gap between the magnitude of change advocated by some within the profession and the modest innovations law schools are pursuing.  Those innovations include a wider array of clinics, harnessing technology in simulations and student projects, and teaching transactional lawyering skills.

"I think they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," said Susan Hackett, chief executive officer of consulting firm Legal Executive Leadership and former general counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel.  "The discussion seems to be, 'Let's add a Thursday evening extra-credit course on the legal profession that meets for a couple of hours.' That's just tweaking around the edges."

Instead, Hackett suggested a re-engineering of law curricula to include an initial phase of core courses followed by a year of executive education-style classes covering topics including business skills, legal technology and behavioral management.  The final phase would involve clinics or externships in law firms, legal departments, government agencies or nonprofit organizations.  These could replace the traditional law firm summer associateships and would be more substantive, she said.

Missing in the conversation was any focus on what skills corporate clients actually want in their lawyers, Hackett said, such as the ability to solve problems and understand financial statements.  "I truly think there are a significant number of people in legal education who think that what a client wants is irrelevant," she said.  "They just want to teach the law."

Others warned that framing the discussion solely in terms of what large law firms and corporate clients want ignores that the vast majority of law school graduates don't work in so-called Big Law, but rather in small firms, solo practice, government or nonprofits — or even as nonlawyers.  Identifying exactly what skills and knowledge students should take away from law school is more complicated than critics suggest, said University of Richmond School of Law Dean Wendy Perdue and Northeastern University School of Law Dean Emily Spieler.

Posted by DAB

January 16, 2012 in Deans and innovations, Legal profession realities and developments, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 19, 2011

NY state judges considering loan repayment to students who aid poor

I am pleased and excited to see this interesting new report, headlined "Under Plan, Lawyers Who Counsel Poor Would Get Loan Help," in the New York Law Journal.  Here are excerpts:

New attorneys who volunteer to represent low-income New Yorkers would receive state money to help them repay their student loans under a proposal being considered by court administrators.

The idea is being weighed by court administrators as they formulate the Judiciary's budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which is due by Dec. 1, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said in an interview.

The plan was advanced by Justice Michael V. Coccoma, the chief administrative judge for courts outside of New York City, during a hearing this month by Judge Lippman and his task force on civil legal services into ways to improve funding for poor people facing foreclosure, eviction, the loss of health care and other civil matters.

The task force has estimated that, at best, only one in five poor New Yorkers in need of civil legal services receive representation. "I think we have to think out of the box to create ways to foster civil legal services," Judge Lippman said. A loan forgiveness program "is certainly worth taking a look at."

Justice Coccoma argued during an Oct. 3 hearing that the poor economy, the slack job market for law school graduates and the heavy debt load many law students take on could offer a ready pool of lawyers willing to represent indigent clients in civil matters as they work off portions of their loans.

"When I heard of an increasing number of recent law school graduates unable to find jobs, I asked myself, why could we not develop a funding stream, a steady funding stream, of programs which would provide an opportunity for these attorneys, who are eager to put their skills to work in public service programs to provide legal services to the poor?" Justice Coccoma testified. "Perhaps this task force could recommend that in exchange for a two- or three-year commitment to such a program, those lawyers would receive a reduction in their student loans."

He said the hands-on experience could be invaluable to new practitioners. "As a young attorney, you are meeting face to face with your client much sooner than if you are working with a larger firm," Justice Coccoma said. "Sitting in the office with a client face to face, then advocating for them in a court or with an agency, that is valuable experience. It is that person-to-person contact which I think is a valuable experience in a legal career."

Justice Coccoma said a state loan repayment program would be similar to those offered by the federal government to some 70,000 people through the federal AmeriCorps program, which provides tutoring, home improvements and other services to the poor.

New York state also operates projects in which medical school graduates earn reductions in their student loans by committing to practice in under-served areas. In the Doctors Across New York program, for instance, 41 doctors receive up to $150,000 in loan repayments for a five-year commitment to practice in those areas.

Lawrence Raful, dean of Touro Law Center on Long Island, said a loan repayment program for law students is a "terrific" idea. But he said it would have to be structured to provide new graduates with careful monitoring and mentoring.

"My concern is competency, mentoring, apprenticing, whatever you want to call it," Mr. Raful said. "I just don't know how you set it up. Doctors have the four years of medical school and four years of residency, so they are much more prepared to go out to western New York to provide exams and flu shots and the other basics. But how do you supervise these [civil legal services] people?"

Similarly, the chairman of the New York State Bar Association's Young Lawyer's Section, James R. Barnes of Burke & Casserly in Albany, agreed that there would have to be close oversight of participants. "Are they going to be completely on their own?" Mr. Barnes said in an interview.  "I know that many young lawyers indicate a hesitancy at going out on their own practice.  But if it is part of a larger practice you might find enough people who are willing to make that sort of commitment. I would assume the pay wouldn't be extensive, but you add it to the loan forgiveness and experience, I think you have a viable product."

