July 05, 2009

Seeking news, reports, information on serious summer innovations

The summer of 2009 would seem to present a uniquely vibrant opportunity for law school innovations. 

A down job market for both recent grad and summer associates likely creates lots of potential "human capital" for innovative summer law school programming (and a lack of real capital might demand some true inventiveness by Deans to fund and staff such programs).  Meanwhile, a new Administration in DC run by a lawyer and former law professor (which has hired a whole lot of other law professors), as well as a pending Supreme Court transition with Senate hearings scheduled for mid July, could and should present lots of new and perhaps novel topics for public-interest-oriented activities.

Though there may not be a rash of innovative activities this summer, I am hopeful that folks might report in the comments or via e-mail any exciting new happenings at law schools this summer.

July 5, 2009 in Legal profession realities and developments | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 22, 2009

Susskind on "The End of Lawyers? The End of Law Schools?" - liveblog

The Harvard Berkman Center's Law Lab sponsored a talk today with Prof. Richard Susskind at Gresham College / University of Strathclyde on the future of the legal profession and legal education. The live video stream can be found here.

Liveblog to follow...

The Future

Black & Decker does not sell drills; they sell holes in the wall. What's the actual value that lawyers offer? Maybe as KMPG describes it: "Transform our knowledge into value for clients."

Today's law firms are too reactive -- they don't anticipate client needs. Clients don't want dispute management but rather risk management.

Automation vs. Innovation: Automation merely systematizes that which already exists.

The Market

Most major clients face a dilemma in three parts:

  1. Pressure to reduce internal headcount
  2. Pressure to increase internal speed
  3. Yet more legal and compliance work than ever (and it's riskier too)

In short: clients want more for less. Two strategies in response:

  1. The efficiency strategy: cutting costs by moving towards commoditization or multi-sourcing. How do we take the costs out of the routine work? Or clients can share costs of similar problems.
  2. The collaboration strategy

(As of 2007, England allows private non-lawyer investments in and management of law firms. This stimulate investment and innovation of business models -- and the genie will be out of the bottle.)

Commoditization

Susskind's model: Bespoke > Standardized > Systematized > Packaged > Commodity

Law schools teach us to think of all problems as bespoke (esp. our study of appeals, Supreme Court), but that just isn't true. In reality, we start with precedent documents, not blank paper; often we even use automated templates. Why can't we package our expertise for clients to use for themselves, just as banks generate their own term sheets? We need to realize that we provide value for the client, that our value is not embedded with the form of our relationship. The last step, commoditization, is likely to happen online, and is often unattractive because the price trends to zero.

Law firms imagine themselves as bespoke, but that is both factually incorrect and strategically misconceived. Clients are strongly pulling towards commodity. We need to chunk client work down into these boxes. And much of it can happen by "multi-sourcing" such as outsourcing, subcontracting, leasing, open-sourcing, computerizing, etc... Who will manage this process?

Information Technology

There's a tendency to resist technology-driven change. But just as email swept law firms, other communication media are also going to transform legal practice.

Four examples of disruptive technologies:

  1. Closed client communities, as is happening across doctors (clients, not law firms, will join to share experiences).
  2. Online dispute resolution
  3. Embedded legal knowledge. [What I call "codelaw" -gk]
  4. Electronic legal marketplace

The Shape of Law Firms

The traditional pyramid, with junior lawyers as profit centers, will change to new modes of sourcing. [How, then, will new lawyers be trained? This was a question I've raised earlier -gk]

Access to Justice

Rolls Royce service for the rich, free services for the poor, nothing for the rest. How about online legal advice, open sourcing of legal materials, establishing communities of experience among "clients." Remember Voltaire: "The perfect is the enemy of the good."

Lawyers?

What parts of lawyers' work can be undertaken differently -- more quickly, cheaply, efficiently, or to a higher quality -- using alternative methods of working?

What are lawyers' competitive advantage?

Future jobs for lawyers?

Law Schools?

The curricula of most law schools have serious gaps, because we are training the one-to-one, face-to-face, bespoke crafters. Instead we need more emphasis on complex teams reflecting all of the above. Even in the world today law firms complain about what law schools aren't teaching -- globalization, technology, etc.

Should we extend the mission of law schools to include other disciplines such as risk management, project management, legal knowledge management, and disruptive legal technology.

QUESTIONS / DISCUSSION

Some concern about embedded systems appearing to the users as "natural" and not amenable to challenge. Likewise, concern about mistakes becoming hardened inside systems or packages.

Existing disencentives from change, including up-front investment in new systems. But the market is demanding it, and it will eventually get what it wants. Law firms need a more R&D mentality.

Will the firms win or will the new winners be other players? How can you convince a room full of millionaires that their business model is all wrong? Maybe 2/3 will suffer and decline, and we'll see new service providers. Multi-sourcing model may allow US firms to innovate without the need for external investment.

- Gene Koo

April 22, 2009 in Legal profession realities and developments, Teaching -- research, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 01, 2009

How well do law schools address gendered realities in the profession?

090227_ginsburg Especially because criminal justice law and policy is a very gendered topic (though rarely seen that way outside of a few topics), I frequently try to emphasize gendered perspectives in substantive class discussions.  In these discussions, I often note and sometimes lament that relatively few prosecutors and judges are women.  I also sometimes encourage students to think about whether and how criminal law and policy might be different if the majority of prosecutors and judges were women.

I sense that some of my colleagues (and especially my female colleagues) also ensure that gendered perspectives are brought into classroom discussion.  But I also get a sense that, outside of the classroom, law schools as institutions generally ignore (or even downplay to modern students) the history of gender bias in the legal profession and the (significant?) gendered realities that still impact modern legal power structures.

I raise these points not only because my law school will be hosting the only current female Supreme Court Justice next week, but also because I just came across this interesting research via SSRN. The article, which is titled "From Lawyer to Judge: Advancement, Sex, and Name-Calling," provide some worrisome insights into how lawyers judge one another. Here is the abstract:

This paper provides the first empirical test of the Portia Hypothesis: females with masculine monikers are more successful in legal careers. Utilizing South Carolina microdata, we look for correlation between an individual's advancement to a judgeship and his/her name's masculinity, which we construct from the joint empirical distribution of names and gender in the state's entire population of registered voters. We find robust evidence that nominally masculine females are favored over other females. Hence, our results support the Portia Hypothesis.

My gut instinct tells me that law schools generally do a poor job preparing students for many consequential gendered realities that they will encounter upon heading into the workplace.  But maybe this perspective itself reflects my own gender bias: as a man, I rarely attend or even keep up with the activities of the various gender-oriented student groups and I do not have many opportunities to discuss gender issues when counseling students about professional opportunities.

Posted by DAB

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

January 19, 2009

Another law professor takes on another big job in the Obama Administration

The BLT Blog reports on another law professor taking on an important role in the Obama Administration as second banana in the Office of the Solicitor General: "Legal Timeshas confirmed that Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal, who successfully argued the landmark detainee rights case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld before the Supreme Court, will serve as principal deputy solicitor general, the office’s No. 2 spot, starting Tuesday."

Though the substantive significance of this appointment will be of greatest interest to practitioners, I think would-be law school innovators can and should see this appointment as yet another indication that the disjunction between the legal academy and the practicing bar is likely to shrink in the new Administration.  Indeed, recall that, in the wake of his work in Hamdan, Neal wrote a terrifically interesting Harvard Law Review comment encouraging the legal academy to go practice.  I wonder if Neal can and will use his new position to continue making this important call to law professor service.

Some related posts:

Posted by DAB

UPDATEThis post by Jack Balkin at Balkinization reports on still more transitions of academics into key positions in the Obama Admininstration's Justice Department: 

Some of you may have noticed that Marty Lederman has not been blogging recently at Balkinization. The reason is that he has been working on the Department of Justice Transition team. As of today, the commencement of the Obama Administration, he begins work as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel. There he will be joined by two of his former OLC colleagues, Dawn Johnsen, nominated to be head of the office; and David Barron, who will serve as the Principal Deputy (and as the Acting AAG while the Senate considers Dawn’s nomination).

January 19, 2009 in Legal profession realities and developments | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 06, 2009

Will legal academics in top DOJ posts mean innovation in government or law schools?

As everyone probably already know, and as detailed in this official press release, the Obama team has named two prominent academics to fill two important spots in the Justice Department: Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan was tapped to be Solicitor General and Indiana Law Prof Dawn Johnsen was tapped to head the Office of Legal Counsel.  (This USA Today article, headlined "Key Justice nominees rooted in academia," notes the law school connections.)

The fact that Kagan and Johnsen served in the Justice Department during the Clinton Administration is likely to generate the most inside-the-beltway buzz.  But, I think it is far more significant and interesting that both Kagan and Johnsen have spent most of the last decade inside law schools.  Though both have surely kept followed closely government policy issues and legal practice realities over the last 10 years, both also necessarily had more professional experiences shaped by the scholarly issues and not-so-practical realities that make up the day-to-day workings of law schools. 

These notable professorial selections, together with the fact that President-elect Obama himself was a law professor for a few years and headed the Harvard Law Review, now has me wondering whether we can or should expect (or hope or fear) a new era of innovation in the Justice Department or in law schools.  Here are just a few questions worth pondering (perhaps in the hallways during the AALS Annual Conference, which starts today):

Posted by DAB

January 6, 2009 in Legal profession realities and developments | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 23, 2008

Interesting (and important?) legal development for online law grad

A helpful reader pointed me to this news of a seemingly important ruling from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.  Here are the basics:

The state supreme court has ordered that a graduate of an online law school be allowed to take the bar exam. Ross Mitchell of West Newton sued the Board of Bar Examiners for preventing him from taking the exam because he does not have a degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association.

Mitchell, a computer systems and management consultant who has lived in Massachusetts since 1981, took his classes through Concord Law School, which is part of the Kaplan online university. He is licensed to practice law in California, the only state that has accepted candidates from online schools, and in March he was among the first four Concord graduates admitted to argue before the Supreme Court.

In a 6-1 decision released Thursday, the Supreme Judicial Court opened the door to Mitchell and other graduates of online law schools, but noted that the exception is limited to those with strong records in competitive programs. The court cited Mitchell's "exemplary degree of success" and his acceptance to the California bar.

The full ruling in Mitchell v. Board of Bar Examiners (Mass. Nov. 20, 2008), is available at this link, and it is a very interesting read. 

Because the SJC stressed the "the particular circumstances of this case" in its ruling, it would be hyperbole to suggest that Mitchell v. Board might be viewed as comparable in some way to Brown v. Board.  However, I suspect that the the petitioner in this case, Ross Mitchell, can (and should) be viewed as a poster-child for the great potential and accomplishments of students who get law degrees from online and/or non-ABA accredited schools.  At the very least, I suspect Mitchell v. Board will be cited by lots of "innovative" law school graduates looking to gain the right to sit for a state bar exam.

Posted by DAB

November 23, 2008 in Legal profession realities and developments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 05, 2008

Is there an ideal grading system for law schools?

This piece at Insider Higher Ed reports that Stanford Law School is looking to move away from letter grades.  Here are snippets from the story:

The faculty at Stanford Law School voted last week to approve a grade reform proposal that would eliminate letters and replace them with four levels of achievement. The decision came after a long period of discussion among students and faculty that weighed issues such as collegiality, anxiety and fairness. The debate may be spreading to other law schools across the country....

Those who support the change at Stanford argue that shifting from the precision of letter grades to broader categories will reduce some pressure and refocus students’ and professors’ energies on classroom learning. Others worry that de-emphasizing students’ GPAs could disadvantage them with potential employers, although that hasn’t proven to be an issue with new Yale or Berkeley lawyers.

“The new system includes a shared norm for the proportion of honors to be awarded in both exam and paper courses.  No grading system is perfect, but the consensus is that the reform will have significant pedagogical benefits, including that it encourages greater flexibility and innovation in the classroom and in designing metrics for evaluating student work,” wrote Stanford Law dean Larry Kramer to students and faculty in an e-mail on Thursday, as first reported by the blog Above the Law....

Now that three of the most elite law schools in the nation have opted for alternatives to traditional grading systems, some eyes will inevitably turn to Cambridge.  Early in the decade, Harvard Law School considered a similar move.  With Stanford’s announcement, rumors have swirled that Harvard had already or would soon adopt a modified pass/fail system of its own.  Officials at the school deny that such a decision has been made but acknowledge that the topic is under discussion.

“Many law schools, including Harvard, are looking at ways to simplify grading.  We’re not at all surprised by Stanford’s decision,” said Michael Armini, assistant dean for communications at the law school.

Especially as I deal with my own school's nuanced grading system (and wonder about what students think about our system), I would love to get the comment thread going about what type of grading systems are best for law schools. 

My own sense is that elite schools can and will generally benefit their students by "shifting from the precision of letter grades to broader categories," but that this shift may not be beneficial for students at schools outside the top 20.  The again, if schools and employers develop and make public class rankings even with broader grading categories, these issues may in the end be mostly inconsequential.

Posted by DAB

June 5, 2008 in Legal profession realities and developments | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 15, 2008

A great panel on how law school could/should teach integrity

I am in Boston attending this Harvard Law School event, "A Celebration of Public Interest."  Though all the events have been interesting and informative, this panel I am at right now was worth the price of admission:

How do you teach integrity: What role should law schools play?

Moderator: Jamienne S. Studley '75, President, Public Advocates Inc. (bio)

David Hall '85, Senior Vice President and Provost, Northeastern University (bio)

David A. Hoffman '84, Lecturer, Harvard Law School; Founding Partner, Boston Law Collaborative (bio)

Jeffrey Purcell '84, Senior Attorney, Housing Unit, Greater Boston Legal Services (bio)

Henry (Hank) J. Shea '81, Senior Distinguished Fellow, University of St. Thomas School of Law; Fellow, Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions (bio)

I am writing this post in part because I want to remember to contact all these people in the weeks ahead to see if I can get them to guest-lecture in my courses.  But I also want to encourage others to contact these folks if they are concerned about these issues (and because I am cautiously hopeful all these folks won't mind being contacted by would-be law school innovators).

Posted by DAB

March 15, 2008 in Legal profession realities and developments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 24, 2007

Widening Gulf in Prospects After Law School

The Wall Street Journal offers a sobering front-page story on legal prospects after law school:

For graduates of elite law schools, prospects have never been better. Big law firms this year boosted their starting salaries to as high as $160,000. But the majority of law-school graduates are suffering from a supply-and-demand imbalance that's suppressing pay and job growth. The result: Graduates who don't score at the top of their class are struggling to find well-paying jobs to make payments on law-school debts that can exceed $100,000. Some are taking temporary contract work, reviewing documents for as little as $20 an hour, without benefits. And many are blaming their law schools for failing to warn them about the dark side of the job market.

...Some practice areas have declined in recent years: Personal-injury and medical-malpractice cases have been undercut by state laws limiting class-action suits, out-of-state plaintiffs and payouts on damages. Securities class-action litigation has declined in part because of a buoyant stock market.

On the supply end, more lawyers are entering the work force, thanks in part to the accreditation of new law schools and an influx of applicants after the dot-com implosion earlier this decade. In the 2005-06 academic year, 43,883 Juris Doctor degrees were awarded, up from 37,909 for 2001-02, according to the American Bar Association. Universities are starting up more law schools in part for prestige but also because they are money makers. Costs are low compared with other graduate schools and classrooms can be large. Since 1995, the number of ABA-accredited schools increased by 11%, to 196.

Evidence of a squeezed market among the majority of private lawyers in the U.S., who work as sole practitioners or at small firms, is growing. A survey of about 650 Chicago lawyers published in the 2005 book "Urban Lawyers" found that between 1975 and 1995 the inflation-adjusted average income of the top 25% of earners, generally big-firm lawyers, grew by 22% -- while income for the other 75% actually dropped.

…The news isn't any better for the 14% of new lawyers who go into government or join public-interest firms. Inflation-adjusted starting salaries for graduates who go to work for public-interest firms or the government rose 4% and 8.6%, respectively, between 1994 and 2006, according to the National Association for Law Placement, which aggregates graduate surveys from law schools. That compares with at least an 11% jump in the median family income during the same period, according to the Census Bureau. Graduates who become in-house company lawyers, about 9%, have fared better: Their salaries rose by nearly 14% during the same period.

…Incoming students are "mesmerized by what's happening in big firms, but clueless about what's going on in the bottom half of the profession," says Richard Sander, a law professor at the University of California-Los Angeles who has studied the legal job market....

Nalp_bimodal

At ELSBlog, Bill Henderson has posted a NALP graph that shows a dramatic bimodal distribution of salaries of graduates.

Given the increasing costs of a law school education, it is especially important for students to be told about job prospects. I suspect that websites such as Above the Law, which cover the high end of the legal market with (understandably) breathless "Year end bonus watch" reports on "legendary Kirkland & Ellis bonuses" might mislead many students. At the same time, where one is likely to fall in the distribution depends on a number of factors, including: (1) law school attended; (2) class rank; (3) how well one performs in a job interview; (4) local job market; and (5) determination. The bimodal distribution reflects both first, second, and third tier schools, so it may not be as surprising as it initially seems. This makes it even more important that information about job prospects, by law school attended, should be made available to students.

Active discussion of the issue here on the WSJ's law blog.

Anupam Chander

September 24, 2007 in Legal profession realities and developments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 06, 2007

Proposal: A National (or International?) Pro Bono Clearinghouse

Occasionally, I receive inquiries asking for pro bono advice on legal matters. Given my teaching and scholarly duties, I'm not well-positioned to offer such advice. When appropriate, I steer the inquirers to our legal clinics. For most cases, however, it would be better if I could suggest some kind of pro bono clearinghouse that would take care of the inquiry. One model might be Amazon's MTurk--where people offer and seek services. Such a service would list categories (intellectual property, human rights, children's rights, women's rights, antidiscrimination, community service, etc.), and both suppliers and demanders could make themselves known--perhaps even anonomously on the public site. Perhaps such clearinghouses already exist. A quick web search reveals local clearinghouses offered by the Richmond and NY bars, but not a national database of the type I'm envisioning here. Perhaps AALS or the ABA might offer such a service? Anupam Chander

July 6, 2007 in Legal profession realities and developments | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 06, 2007

Important data and ideas for would-be innovators

Richard Sander is guest blogging over at Empirical Legal Studies, and his first two posts, which both discuss parts of his empirical research on large law-firm hiring and attrition rates provide much food-for-thought for would-be law school innovators.  Consider:

I am not entire sure what the take-away should be for law schools in light of Sander's various findings.  But I am sure that Sander is continuing to do very important work that all persons thinking about law school reforms ought to contemplate.

June 6, 2007 in Legal profession realities and developments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 17, 2007

Teamwork in law schools

One finding of my recent research is that lawyers are working in larger and more complex teams than ever -- teams that cross national, cultural, and organizational boundaries. My impression -- backed by relatively little data -- is that law schools remain largely individualistic. (Well, I have some data -- the LSSSE study reports that 88% of law students do not frequently work together with other students on projects during class).

I believe that law schools should promote and develop teamwork skills among students as part of the preparation they provide for practice. Business schools make this an explicit focus of both their teaching and pedagogy. I can think of supporting team development in at least three different ways:

  1. Explicit team-building, e.g. classes (whether credit or extracurricular) that teach teamwork, leadership, etc.
  2. "Hidden curriculum," e.g. orienting day-to-day classwork around teams of students working together to achieve goals. This could take place in traditional classes, clinical programs, or official/quasi-official activities like law journals.
  3. Organic grassroots, e.g. study groups and student interest organizations.

Some of the specific team-related skills students will need to have as practicing attorneys include:

How important is teamwork to your teaching and your goals? Are you using teamwork in the classes you teach? What other opportunities do you see for doing so? When is it appropriate and when is it not? Are you confident that you can manage a team-centered class and support the process (e.g. providing resources to resolve team conflicts)?

-- Gene Koo

April 17, 2007 in Legal profession realities and developments, Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

April 03, 2007

Law students seeking to change the profession

Peter Lattman at the WSJ Law Blog has this report on an intriguing student effort to reform the legal profession.  Here are the basics:

Last night, Stanford Law’s Andrew Canter and Craig Holt Segall — along with roughly 125 students from the nation’s top law schools — emailed hiring partners and recruiting coordinators at the AmLaw 100 law firms.  Their new organization, Law Students Building a Better Legal Profession, wants the country’s biggest law firms to sign-on to principles espousing a saner work environment for lawyers.

“We are writing as a group of over 100 law students to propose a change in the way we all experience our profession,” the email begins. “We are working to ensuring that practicing law does not mean giving up a commitment to family, community, and dedicated service to clients.”

Here is the letter sent to law firms, the group’s principles, its findings of fact and its new Web site. The group’s principles revolve around four themes:

  1. Making concrete steps towards a transactional billing system;
  2. Reducing maximum billable hour expectations for partnership;
  3. Implementing balanced hours policies that work; and
  4. Making work expectations clear.

The group asks the firms to commit to the group’s principles.  Prior to the fall interviewing season, it will let law students know which law firms have and haven’t signed on. The group isn’t going so far as to blackball firms that don’t sign-on; rather, the principles are “an aspirational state we want the law firms to commit moving towards,” explains Segall.

To get its message out, the group has conducted presentations at Stanford, Boalt, NYU, and Yale. “We believe that law students have the market power to address key issues in the legal profession that associates no longer feel they can influence,” says Canter.

Here’s the kicker: The group wants less money. This is a labor movement asking for a smaller paycheck.  “We recognize that changes in work structures come with an economic cost, and we are willing to be paid less in exchange for a better working life,” the group says.

Does this effort seem comparable to the adventure of a snowball headed toward hell, or do you think this movement could have a chance of making an impact?

Posted by DAB

April 3, 2007 in Legal profession realities and developments | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack