Advocates for Starving Advocates

Cut Classes, Cut Costs

Milk

ELIMINATING 3L WOULD HELP STUDENTS MANAGE COSTS

Make Law Schools Earn a Third Year, a thoughtful piece in last week’s New York Times, discussed potential law school reforms that could make life a little easier for their recent graduates. The idea of an option to take the bar exam after two years struck me as a no-brainer while I was studying for the bar this past summer, relearning areas of the law that I’d forgotten since first year, or coming across frequently tested material for the first time. The article’s authors, Daniel B. Rodriguez and Samuel Estreicher, correctly point to the benefits of such a plan, among the most compelling being the reduction of sky-high costs for law students by shaving off a full year’s tuition. Needless to say, the legal world needs more creative innovations like this to help students and recent graduates limit debt.

We all know that tuition and living expenses during law school routinely exceed $60,000. But the expenses for recent graduates and budding attorneys don’t end with a J.D. They continue to add up at a time when access to funding (i.e. student loan payments) begins to dry up. Application fees for the bar exam vary, but most states require recent graduates to pay hundreds of dollars. Then the same graduates regularly drop over $3,000 on bar review courses. If test-takers want to use laptops, the required software can cost more than $100. If someone wants to take two bar exams, say in New York and Massachusetts, that’s two bar application fees, the bar review course (with higher tuition for two-state programs), extra supplemental materials for the additional state, and inexplicably, two payments to the same software company for the same exam-taking software. After successfully passing an exam, active bar membership fees become due. Add to these expenses other costs that are practically essential to new attorneys seeking to establish themselves, such as bar association memberships, research access, and malpractice insurance, and the bill gets pretty high, especially for the 50 percent of recent law graduates who are unemployed out of school. Cutting tuition rates for law school is a key component to any debt-reduction strategy for recent law students. But we shouldn’t forget how quickly that the litany of smaller costs required to start participating in the legal profession add up and impose burdens on the backs of the legal community’s youngest, and most underemployed members.

As Rodriguez and Estreicher point out, making 3L optional would also force schools to make it more attractive if they want to retain enrollment. This could lead to more practical, skills-based coursework for the third year. It would also keep students enrolled and receiving loan payments at a time when that cash flow could help divert the expenses of obtaining a license. It is in these lean months — studying for the bar, unemployed (and essentially unemployable with no license and no free time) — that grads can fall prey to private lenders to help cover living expenses and the cost of bar prep.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jon Cohen is a founding partner of Boston MicroLaw, a firm of small business attorneys in Boston, and a 2012 graduate of the Northeastern University School of Law. Email him at jcohen@bostonmicrolaw.com.

 

Harsh Reply/Job Application to My Shingle’s Caroyln Elefant

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AN OPEN LETTER TO AN EXPERIENCED ATTORNEY WHO PICKS ON EASY TARGETS

Dear, Carolyn Elefant:

My name is David Brown. I am writing as an admirer of your blog, The Shingle, and your dedication to helping solo and small practitioners succeed. However, as an attorney recently admitted to the Massachusetts Bar, I am also writing in defense of new lawyers, whom I believe you criticized unfairly in your recent post, “Open Letter to New Lawyer: You should be dragging me into the 21st century not the other way around.”

For the sake of my readers, I will explain that you took exception with the fact that we lack certain skills necessary to assist a practice like yours. Apparently, we know nothing about RSS feeds, Twitter, Pinterest or YouTube. Also, we don’t even read blogs, never mind write them (how you ever thought we were going to find your open letter remains a mystery to me). As should be apparent by now, I do read blogs. I also write them. I have subscribed to RSS feeds, and I have edited my own videos and posted them to YouTube. Pinterest planned my wedding. (Subtext: Job, Please!) But I will acknowledge that you are right: Many new lawyers are woefully lacking in these kinds of skills and do not understand how social media tools are applicable to running a successful, modern practice.

Here’s the thing: It isn’t their fault.

First of all, we had the gall to seek a job from you because we’re unemployed and we’re asking EVERYBODY. As you may have inferred from the swarms of computer-illiterate JDs stirring at your gates, approximately 50 percent of law school graduates fail to find full-time legal work within nine months of graduation. So, while you’re in the business of finger-pointing, please consider that the bleak state of the job market is far more attributable to your generation than it is to ours. (Frankly, if the attorneys of your generation had developed some appreciation for managing overhead, perhaps we would not be in this predicament. As people young enough to be your children, I think it’s equally unfortunate that we have to scold you about business management, but this is a topic for another blog post on another blog).

What’s genuinely interesting about your open letter is that you express a desire to school us on developing legal work product. “These skills are what I’m willing to teach you,” you said. But you’re not willing to share insight on the non-legal skills that would make us valuable employees, because we’re supposed to know those, because we’re young. “… what I can’t abide is having to teach you how to tweet about current events.  How to set up an RSS feed. How to track and stay on top of news from two or three industry blogs.”

In these statements, you have inadvertently expressed the great disservice your generation is committing in the training of new lawyers. Judging from the material on your blog, I would say that you are not in league with established legal academics resistant to change. But much as you are resistent to teach us about Twitter, law schools have little to no interest in introducing us to the non-legal skills lawyers need. Legal educators want to teach the law, but not the skills necessary to practice it. Some of them are woefully ignorant about the realities of the legal industry. If you want to better understand recent graduates who fail to grasp the technical realities of their generation, you must look to the people who educated them. It hardly seems fair to put the blame on law students for not taking the time to absorb Twitter, for example. In fact, as a recent law-school graduate, I recall that Twitter was gaining its foothold in the collective consciousness during my 1L campaign, a time when many law students feel compelled to disconnect from the collective consciousness. I stick by my decision to prioritize the Mailbox Rule over hashtags (#1Ltunnelvision).

Law students are not particularly deserving of a harsh rebuke for not knowing skills that law schools are doing their stalwart best not to teach. I appreciate your eloquence on this topic, Ms. Elefant, but I would urge you to shift it toward law schools, a more deserving target that really should know better.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Brown is a founding partner of Boston Microlaw, LLP, a practice of small business attorneys in Boston, and a graduate of the Northeastern University School of Law. He once set up a MySpace account all by himself.

Information? Please!

Milk

CONSIDERING THE VALUE OF INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS IN THE CURRENT LEGAL MARKET

A career services counselor is likely to tell you that informational interviews are “essential for an effective job search.” While it’s true that informational interviews can hypothetically help you discover job opportunities that are not publically advertised, it is more likely these days to help you discover that there are no job opportunities, advertised or otherwise. In the months since I graduated last spring, I have had the benefit of many nice conversations with many helpful, experienced attorneys in these informational interviews. While they have been quite clever and supportive in helping me brainstorm to find a job, they have rarely been privy to the kind of concrete leads that could connect me with full-time employment.

Don’t get me wrong – informational interviews are definitely useful and even, as the counselors say, “essential,” but their short-term value lies in utilizing the support of others to generate new and creative approaches to the job market. It leads me to wonder if the time and effort spent seeking out and conversing with employed attorneys is an efficient practice in my jobs search. Of course, nobody can argue with the notion that the more people you know, the more connections you have, the better your odds are of landing a job. I fully agree with this principle. The problem is that as my network grows, job openings have not grown with it.

The legal job market (for those of us not lucky enough to graduate from top-tier law schools) has been tough for a while now – some researchers argue since 2001 – and the recent recession has only exacerbated this. To put this in perspective, consider that over 44,000 students graduated from an accredited law school in 2011, but only a little over a half found full-time legal positions nine months after graduation. And, according to the Executive Director of the National Association for Law Placement, “[t]here is nothing to indicate . . . a likely return to pre-recession employment levels any time in the near future.” To make matters worse, the legal market is overly saturated with new lawyers. Faced with an extremely low employment rate, it’s no surprise that informational interviews no longer promise the hope of a job placement.

Regardless of whether or not you’re certain about the kind of law you would like to practice, sitting down with a seasoned attorney to brainstorm potential avenues to consider is both motivating and inspiring. Getting assistance from a knowledgeable lawyer can guide you towards building a particular skill set if you’re unable to pursue your dream job at the present time.

For example, many attorneys I have spoken to suggest volunteering at non-profit organizations a few days a week, especially if you’re interested in pursuing a career as a public interest attorney. Not only does this show that you are active within your community, it also builds up your resume and may even lead to a paid position within that organization. And you continue to grow your network. This kind of advice has been helpful.

That said, law school career counselors remain habitually loyal to a job-seeking paradigm that does not work in this economy. So, as they continue to push informational interviews as an “essential” part of an effective job search,” the legal market does not bear out this advice. The time for traditional methods of landing a job post-graduation have changed, and law schools should change with it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mimi Brown is a recent graduate of the Northeastern University School of Law. She is seeking a job in food policy, and can be reached at allnaturalattorney@gmail.com

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