Mr. Raful also questioned whether the Judiciary, if it promotes a loan repayment program, would get the plan through the Legislature.  "I am not so sure, to be honest, that the public, and therefore the Legislature, is as enamored of legal services as they are with [providing adequate] health care in under-served areas," he said.  "I am not sure about the mood of the Legislature, I am not sure they are going to throw money at this, as opposed to, say, the Tappan Zee Bridge."

Indeed, Justice Coccoma's idea was panned in an Oct. 11 editorial by the New York Post. "Once again, New York is on its uppers, and talk of new 'funding streams' for anything — let alone paying down young lawyers' student loans — is absurd and inappropriate," the paper said. It said the shortage of jobs of lawyers carries a message that "New York has enough lawyers already — and maybe too many."

As regular readers know, I think this kind of innovative program is exactly how both courts and law schools should be seeking helpful joint solutions to some of their current structural problems.  This NYLJ article effectively highlights some of the pragmatic and political challenges for the proposal being considered, but I think both could and should be readily surmounted if there is enough will among the courts and judges, interested public policy groups, and the law-school-reformer-types engaged in the scam debates

Some recent related posts:

Posted by DAB

October 19, 2011 in Legal profession realities and developments, Service -- legal profession | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 06, 2011

"Another 15 law schools targeted over jobs data"

The title of this post is the headline of this new piece from The National Law Journal, which begins this way:

The attorneys behind class actions against New York Law School and Thomas M. Cooley Law School announced plans on Oct. 5 to sue 15 additional law schools for publishing what they described as misleading postgraduate job statistics.

They have yet to secure enough name plaintiffs for those suits, however. They won't file until three alumni from each of the targeted schools sign on, they said during a conference call with reporters. The announcement was intended in part to drum up plaintiff interest, they acknowledged.

The attorneys, David Anziska and Jesse Strauss, detailed what they said was convincing evidence that law schools have offered a skewed picture of postgraduate employment rates and salaries for years, not just since the latest recession. "The problem isn't going away, and the legal academy isn't owning up to it," Strauss said. "We strongly believe that by the end of 2012, almost every school in the nation will be sued, if not by plaintiffs who are represented by us, then by plaintiffs represented by other law firms."

Strauss and Anziska said they are targeting the 15 schools either because alumni or students approached them with concerns, or because the postgraduate job data they have reported to the American Bar Association were "implausible."

October 6, 2011 in Legal profession realities and developments, Serving students | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 25, 2011

Of interest in The National Law Journal

These recent pieces from The National Law Journal caught my eye this weekend:

September 25, 2011 in Admissions to law school, Legal profession realities and developments, Serving students | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 12, 2011

Should law schools teach how the best lawyers and law firms use the internet?

Debates about adequate skills instruction have raged for decades within and outside law school.  Less debated, though no less important, is whether law schools are teaching their students the right kinds of lawyering skills.  My own experience as both a law student and a law professor leads me to believe and fear that law schools too often focus on teaching the next generation of lawyers the most critical skills of the last generation of lawyers.

Those who went to law school around the time I was a student (1990 to 1993) likely recall the debate over whether and how students should be allowed access to computer research sources like Westlaw and Lexis or instead needed to be taught how to "only use the books."  Savvy students (but very few faculty) at the time appreciated that computer-based research skills we ultimately likely to be much more important to our future than book-based skills.  Nevertheless, back then (and still it seems two decades later), commercial providers like West and Lexis supplied much more (and much more effective) training in computer research than did my law school.

This recent article by Robert Algeri in the The National Law Journal, which is headlined "The future of the law firm website: Your website will become bigger, more important — and more focused on the needs of individual attorneys," has me thinking about these realities and prompted the question in the title of this post. Here is how the piece starts:

After a half-century of remarkable stability and steady growth, the legal industry got hit by a ton of bricks called the Great Recession. Several years after the initial shock, it is clear that this downturn wasn't just a momentary blip, but a rather sizable shift in the business landscape. As a result, law firms are being forced to reconsider many aspects of how they do business.

What does all this mean for legal marketing? Lots.      During the past two years, my colleagues and I have studied the Great Recession's effects on legal marketing and law firm Web sites.  Our conclusion is that the law firm Web site is about to undergo a revolution. Specifically, we expect law firm Web sites to:

• Become more valuable....

• Become bigger....

• Focus more on attorneys....

Web sites already play a vital role in law firm business development. Numerous studies show this.  However, I strongly believe that they will become even more important--nearly as important as face-to-face meetings.  Why?  Because face-to-face meetings will happen less and less.

The legal business has traditionally been locally focused, with clients and the firm often located within 25 miles of one another.  That's changing. The Internet and related technologies have made it much more practical to work long distance.  But that's the least of it: Our culture is also changing. 

I could say a lot about the long-standing failure of law schools to help students better understand the business of law and the provision of legal services.  Those broader concerns aside, given the tight legal marketplace and changing legal and technological environments, are law schools uniquely deficient for not helping students better appreciate when and how modern lawyers use the internet?

Posted by DAB

September 12, 2011 in Legal profession realities and developments, Serving students, Teaching -- curriculum, Technology -- in general, Technology -- in the classroom, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 05, 2011

Identifying the disconnect at the center of the "law school scam"

I still continue to find Inside the Law School Scam an interesting and useful read, and this passage from a recent post comparing law schools to other graduate programs (and some follow-up comments) has helped me to see the heart of the problem that keeps pumping blood though the modern legal education market and has allowed the so-called "law school scam" to develop and continue.  First the passage from ILSS (with my emphasis added), then my explanation:

[It] is an interesting comparison [between law schools and the huge recent expansion of creative writing MFA programs], although in some ways an obviously inapt one.   No one goes into an MFA program intending to make lots of money.  Indeed it's notable that such programs never focus on producing successful genre writers -- i.e., the next Stephen King or John Grisham -- but are rather dedicated almost exclusively to literary fiction. Nor, as far as I know, do MFA programs engage in industry-wide placement stat deception.  (Unlike business schools I know something about these programs because my best friend and his wife are graduates of one).  The biggest distinction between law schools and MFA programs goes to the crucial issue of what economists call psychic income.  Lots of people grow up hoping to write the Great American Novel.  Nobody grows up hoping to one day be Henry Kravis's water carrier on a big M&A deal.  People go to law school, with occasional exceptions, in order to acquire a respectable and well-paid career.  MFA programs cater to peoples' dreams.  Law school is where dreams go to die (Yes I'm generalizing).

Implicit in this passage are three critical contentions/assumptions about the professional thinking of some (many? most?) law students: (1) students go to law school intending to "make lots of money" (not because they dream of practicing law), (2) students expect that "average" performance at an "average" law school will result in a in a "respectable and well-paid career," and (3) students rely on deceptive law school placement stats to justify these decisions and expectations.

I trust some (many? most?) law students — especially those who are most aggrieved and vocal in their complains about the "law school scam" — would endorse these three critical contentions/assumptions and agree they help explain why so many recent graduates are now so upset that they "invested" so much in law school and are now not getting a fair (or any) return on that investment.

Changing perspectives, let me articulate what I suspect to be professional thinking of some (many? most?) law professors: (A) students interested primarily in making money should go to business school (because only those with lawyer dreams will be happy lawyers), (B) students with "average" grades at an "average" law school can find legal jobs, but they will need to "pick up their game" in practice to have a "well-paid" legal career, and (C) students who make serious and savvy efforts to find a legal job will eventually get a legal job.  

Perhaps I am wrong to assert that others would embrace points A, B, and C above, but these realities account for why I personally have not been attuned to "law school scam" complaints until quite recently.  I have long believed that (A) those who went to law school for "the wrong reasons" were unlikely to be happy no matter their professional success, (B) my "average" students could and would find legal work at a living wage, and (C) I can help my students land a legal job if they are serious and savvy in their efforts.  (Indeed, I still hold these views, though I now better understand that (too) many law students may be in it "just for the money" and that the recession has made it much harder for "average" students to find legal work at a living wage.  But while these students may often feel "scammed," they do not often come by my office to ask for job-hunting advice.  I often have "top" students coming for job advice, typically to ask which of two job opportunities they ought to pursue, which I now realize greatly distorts my perspective on the legal job market.)

Not to be overlooked here is the inevitable affinity for law schools to spotlight — in recruiting materials and alumni publications — their most successful and happy graduates and to "hide" their least successful and miserable graduates.  A coming attractions even for a lousy Jack Black movie creates the (deceptive?) impression everyone should spend money on that movie even though only Jack Black fans will be content with the product.  (This preview metaphor justifies greater transparency in law school employment data — i.e., studios should not "scam" Brad Pitt fans into paying to see a Jack Black movie by having the whole preview focus on a tiny Brad Pitt cameo.  But this metaphor might help students appreciate the unique (insulated) perspective of law professors: law profs are essentially Jack Black fans (read, law geeks) who assume the only folks paying for their movie (law school) are fellow Jack Black fans who should still appreciate the experience even though better movies (other professional opportunities) might be at the Cineplex.)

So, even as I grow more aware/attune to the "law school scam" and suffering grads, I still have a hard time viewing law professors as avaricious Ponzi schemers eager to drive students into a lifetime of debt to fund a lavish lifestyle.  Instead, I see a group of well-meaning service-providers (law professors/schools) working earnestly to provide what they consider a valuable non-economic service ("teaching students how to think like a lawyer") to some people who are paying a lot of money (law students) problematically believing they are getting a valuable economic service ("becoming a practicing lawyer").   

To the extent that deceptive placement stats fuel this disconnect between the "law school service" most law professors seek to provide and what some (many? most?) law students actually want and expect, more honest employment data should help considerably.  But if one fears (as I do) that much bigger societal and human psychology forces are in play, more honest employment data is just a first step on a long journey toward a sounder legal education system.

Posted by DAB

September 5, 2011 in Admissions to law school, Blogging by lawyers and law professors, Legal profession realities and developments, Serving students, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 01, 2011

Imagining a "Lawyer Peace Corps" or "Lawyering for America" to do good while helping new law grads to better

I continue to find thought-provoking the posts and comments over at Inside the Law School Scam, as well as some of the still active student scam-blogs.  And, via these sources, I sense there is growing mainstream discussion of modern legal education costs/benefits within the legal profession, as evidenced by these recent pieces from the Chicago Lawyer and the Connecticut Law Tribune:

As I keep read these blogs and keep hear stories of successful recent law students having no success finding jobs upon graduation, I keep thinking about the very large number of (mostly poor) persons with unmet legal needs in the United States.  As the title of this post suggests, I cannot help but imagine the creation of some mass program for young lawyers to do good work — whether modeled on programs like the Peace Corps or Teach for America — as a means of helping unemployed recent law grads do better by doing good.

As a criminal law professor who specializes in sentencing issues, I am most attuned to the huge number of criminal defendants and ex-offenders — literally millions of Americans — who could benefit greatly from legal advice but who, for financial or others reasons, completely lack access to lawyers or are underserved by (overworked) appointed lawyers.  And I know that lawyers surely could be helping (mostly poor) people struggling with many modern American social challenges — challenges ranging from foreclosure problems, to immigration issues, to family law matters, to health care coverage, to access to education and professional opportunities.

In other words, our society now has a glut of underemployed junior lawyers and a glut of underserved legal needs.  The private legal marketplace — for many reasons, though mostly because the people with the most needs have the least money — seems unable to connect these potential service-providers and these legal needs.  But a well-structured government program or public-policy-group initiative could and should be able to do much better in connecting the potential legal service-providers with all the persons need these services.

I can think of lots of different ways to potentially structure a "Lawyer Peace Corps" or a "Lawyering for America" program — e.g., new grads could have government debts slashed for being in the program a certain number of years, some law schools (or particular classes/clinics) could serve as formal feeders. But I can also think of a lot of potential objections/problems — e.g., might junior lawyers with limited training make some legal problems worse for those now without lawyers?

For now, I just wanted to throw the idea out and see if I can get any reactions (at least from my co-bloggers).

Posted by DAB

September 1, 2011 in Blogging by lawyers and law professors, Legal profession realities and developments, Service -- legal profession, Serving students, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

August 29, 2011

Does three years in law school have "value" other than as the means to a professional degree?

The question in the title of this post keeps coming to my mind as I read posts and comments over at Inside the Law School Scam, as well as discussions at various scam-blogs in which the basic theme is that the huge debt law schools require (encourage?) students to incur is a scam because there are no (well-paying) law jobs to be found.  In this recent post, LawProf does an armchair cost/benefit assessment of the potential professional "return" on a law degree investment priced at $300K in terms of actual and opportunity costs.  Missing from the LawProf analysis (as he concedes) is any discussion of the potential "value" of law school (and of being a lawyer) other than as the means to a profession degree that could (but may not) increase one's earning power/potential.

Two subsequent posts by Law Prof with the following comments, in turn, has me really wondering about the "value" of the (expensive) modern three-year law school experience:

That law is an unhappy profession has more to do with factors that law schools can do little about...

The vast majority of law students are in no way interested in paying $150,000 for a three-year continuation of their liberal arts education.  They didn't go to law school because they wanted to go to graduate school to study law.  They went to law school (leaving aside those who are killing time because they have no real idea what they want to do) because they were presented with a barrier to entry to the practice of law that required them to go to school for three more years, period, full stop.

I know some practicing lawyers who would agree that "law is an unhappy profession," but I also know many more practicing lawyers who really like their jobs (and not merely because they make more than a living wage).  But putting aside the important question of whether law really is "an unhappy profession," this premise necessarily casts a completely different light on the "value" and vices of modern legal education.  If law practice really is an "unhappy profession," law schools would seem to justify praise for giving students as a last bit of (expensive) fun (or at least ease) before they have to enter the "unhappy" profession in the real-world.

Moreover, at the same time I seriously question the premise that "law is an unhappy profession," I also question the suggestion that most new law students know where and how they wanted to "practice law" (as opposed to just knowing they want to have a good white-collar job in a certain region).  The real "value" I see in the modern law school program is to provide a (comfortable?) space, significant time and considerable resources to enable bright young people (or second career people) to figure out just what "practicing law" might really mean for them.

Put differently, in addition to believing modern law schools provide a solid education in what I would call "advanced American civics," I also believe modern law schools provide a good opportunity for bright young people (or second career people) to find out about different ways they might make a living from being bright as a lawyer.  To me, this is especially key to the "value" of law school programs lasting three years: most think-like-a-lawyer training can be achieved during the 1L year, but the following two years provide space, time, and resources for students figure out where and how they can find a "happy" place within what for (too) many may be an "unhappy profession."

That all said, students are often paying a lot (roughly $100K if they are paying full tuition) for the opportunity to explore what law practice might mean for them over their final 2 years in law school.  Moreover, if those final two years end up further limiting a student's professional options after graduation (because of bad grades or other factors), I fully understand considerable post-graduation frustration.  

Still, I know from my own experiences that I benefited personally and professionally from having extra time in law school to figure out my own professional goals (though my concerns about the loans accrued were diminished by a decent lawyer job market in the 1990s).  And here I wanted to supplement my co-blogger's recent post on the good things about the 3L year, as well as encourage readers to share their perspectives on the "value" (and/or vices) of a relatively long modern law school program.

Posted by DAB

August 29, 2011 in Blogging by lawyers and law professors, Legal profession realities and developments, Teaching -- curriculum, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 25, 2011

"Clinical Professors' Professional Responsibility: Preparing Law Students to Embrace Pro Bono"

The title of this post is the title of this new piece by Professor Douglas Colbert, which is now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This article begins by examining the current crisis in the U.S. legal system where approximately three out of four low- and middle-income litigants are denied access to counsel's representation when faced with the loss of essential rights -- a home, child custody, liberty and deportation -- and where most lawyers decline to fulfill their ethical responsibility of pro bono service to those who cannot afford private counsel.  The article traces the evolving ethical standards of a lawyer's professional responsibility that today views every attorney as a public citizen having a special responsibility to the quality of justice.

The author suggests that law professors assume a critical role in law students' decision to embrace or reject its pro bono ethical obligation.  The author focuses on clinical faculty and suggests that its leadership within the academy will be crucial to bridge colleagues' world of theory and doctrine, and to connect with practicing lawyers.  He illustrates clinical faculty's unique opportunity to incorporate the Model Rules of Professional Conduct by referring to the law reform and individual representation work that his clinical students perform.  The author concludes by declaring clinical education presents an ideal opportunity for teaching students to appreciate their professional responsibility to promote access to justice and to embrace pro bono service as an integral element of a lawyer's professional life.

The reality discussed in this piece that "three out of four low- and middle-income litigants lack access to counsel when faced with the loss of essential right" shines an important light on the reality(?) discussed in this recent post that law school are now apparently graduating far too many persons each year given the limited number of new legal jobs that develop each year.  Though there may not be a large number of new legal jobs to sustain all the new lawyers coming into the market, there remains no shortage of serious (and mostly unmet) legal needs in US society.  (I plan to say more on this topic soon, in part because it is this reality that draws me to the view that law students truly interest in practicing law should feel more "scammed" by "career services" departments than by the law school as a whole.)

Posted by DAB

August 25, 2011 in Legal profession realities and developments, Service -- legal profession, Teaching -- pedagogy, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 24, 2011

Given modern labor realities, should law schools admit fewer students? Fail more out?

Applicants-Enroll 2010

If nothing else, this new blog authored by (once anonymous) LawProf called "Inside the Law School Scam" has generated some useful discussion throughout the law professor blogosphere about the current realities of law school and legal employment.  And the take-away data I found most notable and important in this context comes from this (under-reported?) New York Times piece from two months ago indicating that US law school each and every year are now graduating roughly two new lawyers for every one new legal job.  (Kudos to Brian Tamanaha for spotlighting these important data (and for the chart reprinted here) via this post at Balkinization titled "The Coming Crunch for Law Schools.")  

In light of this current significant over-supply of junior lawyers seeking jobs in legal fields with only half the opennings needed for full employment (a market problem which has arguably been going on now for numerous years), it is unsurprising that now only the most highly-ranked students and highly-ranked schools are still able to easily find acceptable legal employment and in turn have the resources need to pay off large accumulated student debt.  And, now with a glut of tens of thousands of recent law school grads who are unemployed or underemployed and yet still likely to keep seeking legal opportunities, it seems unlikely that even a huge improvement in the economy will create enough new law jobs for the seemingly ever-increasing number of new law school grads.

With an eye on these market realities, Brian and Gerard Magliocca in recent posts are exploring why there seems still to be a huge demand for law school access as reflected in law school application rates:

Though I think the law school demand side is a very important component of this story, the question in the title of this post is meant to urge discussion of the law school supply side.  In particular, I would like to hear view from anyone inside or outside the law school marketplace as to whether law schools ought to be, in light of modern labor realities, significantly reduce the sizes of their graduating classes either by letting in many fewer students or failing out many more students before these students accumulate huge law school debts.

In a future post, I will set forth my own innovative proposal for how I think modern law schools should try to deal with these issues.  In the meantime, though, I am hoping to generate some feedback on these basic questions.

Posted by DAB

August 24, 2011 in Admissions to law school, Legal profession realities and developments, Serving students, Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 18, 2011

"What if law schools opened their own law firms?"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting article in The National Law Journal, which begins this way:

Law schools have been pummeled with criticism for not producing practice-ready attorneys, so two law professors have come up with a novel fix: Law schools should operate their own law firms.

The school-owned firms would provide a training ground for recent graduates, but would function much like a normal firm, Brooklyn Law School Professor Bradley Borden and University of Maryland School of Law Professor Robert Rhee wrote in an article entitled, "The Law School Firm."  The piece will appear in a forthcoming issue of the South Carolina Law Review.

Borden and Rhee acknowledged that their idea constitutes a "radical" change from the existing law school model, but they contend that these firms would help recent graduates gain the skills they need to be successful at little expense — and possibly a profit — to law schools.

The firms would be entities distinct from the law schools, and would be professionally managed and generate revenue, although they would be operated as nonprofits. Senior attorneys would be hired to oversee the firms' practice areas, and recent law school graduates would spend fixed periods, perhaps three or six years, at the firm before moving on.

The concept is similar to that of judicial clerkships, Rhee said, in that freshly minted attorneys would spend a fixed amount of time at the firm and face no stigma when they leave.  Being in an actual, functioning law firm would offer a far more immersive learning experience than students could find in the classroom or even in a law school clinic, he said.

The law review article referenced above is now available at this link via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This Article introduces the concept of the law school firm.  The concept calls for law schools to establish affiliated law firms.  The affiliation would provide opportunities for students, faculty, and attorneys to collaborate and share resources to teach, research, write, serve clients, and influence the development of law and policy.  Based loosely on the medical school model, the law school firm will help bridge the gap between law schools and the practice of law.

Posted by DAB

August 18, 2011 in Legal profession realities and developments, Service -- legal profession, Serving students, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 13, 2010

Supreme Court Justices are now doing work on iPads and Kindles, when will law students?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new video from a portion of a C-SPAN interview with new Justice Elena Kagan. The video is titled "Justice Kagan on Using a Kindle to Read Briefs," and in the segment Justice Kagan reports on how she uses the Kindle to read all the SCOTUS briefs, and also discusses that Justice Scalia has his briefs on an iPad. (Hat tip: How Appealing.)

In a series of prior posts about technology and legal education, I have suggested that the advancement of new reading technologies will at some point transform legal education. I articulated the point this way in this post after first seeing the iPad in action earlier this year:

[A] casebook-friendly e-tablet is only the tip of the new media iceberg that could be facilitated by an iPad or some other tablet that becomes to casebooks what the iPod became to vinyl records.  Of course, just as record companies (and some artists) resisted music being packaged and distributed via new media, casebook publishers (and some authors) may resist legal materials being packaged distributed via new media.  But, as the iPod and the DVR and other digital innovations have demonstrated, a better means to distribute content digitally will eventually prevail over analog precursors.  The iPad may not prove to be the casebook tipping-point technology, but it seems to me to be only a question of when, not whether, the traditional casebook will go the way of vinyl records and VCR tapes.

When traveling to speak at various conferences, I have noticed more and more lawyers with iPads and other e-readers. I expect that buzz about the Justices reading briefs on e-readers might add even more juice to the on-going digital revolution in the collection and distribution of legal materials.  And if law schools do not get with the program soon, I fear we will be doing even worse than usual in training the next generation of lawyers.

Posted by DAB

December 13, 2010 in Electronic Education, Legal profession realities and developments, Technology -- in general, Technology -- in the classroom | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 06, 2010

"Would Law School Warning Labels Help?"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting new piece from The National Law Journal, which gets started this way:

People smoke.  People speed.  They don't exercise or get enough sleep.  They go to law school. By now, everyone is aware of the consequences of these actions.  In fact, they have known them for some time.  The question is: who is responsible?

Placing blame is, after all, a central component of the law.  In the case of what ails legal education, however, it is not very easy to assign.

I had the privilege of speaking with a variety of industry thought leaders on this topic for a research study on The Evolution of the Legal Profession (pdf) (sponsored by DiscoverReady).  They identified two reasons that individuals assume the debt to go to law school without a full awareness of the potential outcomes.

First, most prospective law students sincerely believe they will graduate in the top 10 percent of the class.  "You sign the loan papers with the idea that it will all pay off and it is the idealized big firm life that allows people to take debt," notes Indiana University Maurer School of Law Professor William Henderson.  He recommends that the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar direct schools to walk students through the application process more carefully to conduct an intelligent analysis of their career prospects.

Second, law school applicants are generally naive consumers of debt.  "As soon as tuition rose to a level where people had to borrow significant sums in order to go to law school, you had students with no experience taking out loans, repaying them or understanding what it means to have debt," says University of Miami School of Law Dean, Patricia White. "It was a little bit like the foreclosure crisis and the mortgage debacle," she adds.

These seem like plausible explanations given the decreasing level of zeal amongst budding barristers, evidenced by the recent examples of individuals trying to sell or return their law degrees, and the increasing number of applicants.

To address this disparity, last fall, in her first year as dean, White sent accepted applicants who had already paid their full non-refundable deposit a unique letter that generated national attention.  In it, she asked, them to reconsider their choice of attending law school.  The dean offered them the option to defer their admission for one year to further reflect on their chosen path.  Of the 32 students who accepted her offer, only eight enrolled this year.

November 6, 2010 in Deans and innovations, Legal profession realities and developments, Serving students | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 06, 2010

Should innovators be pleased or worried that grades may matter more than prestige?

The question in the title of this post is inspired bythis report via the ABA Journal, which is headlined "Law School Grades More Important to Career than Elite School, Researchers Say."  Here are the basics:

Law school grades are the important predictor of a lawyer’s career success—in fact they are “decisively more important” than the eliteness of the school attended, according to two law professors who have studied the issue.

University of California, Los Angeles law professor Richard Sander and Brooklyn Law School visiting professor Jane Yakowitz analyzed data from four studies and concluded that the standard advice—go to the best law school that will take you—doesn’t necessarily hold true, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports.

“Since the dominant conventional wisdom says that law school prestige is all‐important, and since students who ‘trade‐up’ in school prestige generally take a hit to their school performance, we think prospective students are getting the wrong message,” they write in a new paper (PDF posted by Law Blog).

Sander told the Wall Street Journal he doesn’t know why grades are so important, but he was willing to speculate. “It could have to do with psychological factors, a level of confidence you gain from doing well that serves you well not only in school but afterward,” he said.

Sander and Yakowitz studied data from more than 40 public law schools across the country, and found that applicants tend to go to the most elite law school that will have them. But is that a good idea? Not according to data collected in the American Bar Foundation’s After the JD study of lawyers who entered the bar in 2000, they write. It indicates that the salary boost for achieving high grades more than makes up for the salary depreciation associated with attending a lower‐ranked school. The study also found that lawyers who left law school with the lowest grades felt the least secure about their jobs.

Two other studies of lawyers practicing in Chicago in the mid-1970s and mid-1990s found that law school eliteness was associated with higher incomes in the 1970s, but that had changed in the 1990s, when class rank more accurately predicted earning power.

Two other findings: In two of the studies, Catholics, Protestants, and Jews all appear to have a salary edge over nonbelievers and the unaffiliated, creating “an interesting issue for further exploration,” according to Sander and Yakowitz. And while law students tend to come from upper-middle and upper class backgrounds, social status now appears to not have a role in shaping grads' careers.

Posted by DAB

August 6, 2010 in Admissions to law school, Legal profession realities and developments | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 07, 2010

"Law students at great expense are getting little more than bad sociology"

The title of this post is just one of many provocative comments by law professor Charles Rounds in this potent commentary urging law schools to return to teaching traditional common-law subjects.  Here are more buzz-worthy excerpts that I hope might generate some comments here:

Professional schools need to strike a balance between book-learning and real-world experience.  The American law school now deserves failing grades in both departments.

But it gets worse. In response to complaints from the practicing bar that recent law graduates cannot write well and are otherwise unable to “hit the ground running,” the typical law school has beefed up its in-house clinics and legal writing programs. These politicized bureaucracies behave like labor unions. They are great at self-promotion and forging national networks. They are labor-intensive and thus frightfully expensive.

At best, these programs are pedagogically inefficient; at worst they are pedagogically cancerous. By chipping away at, or crowding out altogether, traditional core courses such as Agency, Trusts, and Equity, these clinical and legal writing programs are more than just a nuisance.  One’s writing improves when one has something rational and coherent to express.  Ten writing courses will not help the law student who is unable to connect the dots because he or she does not know where the dots are.

There is some irony here, as a lawyer is the agent of his or her client.  Law schools are in the business of churning out common law agents but they no longer require that their students take a course in the law of agency? How can that be?

This de-professionalization of the American law school, a phenomenon of profound concern to many in the legal profession, suggests that there is an opening for the for-profit sector.  A bare-bones, back-to-basics for-profit law school staffed by seasoned scholar-practitioners may be the answer. The more boot-camp-like the better, in that the rigor will prepare future lawyers for the work they’ll actually confront in the real world.

It would be a step in the right direction (but only a small one) if law schools were to revive and require the discrete Agency course and relegate to the extra curricular “subjects” such as these: Climate Change Justice (taught at Harvard), Social Justice Lawyering (University of North Carolina), Law and Literature: Murder (University of North Carolina), Social Disparities in Health (Colorado), Wal-Mart (Colorado), Law & Literature: Race and Gender (Duke), Sexual Orientation and the Law (Duke), Ethics in Literature (Yale), Civil Disobedience (Suffolk), and Critical Race Theory (Suffolk).

In any case, we are more likely to see such modest back-to-basics reforms emanating from a for-profit law school, whose faculty presumably would not be tenured, than from the tenured law faculties in the non-profit sector, which tend to walk in lock step. A for-profit law school that affords its students a thorough grounding in the fundamentals would soon win the respect and admiration of the hiring partners in the nation’s law firms. In time they would come to take with a grain of salt the puff pieces and propaganda of their non-profit alma maters, and of the American Bar Association which regulates them.

Posted by DAB

January 7, 2010 in Legal profession realities and developments, Teaching -- curriculum, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 13, 2009

Will a uniform bar exam influence law school education for the better or for the worse?

The National Law Journal has this effective and important new piece, headlined "Uniform Bar Exam Drawing Closer To Reality." Here are the basics:

Next year, at least 10 states are expected to switch to the so-called Uniform Bar Exam, and 22 other jurisdictions are positioned to adopt the test in the next few years. The test, developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, will allow law school graduates to transport their bar scores across state lines without re-taking exams.  And backers say a uniform exam will improve the quality of bar exams, particularly in states with small test-development budgets.

The test still has big hurdles to overcome.  Several of the biggest legal markets have yet to sign on: New York, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois and Texas so far have taken a pass.  Some worry the test will give short shrift to important state law concepts. Others have scheduling problems and scoring concerns.  And the test puts a great deal of power in the hands of the NCBE, which gives some state-level bar officials pause.

And here is one prediction from the NLJ article about how these developments might impact law school education:

Moving toward one test will create notable changes in legal education and the practice of law, said Jerome Hafter, chair of the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.  The greatest benefit, he said, will be the portability of scores for new graduates.  In recent years, more jurisdictions have admitted out-of-state attorneys to practice by a motion to a state court; a portable score is part of a trend toward the nationalization -- if not globalization -- of legal practice, Hafter said.  He personally supports the uniform test, although the ABA legal education section has no official position on the issue.

It is important for states to be able set their own pass scores, Hafter said, but he expects that most eventually will settle on the same score, the equivalent of 135 out of 200 on the Multistate Bar Exam.  As more states move toward one test, Hafter expects a normalization of law school curriculum, to focus on the core subjects covered on the test.  Law schools would not feel the pressure to cover "niche" subjects such as workers' compensation or oil and gas law, since those subjects would not be included.

I have no doubt that the adoption of a uniform (and portable) new bar exam can and will have a profound impact on legal education, at the very least in those states that adopt the exam and probably in all states near states that adopt the exam.  If, for example, New Jersey and/or Connecticut both adopt the new Uniform Bar Exam (the nUBE), students attending the many law schools in New York City will surely be interested in making sure that some of their instruction is attentive to nUBE coverage.

Because the nUBE will definitely impact law schools -- especially those schools that have a significant student populations (1) eager to practice in nUBE-friendly jurisdictions and/or (2) that tend to worry a lot about bar passage -- the title of this post question whether that impact will be a good or bad development.  Because I think the status quo of bar exams tends to impact law school education for the worse, I am eager to believe that the nUBE might have a positive impact on legal education.  But I may be naively optimistic on this front and I am eager to hear other opinion.

Posted by DAB

October 13, 2009 in Legal profession realities and developments, Serving students, Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 09, 2009

"Reality's knocking: The recession is forcing schools to bow to reality"

The title of this post is the headline of this effective new National Law Journal article which highlights the various ways in which lean economic times are impacting law schools.  Here is a snippet that spotlights necessity being the nuturing mother of innovation:

The movement to incorporate practical skills into legal education isn't new, but legal educators and researchers report that the floundering economy is increasing incentives for law schools to revamp their curricula to prepare students for the realities of the legal profession. "A lot of the changes are in response to the marketplace," said David Van Zandt, dean of Northwestern University School of Law. "Students are concerned about getting jobs, and everybody wants to be relevant."

Graduates face stiff competition for law firm positions, and clients are balking at footing the bill to train new attorneys. Consequently, law school leaders consider it more important than ever to send students into the profession armed with practical skills, not just extensive knowledge of case law and legal theory.  More law schools are modifying coursework and adding practical classes to help students develop the skills past graduates have had the luxury of learning on the job. In that vein, a growing number of law schools are emphasizing teamwork, leadership, professional judgment and the ability to view issues from the clients' perspective.

"I think we are at a moment of historical change across the landscape of legal education," said Washington and Lee Dean Rodney A. Smolla. "When we look back at this period in five to 10 years, we will mark it as the time when the whole mission of law schools made a fundamental turn."

Some related recent posts:

Posted by DAB

September 9, 2009 in Legal profession realities and developments | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 13, 2009

Is the bad economy going to change the relatiohsip between schools and firms?

This new article available via law.com, which is headlined "Fordham Law School Bans Reed Smith After Firm Pulls Out of On-Campus Interviews," has me wondering whether the rough economy is changing for the worse the relationship between law school and law firms.  This passage also lead me to wonder if legal employers might be interested in changing the long-standing norm of looking for legal talent among students just starting their 2L year:

Reed Smith will have a summer program next year but it will be smaller than in the past so the firm had to make some adjustments to its recruiting. [Michael B. Pollack, global head of strategy at Reed Smith] said Reed Smith would still be interviewing Fordham students but at its offices and not on campus. "It's unfortunate that it didn't fit within Fordham's schedule and calendar, but we're trying to manage this thing as best we can," Pollack said.

He said he thought the firm was up-front with the schools about its decision to pull back from some recruiting. Many firms are doing a number of different things as every sector of the legal industry has to re-examine the way it does business. "Does interviewing in August make sense when you're trying to project [what your needs will be] two years from now?" Pollack asked. "I suspect not."

Law schools and law firms need to have a serious dialogue on the issue, he said. While not everyone is fully aligned yet, he said he hopes these issues can be worked out so a similar situation doesn't happen again.

August 13, 2009 in Legal profession realities and developments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack