Advocates for Starving Advocates

Northeastern’s NuLawLab Creates Scores of Legal Jobs

NuLawLab Creating Jobs
INNOVATIVE DESIGN THINKERS IMAGINE EMPLOYMENT FOR THOUSANDS

The Northeastern University School of Law’s innovative research facility, NuLawLab, announced Tuesday that revolutionary design-thought technology has yielded significant advances and created thousands of jobs — or what it calls NuJobs — for new attorneys.

“The NuLawLab applies a variety of structured creative processes to bring together solutions that are desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable,” said Luke Bierman, NUSL’s outgoing Associate Dean of Experiential Education. “So, using our innovative design thinking, we intuited that the students at NUSL, from their point of view as humans, desired post-graduate employment.”

NuLawLab Creating Jobs

An NuLawLab technician demonstrates how the program uses design thinking to create NuJobs.

 

What long proved an insurmountable challenge for the NuLawLab was developing a means of employing NUSL students in a manner both technologically feasible and economically viable.

“We designed some thoughts on that, and we thought some designs,” Bierman said. “And that’s when we pushed the boundaries of design thinking to ‘Design Building.’ We built the designs we thought right inside my mind.”

Indeed, in a report issued Tuesday to the American Bar Association and the US Department of Labor, NuLawLab outlined how it intends to host thousands of NuJobs in Associate Dean Bierman’s mind.

“With the future of the legal industry moving into the cloud, we concluded through a series of Design Thinking experiments that human labor should follow commerce in that direction,” the report says. “Carrying out this conclusion to its natural end, we constructed a cloud inside the mind of Associate Dean Luke Bierman. In Bierman’s Head Cloud, Northeastern Law graduates immediately enter fulfilling, rewarding and well-paying jobs as soon as they receive their JDs. It’s truly extraordinary what is happening in this man’s head.”

NUSL Associate Dean Luke Bierman showing off the places where he does his best work — his mind and his white board.

NUSL Associate Dean Luke Bierman showing off the places where he does his best work — his mind and his white board.

The report goes on to outline a pseudo-digital currency that NuLawLab has innovated to compensate attorneys employed in NuJobs.

“This is where design thinking really showed us something,” Bierman said. “What we’ve design-thought here is a virtual currency, akin to Bitcoin, but far more advanced, because it will only ever exist in the minds of the people who trade in it.”

NuLawLab’s NuJobs revelation follows more good news for NUSL. The law school recently announced its latest ABA-mandated employment statistics, and, according to Bierman, the school had within nine months of graduation placed 324 out of 203 graduates from the Class of 2013 in full-time, long-term legal jobs. The data further shows that 714 of those students found employment with a former co-op employer.

Of course, current NUSL students were overjoyed Tuesday with the revelation that jobs existing only in Associate Dean Bierman’s head would alleviate their fears about grueling job searches and overbearing student loans.

“Wow, I have to say, I totally underestimated that LawLab thing,” said second-year NUSL student Christina Andersen. “It always seemed to me that it was just like a jargon machine, where some guy sat in a room curating stories about other schools’ innovations and a web site that parroted back buzzwords from TED Talks and 99% Invisible. Clearly, I was way off.”

NUSL Dean Jeremy Paul commended the NuLawLab on its breakthrough, saying he was envious of Elon University, the law school powerhouse that managed to snag Associate Dean Bierman away from Boston. Dean Paul said he intended to ask Associate Dean Bierman to think-design him “a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent,” before he left for North Carolina.

Dave Brown is a Boston Business Lawyer and founding partner of Boston MicroLaw, LLP. As a 2012 graduate of NUSL, he too is in awe of the cloud in Luke Bierman’s head.

 

VOTE FOR JUSTICE!

JusticeBridge

JusticeBridgeAN INNOVATIVE PROJECT NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT

The Justice Bridge Project is being recognized for its innovative incubator model, and with the help your vote, it could take home a coveted prize.

The project, which is building a solo- and small-practice attorney incubator to help new lawyers provide quality legal services to low- and middle-income clients, has been nominated for an Innovating Justice Award by the Hague Institute for the Internationalization of the Law (HiiL). The award includes prize money that could provide crucial financial support for Justice Bridge. The competition is currently in its “public support,” round, which means Justice Bridge needs your vote to advance to the next round. Everyone is eligible to vote, and may vote by CLICKING HERE.

Justice Bridge, a project developed by Northeastern University School of Law Professor Deborah Ramirez, has received endorsements or support from the Boston Bar Association, the Massachusetts Bar Association, and a vast cross-section of the Boston legal community that includes current and retired judges and distinguished partners from some of the city’s most prominent law firms. The project needs a relatively small amount of funding to move forward with its launch, and the Innovating Justice Award would provide a large portion of the launch budget.

Hungry Hungry Lawyers believes this project is key to the future of the legal industry. By mentoring new lawyers, giving them work, experience and other crucial resources, Justice Bridge is an ahead-of-its time incubator that will help develop genuine community lawyers. By expanding legal services to the middle- and lower-middle class, Justice Bridge will not only create new markets to bolster employment for a generation of lawyers struggling to find jobs, it will also provide advocates for an abundance of working-class clients who are struggling to find lawyers. SO, CLICK HERE AND VOTE!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Brown is a founding partner of Boston MicroLaw, LLP, a firm of Boston Business Lawyers. He is now going to click here and vote.

MY LAW SCHOOL IS LYING (Part II): Why is Northeastern Law’s Administration Lying to Itself

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NORTHEASTERN ADMINISTRATORS ARE DELUDING THEMSELVES INTO A DANGEROUS COMPLACENCY

This is the second post in a two-part series. It focuses on NUSL’s administration, which is lying to itself about the troubles of the legal industry. Part I focuses on the Northeastern University School of Law’s manipulation of job data to promote its co-op program.

“In spite of the numbers, things aren’t really that bad.” — Northeastern University School of Law Associate Dean Luke Bierman assessing the job market for new lawyers, February 4, 2013

“The job market for prospective lawyers is even bleaker than the law school employment outcome data … would appear to suggest,” American Bar Association Journal, April 1, 2013

“Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.” — The Honorable Judge Judy

As applications to NUSL’s JD program have dropped considerably this year (reflective of a national trend), Northeastern’s credibility is likewise diminishing. Consider that the program recently drew two red flags from the watchdogs at Law School Transparency for failure to comply with ABA job-data reporting standards. Meanwhile, as its placement rate plummets, the school’s relatively new Dean, Jeremy Paul, is bizarrely increasing its class size. In short, this will make it more difficult to raise the placement rate, increasing the likelihood that Northeastern will drop in the U.S. News & World Report rankings (again) and the quality of its candidates will almost certainly suffer as a result.

Paul’s decision to increase class size (effectively a short-sighted cash grab), seems bound to plunge the school into a downward cycle of decreasing placement rate, decreasing rankings and less interest from top-notch applicants. While it’s rare for someone to choose NUSL over Harvard, it’s not unheard of. If Paul manages his remaining time at Northeastern as he has his first year, that rarity will become myth.

What’s sad is that I believe NUSL is a good law school that has developed a corrosive truth problem. Northeastern law students are probably the happiest in Boston. The practical education experience is still far ahead of the field at a time when this type of curricula is vital to the future of the legal industry. I haven’t spoken to one unemployed NUSL grad who regrets their decision to attend the program. So, why can’t NUSL promote itself without lying?

I believe the problem starts with the powers that be. In my personal experiences with NUSL administrators, I have come away with the impression that they are hiding the truth from themselves and lack the urgency to address this problem. Here’s a great example: During a meeting at NUSL on February 4 to discuss potential solutions to the job-market problem, I heard the aforementioned NUSL Associate Dean Luke Bierman say this in front of students, faculty and alumni: “In spite of the numbers, things aren’t really that bad.”

From my perspective this statement seemed conspicuously out of touch, on par with John McCain’s campaign-killing pronouncement in the Fall of 2008 that the fundamentals of the American economy were strong. What followed in this meeting was a heated discussion between myself and Associate Dean Bierman in which I asserted to him that things are actually worse than the numbers indicate. Not better. When I admitted that yes, in fact, there are more than zero students from the Class of 2012 who had found jobs, Bierman seemed more than content that he, the co-op program and NUSL were doing their jobs to the utmost satisfaction.

Not long after that exchange, on March 29, the ABA released its employment data for the class of 2012, showing that NUSL’s placement rate had dropped more than 10 points and is now nearly 12 percent below the national average. On April 1, the watchdog group Law School Transparency backed up my position that the market is worse than the the data indicates. “The job market for prospective lawyers is even bleaker than the law school employment outcome data … would appear to suggest,” ABA Journal wrote in its summary of LST’s analysis.

To his credit, before departing the meeting, Bierman apologized, saying he was sorry if any of his remarks were “insensitive.” To his discredit, it was not a lack of sensitivity that bothered me. Luke Bierman was not insensitive. He was out of touch with reality. If Bierman and Paul think that a one-in-five shot of landing a job with a co-op employer is “working” or that the market is somehow better than the numbers indicate, then they are woefully misguided and possibly delusional. The more NUSL lies to itself and others about the reality of the situation, the less incentive the institution will have to correct these problems. With no sense of reality and no sense of urgency, I would venture to say that this head-in-the-sand/optimistic spin strategy — at a time when applications have dropped by nearly 25 percent — is a threat to the long-term health of NUSL. And that’s a shame.

Worse is that NUSL has irons in the fire, but is doing everything it can to snuff out that fire. The school has, for example, publicly touted its in-development Justice Bridge program, an incubator for new attorneys launching solo and small practices that would aim to serve clients of modest means. This is a program that Boston Bar Association President J.D. Smeallie recently praised and other groups have endorsed. It is also a program for which Paul and Bierman — behind closed doors and out of the public eye — demonstrate no genuine support.

While it is publicly preferable to be in favor of a novel program that would help disadvantaged and working-class clients while addressing this job program, NUSL’s administration is privately euthanizing it. As much as I would hope I am wrong about this (and all apologies to Mr. Paul and Mr. Bierman if that is the case), the school has taken no action that would indicate otherwise. I have personally witnessed Associate Dean Bierman’s Justice Bridge tap dance over the course of the last nine months. He gleefully takes credit for the initiative whenever possible in public. Behind closed doors, however, he downplays the viability of the program to students and faculty doing all he can to smother enthusiasm and keep himself from binding NUSL to some kind of expectation that this this will get done and that it will be a success.

All that stands between Justice Bridge and open doors is seed money. And not a lot of seed money. Nonetheless, where is Dean Paul when it comes to raising this money? Where is Associate Dean Bierman? Based on what I know and after sifting through a series of misinformation and outright lies stemming from the Northeastern University School of Law, I can only assign credibility to one thing that I’ve heard Mr. Bierman say. I genuinely believe that he is unaware of how bad things are in this job market.

Otherwise, I would have to conclude that he does not care.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Brown is a founding partner of Boston MicroLaw, LLP. He would encourage anyone who disagrees with Luke Bierman’s assessment of the job market for new lawyers to e-mail Mr. Bierman at l.bierman@neu.edu. Perhaps this would be a good opportunity for you to educate Mr. Bierman on the state of the job market by sharing your personal story about searching for employment.

MY LAW SCHOOL IS LYING (Part I): Why is Northeastern Lying to Us About Its Co-Op Program?

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NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY IS MANIPULATING THE FACTS ABOUT ITS CO-OP PROGRAM

This is the first post in a two-part series. Part I focuses on the Northeastern University School of Law’s manipulation of job data to promote its co-op program. Part II focuses on NUSL’s administration, which is lying to itself.

And verily I was taught by my law school: Thou Shalt Not Lie.

The Northeastern University School of Law first introduced me to the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Although I do not remember all of those rules verbatim, ABA Model Rule 8.4(c) is one that tends to stick in the old hippocampus: “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to: … engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” Simple. Clear cut. Don’t lie. Don’t deceive. Not even a little. Ever.

Disclaimer: The rules of professional conduct are not applicable to law-school marketing.

NUSL — a school that excels in practical education — has provided us with an excellent practical demonstration of the credibility gap law schools have slumped into. On its career services web site, NUSL proudly boasts of its co-operative education program: “Co-op is working: 48% of our graduates with full-time legal jobs accepted a position with a former co-op employer.” This claim falls under the heading, “Class of 2012 Highlights,” as if Northeastern’s placement record for the Class of 2012 somehow warrants highlights. In fact, Northeastern’s Class of 2012 fared far worse on the job market than graduates from many other schools. According to stats released by the American Bar Association, 56.2 percent of 2012 grads had acquired full-time, long-term jobs that required bar passage within nine months of graduation. Only 43 percent of NUSL grads had jobs in that category.

Brief note for those uninitiated with NUSL’s co-operative education program: Northeastern students are required to complete four externships — or “co-ops” — in the legal field as part of the school’s JD program. This is a unique program in legal education, and in my opinion an exceptional educational experience. Northeastern, however, is misleading prospective students to believe that its co-op program gives them a better chance of landing post-graduate employment. The numbers show that this is simply not true.

Until recently, the claim on Northeastern’s career services page was an outright lie. It has since been edited into a merely deceptive white lie. A fellow 2012 grad told me that career services originally boasted, “Co-op is working: 48% of graduates accepted a full-time position with a former co-op employer.” This claim did not add up. Remember, ABA job data says that only 43 percent of 2012 Northeastern grads found full-time work in the legal field. If only 43 percent have full-time jobs, how could 48 percent have been hired by former co-op employers?

This fellow grad reported to me that he e-mailed NUSL’s Luke Bierman, the Associate Dean of Experiential Education, to point out the mathematical impossibility of the claim. The site was promptly edited to reflect the current version of the statement. In other words, NUSL softened its lie.

With the help of two qualifiers, we are now told that 48 percent of grads who found full-time, legal jobs were hired by former co-op employers, which is technically true. But the number is nonetheless presented as part of a statistical slight of hand to support the fundamentally false claim that “co-op is working,” when it comes to placing graduates in legal jobs. 

I would posit that most prospective law students are not informed enough on the minutia of ABA job-reporting statistics to parse this statement properly. It’s more likely that many of the would-be applicants reading it perceive that because “48 percent of graduates who found full-time legal jobs,” did so with former co-op employers that they too will have a 50-50 shot at landing a post-grad job as a result of co-op alone. Of course, it was not remotely close to 48 percent who found full-time legal jobs. In fact, it’s only 48 percent of 43 percent. Working backwards from these percentages, roughly 44 grads from a class of 215 found full-time jobs with their co-op employers (about 20.4 percent). Yet Northeastern is sending prospective students this message: If you come to Northeastern, the co-op program by itself will give you a 50-50 chance at a job (implicitly suggesting your job prospects are better at NUSL than they are elsewhere). Or as the law school asserts, “Co-op is working.”

False. Co-op is not working. At least not for the purpose of improving job placement.

As I move through the NUSL web site, I continue to stumble on other numbers that do not hold up under scrutiny. On its “Careers” page, NUSL makes another dubious claim about co-op employment success: “In fact, co-op experiences do more than prepare you for the job market — they often lead directly to a job offer. On average, almost 40 percent of Northeastern law students accept post-graduate employment offers with a former co-op employer.”

Right now, about one in five grads lands a job with a former co-op employer. Does that really qualify as “often?” And what does that 40 percent stat mean? An average of what? The last five years? All-time? Without further qualification this is a purposely vague number and it’s meaningless.

Let’s look at the data another way. Consider that EVERY Northeastern grad is required to do four co-ops. That means the Class of 2012 performed an estimated 860 co-ops. Only 44 of those led to full-time jobs. That means 0.05 percent of co-ops actually led to a full-time job. To be fair, the 44 grads who accepted full-time jobs could only take ONE job. So, let’s not consider the other three co-ops those 44 grads performed, (so, remove 132 co-ops from our analysis for the sake of fairness). If we throw those out, we get an adjusted success rate of 0.06 percent (44 jobs out of 728 opportunities). As I see it, if the program were just 25 percent successful at connecting students with jobs, NUSL would have a 100 percent employment rate.

Co-op is not working. Northeastern knows these numbers better than anybody and cannot with good conscience promote this claim that the co-op program is a panacea for the job crisis plaguing new lawyers.

A NOTE ABOUT THE NUSL CO-OP PROGRAM

Given my statements on the success of the co-op program as a job provider, I feel compelled to explain that I do in fact hold the program in high regard. As much as I believe in, support and herald the co-op program as an innovative and fundamentally necessary endeavor in legal education, I recognize that it cannot help Northeastern students land jobs that do not exist. Is co-op “working?” Yes, but not in the way NUSL is trying to tell us it’s working.

I’ll use my wife, Mimi Brown, as an example. Mimi, who graduated with me in 2012, has a passion for food policy, which is a hyperniche area of law. It’s genuinely difficult to find lawyers and legal organizations (outside of the FDA) who are working on the issues Mimi cares about. Nonetheless, Mimi’s co-op experience reveals the breadth and strength of NUSL’s co-op network. Among her four co-ops, she worked for a government public-health organization, a non-profit food policy lobbyist and a think tank monitoring the corporate advertising practices of major food corporations (she also spent a term working for a state appeals court judge).

What’s better is that her experience was valuable experience. She drafted a petition to the FDA. She worked on a project that led McDonald’s to shut down a web campaign targeting children. When I discussed this with a partner in a well-known Boston firm, he was blown away. This partner, a BC grad who was only nominally familiar with the co-op program, was impressed that NUSL could accommodate the career aspirations of someone with such unique ambitions. So, if you ask me whether the co-op program is working, I would affirm that it absolutely is when it comes to educating students in the law.

This is why I’m genuinely aggravated that my school would play this shell game with the truth. The co-op program is not, as NUSL is trying to suggest on its web site, immune to the crumbling job market. But it is an exemplary program that’s building better lawyers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Brown is a Boston Business Lawyer and a founding partner of Boston MicroLaw, LLP. He would advise Northeastern to promote its strengths rather than lie about its weaknesses.

THE BRIDGE TO SOMEWHERE?

Justice Bridge Brochure 6-2

NORTHEASTERN’S JUSTICE BRIDGE AIMS TO SPAN THE EMPLOYMENT AND JUSTICE GAPS

We have two dire problems in the legal industry that would seem to add up to one obvious solution. Consider:

PROBLEM 1: THE JUSTICE GAP. This is an ever-growing trend of middle- and low-income consumers struggling to afford attorneys in a market where legal fees have grown out of their reach. This issue is particularly troublesome for people who make too much money to qualify for pro bono legal aid. As a result, pro se representation has skyrocketed in civil courts. In Massachusetts, for example, the Supreme Judicial Court recently cited stats showing that 75 percent of people who appear in the Family & Probate Court and in the Housing Court do so without an attorney.

• PROBLEM 2: THE EMPLOYMENT GAP: Only 54.9 percent of the JD Class of 2012 found full-time jobs in the legal field within nine months of graduation, continuing a trend that has effectively left the odds of full-time legal employment roughly equivalent to a coin flop for grads of ABA-accredited schools. Meanwhile, that 2012 class was apparently the largest law school class the ABA has on record. As has been documented on this blog (and pretty much everywhere else), firms have dramatically cut back on hiring junior associates, putting many newly minted JDs in the position to consider working in document mills or seeking safer harbors in other professions.

Clients who can’t find attorneys. Attorneys who can’t find clients. Sounds like we could pair off the lonely clients with the lonely attorneys and call it a day. Unfortunately, connecting these dots has proven a significant challenge for the motivated sector of the legal community trying to address these problems. The tricky part is providing fresh-out-of-school, barely licensed lawyers with the resources, mentoring and financial support necessary to help them develop into seasoned attorneys who can make a difference. To this point, it seems the best way to bring new lawyers together with the clients who need them is through legal incubator and residency programs.

Such programs, typically organized and funded by law schools and bar associations have become increasingly popular over the last year but the trend is effectively in its infancy.

If this trend catches on, it has the potential to deliver benefits to all sectors of the legal community. Law schools with dwindling application rates will be able to demonstrate a new pathway to practice: Specifically by training new attorneys to serve the underserved market stranded in the Justice Gap. Likewise, new attorneys will find new employment alternatives, clients of modest means will find a new source of legal aid. Even large firms will benefit, with such incubator and residency programs serving as a training ground for lawyers who aren’t getting such mentoring right now.

On the night of this post’s publication (June 4, 2013), the Northeastern University School of Law will demonstrate Justice Bridge to the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Access to Justice Section Council. The proposed incubator is called, “Justice Bridge: The Northeastern University School of Law’s Practice Incubator and Legal Access Center. Careful readers may have spotted a story about Justice Bridge in Mass. Lawyer’s Weekly back in April (subscription required).

Justice Bridge Brochure 6-2

As it happens, I’m a person with some first-hand knowledge of the Justice Bridge project because I’ve been working as a fellow to the project’s NUSL Faculty Liaison Deborah Ramirez and its presumptive Executive Director Len Zandrow since October of last year. Ramirez and Zandrow will give tonight’s presentation at the MBA (where they will distribute this Justice Bridge Brochure). I’m going to share some observations here, right now.

Modeled on some of the early adopters of the incubator/residency trend, such as this program at CUNY, Justice Bridge is aiming to take the model a step further by building a network that draws the legal community together. The program intends to draw on retired judges and attorneys and also currently active practitioners to help develop new lawyers working in the incubator. These incubator attorneys, who would likely be required to form their own small or solo firms will be trained in practice management (with program applicants required to submit business plans), augmenting a two-year curriculum in lawyering skills modeled on similar curricula employed by large firms. The idea is to produce attorneys who are ready for work in large firms, but could also run their own practices if they so choose.

As its building new lawyers by brining together various segments of the legal community, Justice Bridge also hopes to affiliate itself with community organizations to attract clients and syphon off the overload of cases that pro bono legal organizations can’t handle. Likewise, it would aim to identify certain fee-shifting cases and refer them to more experienced attorneys who might want to take them.

While there is an intriguing business model in place that would help the new attorneys earn income and Justice Bridge to become self-sufficient, I will leave that for interested parties to discover later on (in other words, I don’t know if I’m really allowed to talk about that right now). But suffice it to say, getting a program like this off the ground will depend on help not only from Northeastern but from other benefactors. So, generous law firms and partners, consider this when it comes time to offset taxes with charity: For a mere five-figure contribution, you can help develop new lawyers (i.e. future employees) while assisting struggling citizens to access justice. Sounds like wins all around.

If things go according to plan, Justice Bridge could become operational any day now (project overseer and NUSL Associate Dean of Experiential Education Luke Bierman said it would launch within a month in the Lawyers’ Weekly Article that was published on April 4, exactly two months ago). Anyway, let’s all give Luke Bierman a shoutout and tell him how excited we are about Justice Bridge. Because without Justice Bridge and the emergence of more programs like Justice Bridge, the future of the legal industry looks progressively bleak.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Brown is a Boston Business Lawyer and a founding partner of Boston MicroLaw, LLP. He graduated from NUSL in 2012, and swears he is NOT pulling your leg about this Justice Bridge project, like he did that one time about another promising Justice Gap solution.

 

UPDATE: DLA Piper is NOT hiring 400 New Lawyers

Puffer Legal — No!
Puffer Legal — No!SORRY, WE WERE APRIL FOOLING

It is our sad duty to inform you that DLA Piper, widely considered the world’s largest law firm, is not hiring 400 junior associates to staff a new division called “Puffer Legal.” Further, to the best of our knowledge, Piper is not in the midst of developing a new wing to deliver quality legal services to middle-class clients (which is too bad).

As many careful readers probably discerned for themselves, our post about Piper’s impending hiring binge was an April Fool’s Day prank. We sincerely hope that we didn’t toy with anyone’s emotions or stir false hopes about the future of the legal industry. If you’re a new attorney who read our story and rushed a resume to Piper HR, then we’re sorry we put you to such trouble. However, we’re nonetheless glad that you did send that resume, because we think Piper should see it, and we hope they hire you anyway. In fact, everyone go ahead and send Piper a resume, even if the firm has no public plans to hire a glut of junior associates. The world’s largest law firm should know that all of you exist.

We have received surprisingly little outrage (basically none) in response to this story, which we believe means one of two things: 1. Most readers followed our trail of breadcrumbs and discerned for themselves that this was indeed a joke and granted us immunity under the terms of April Fool’s Treaty. 2. Most people haven’t sorted this out yet and a wave of outrage is forthcoming.

In the event that outrage is indeed on its way, we hope you’ll consider the intentions behind “Puffer Legal.” First, we felt like poking a little fun at Piper, an organization that has brought some negative attention to the legal industry recently. Second, we wanted to use some fiction to show a little truth. Our hope was to make Puffer Legal sound as plausible as possible, because even though that firm is fictional, the Justice Gap problem is very real. And at the same time people are struggling to find affordable lawyers, 10.6 percent of the JD Class of 2012 is still unemployed. And only 54.9 percent have full-time (long-term) legal jobs. In our view, these numbers alone make a compelling case for a market-based solution to the Justice Gap. Puffer Legal is one embodiment of how something like that might work.

If nothing else we hope we incepted this idea into the minds of many readers, so that perhaps in the near future there will be law firms delivering affordable legal services to people who are struggling to access justice.

Although we bow to the skill and wit that pulled off “Google Nose” and “YouTube Shutdown,” we had fun participating in the April Fool’s Day festivities this year and we’re glad to see that some people enjoyed it. Although one new attorney remarked, “This is either very exciting or an incredibly well-thought out April Fools prank for which no one will ever forgive you,” we also had a favorable response from a partner in a Boston firm, who said, “When I got to the managing partner’s quote, you knocked ‘Google Smell’ off the top of my favorites list so far this year (and I can tell you, as the parent of two school-age kids, we take April 1 pretty seriously).”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Brown is a Boston Business Lawyer, and a founding partner of Boston MicroLaw, LLP. He is also an experienced prankster who once convinced his Entertainment Law professor that Vincent Chase was a Northeastern Law student enrolled in that professor’s class.

 

DLA PIPER ANNOUNCES HIRING BINGE TO STAFF NEW DIVISION

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MEGA-FIRM TO SIGN HUNDREDS OF JUNIOR ASSOCIATES FOR NEW DISCOUNT-SERVICES WING

DLA Piper, generally considered the world’s largest law firm, is apparently growing. On Monday, Piper announced plans to launch a new wing aimed at attracting middle-class clients with more-competitive fees, and said it will sign up more than 400 recent law-school graduates. PufferLogo

With large law firms still struggling to find stability in an era of economic uncertainty, a Piper spokesman said this new wing, branded as “Puffer Legal” is designed to reach a growing, untapped market of potential clients. A pilot version of the new brand will launch this fall in 10 American cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston, with an aim to bring affordable services to clients who can’t pay hundreds of dollars an hour for a lawyer, but also make too much money to qualify for legal aid and pro-bono services.

“Based on our research, the legal needs of the middle-class client are going unmet,”  Piper spokeswoman Michaela Figurrito said in a press release. “Courts in many states report a growing trend of pro se litigants appearing in civil matters. That’s a clear sign to us that the American justice system is struggling to deliver equal justice under the rule of law, and that a key stone in the search for revenue has been left unturned for too long.”

According to Piper’s press materials, the launch of Puffer Legal will mark an “exploratory mission” aimed at finding a new frontier in the legal market.” Piper believes that a firm charging between $50-150 per hour will be able to meet the needs the middle-class clients, and could mark a new dynamic in the legal business model, “akin to the entry of budget airlines like Southwest and JetBlue into the air travel market.”

Of course with lower fees will come significant cost reduction. The 400-plus new associates will likely start with a base salary of $50,000 per year in addition to a portion of any hours they bill. Likewise, the attorneys will operate in budget office space with fewer amenities and no expense accounts. What Puffer is missing in bells and whistles, it will apparently make up for with top-notch training. Puffer’s new junior attorneys will work under the guidance of experienced Piper lawyers to hone skills and ensure the quality of their product.

“In addition to this Justice Gap problem, we’ve seen a troubling trend of unhired JD recipients flooding the market, because the value of junior associates has significantly diminished in recent years, ” Figurrito said. “The fortuitous side effect of this revenue-seeking endeavor is that it will allow us to hire, train and develop new lawyers who might otherwise have lost out on such an apprenticeship at a crucial juncture of their young careers while restoring that lost value.”

Piper, the recent recipient of some well-deserved bad press, should be commended here for a progressive, ambitious venture. This would appear to be a market-based solution addressing the Justice Gap and the Hiring Gap in the same shot. It’s good to know that someone at Piper is figuring out how to pad the company’s annual $2.25 billion in revenue without padding client’s bills (you know, allegedly). If successful, this endeavor would send a ripple effect through the industry, buoying law schools struggling to fill seats and even rendering this blog moot by greatly reducing the volume of unfed attorneys.

Piper’s global co-chairman Tony Angel hailed his firm’s move partly as a sound business decision and partly as something more. Angel, speaking from a UN camp in Mberra, Mauritania, where he is volunteering both his time and money to assit Taureg refugees displaced by the Malian civil war, said his firm is paying something back to its profession.

“As human beings and as attorneys, we have both a moral and professional responsibility to protect the integrity of the American justice system,” Angel said via satellite phone while administering standard tuberculosis tests to a group of pre-school aged Taureg children. “We can’t stand around profiteering while so many average men and women go without access to legal guidance in civil disputes. This solution is kind of a no-brainer. We felt not doing something like this would be unconscionable. Besides if you can’t make money charging $50-150 hour for legal services, then maybe you shouldn’t be in the business of making money.”

Piper’s other global co-chair, Lee I. Miller, could not be reached for comment as he is in Afghanistan overseeing a project  to create schools for Afghani girls who have demonstrated interest in math and science.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Brown is a founding partner of Boston MicroLaw, LLP, a firm of Boston Business Lawyers, and an occasional purveyor of mischief. His favorite first amendment case is Hustler Magazine v. Falwell. He’s sad that Puffer Legal will only exist on the calends of April, but if Piper wants to get something going, he’ll be among the first to write about it. Also, he did some math and hiring 400 lawyers at $50,000 per year would cost Piper less than 1 percent of its annual revenue. And, no, the good parts of this story are not true.

DIARY OF A MAD LAWYER, EPISODE II: The Upside Down Soul Crisis

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THE STORY OF A RESPONSIBLE, PRACTICAL PLUNGE INTO CRIPPLING DEBT

This was supposed to be a responsible, grown-up maneuver. As my 20s petered out, I gazed forward into life and determined that smart adults do not chase inconsistently fulfilling careers in unstable industries. I further reasoned that life as a newsman made little financial or practical sense and whatever joys I was able to mine from the newspaper business could be replaced by freelance work supplemental to a stable occupation. Besides, good money — by which I mean the kind that allows you to read by electric light and feed your offspring — is no certainty if you’re the type of person who wants to do news well. Given that I’d been sitting on a solid, three-digit LSAT score for a few years, I concluded that the legal profession would be a wise, reasonable move. Something that Bill Cosby would have advised his children to do on The Cosby Show. Right?

At this juncture of my life, I had but one shimmering, invaluable possession: My soul. It was a good soul. Though crushed on a few occasions and dented on many more, it always bounced back. It was strong and uncorrupted by greed or avarice. At times, I feel I maintained my soul’s value at the expense of my career. For example, I often observed fellow sports reporters taking logical shortcuts to produce bombastic fictions that delighted unsuspecting readers. Or, I saw them sidestep all acceptable reporting standards to publish libelous, admittedly false stories and then get promoted. In the fall of 2008, I saw Boston media fixture Michael Felger badger Randy Moss with leading questions, refusing to let a semi-diplomatic Moss get an answer out of his mouth until Moss eventually just relented and said, that, yes Bernard Pollard’s hit on Tom Brady was “dirty,” thereby manufacturing a mini-controversy which Felger could report as “news.” This was the kind of line-crossing behavior that some of my colleagues traded in every day to get ahead, and I wasn’t up for it. So, yes, I had built considerable equity in my soul, and nothing else. If I was going to part with it, it couldn’t be in the course of making journalism. You can’t really be a sellout and an honest journalist at the same time, but I think we can all agree that one can be both a sellout and an honest lawyer at the same time. Therefore, I decided to flip my soul for a career in law.

At this point in the story, it’s important to clarify that although I do not currently own my soul, I have not quite been able to sell it. I mortgaged it to the federal government. As most Hungry Hungry Readers are aware, the legal profession has significant entry barriers, none more time-consuming and costly than the juris doctorate. To finance my JD, I needed bundles of cash, and I borrowed that through federal loans that are now coming due. It will be quite difficult to repay my debt without committing myself to a sellout legal career, so there is little chance that I will retake ownership of that soul any time in the foreseeable future. I don’t see defaulting as a viable alternative, given that Obama has drones.

Like many of my colleagues from The Class of 2012, I had the unfortunate experience of listing my soul in a buyer’s market. It turns out that the Economic Meltdown of 2008, in which millions of bad mortgages tore a hole through the American economy, rippled its way through the legal industry, exposing the poor business management of lawyers who cashed in their souls ages ago. Sensing danger, the reptillian brain of the legal industry sought to save its scaly hide by  dramatically decreasing the hiring of new associates, resulting in the devaluation of many mortgaged souls, such as mine.

Here’s the short of it: I now owe more on my soul than it’s actually worth. In mortgage parlance, my soul is upside down.

To be clear, I do not tell you this in a plea for sympathy, but rather to relate an interesting quandary that is now a common tale among thousands of newly minted lawyers. We sought to better our lives through education and did so at a considerable expense that has not yet paid off and by all appearances will not likely pay off for some time. Like many people who put equity into their homes hoping with good intentions to flip them for a piece of the American Dream, we find ourselves in many cases worse off, at least financially. There is a strong feeling among many of us that we did the thing we were supposed to do and as a result of someone else’s screwup, we’ve been played for suckers while the screw-ups still draw paychecks.

That said, I also don’t feel like those screw-ups owe me anything. The first semester of law school is almost entirely about fault and loss allocation. Based on what I learned there, I would say that no one who failed me owed me a duty, at least not an actionable legal duty. Perhaps some colleagues in my situation might see that differently, but I didn’t need law school to know that I was taking a risk when I signed up for oodles of government loans. Any endeavor that requires a signature is a game of chance, at least to some degree.

Based on my research of underwater mortgages, there are three ways out of this situation. The first is short selling. Taking less than fair value for my soul. For example, I could work in a document mill or hustle SSA applicants, but in those scenarios, I don’t believe I would be developing the skills necessary to capture the full potential of my sellout move in the long run. The fact is, I spent a lot of time building equity in that soul, and I want full value for it. Bart Simpson once sold his soul for $5 and wound up rudderless and empty. Then again, his father sold one for a donut and maybe that didn’t turn out so bad.

Nonetheless, I am left with two options to deal with my underwater soul: Bail or bail. In other words, I can free my soul from debt by bailing one figurative bucket of water at a time or I could abandon ship. How the latter option works in my case, I have no idea, but vacant homes across the nation demonstrate that abandonment is one way out of an upside down mortgage. In this scenario, I imagine that many new attorneys could slip off the grid and roam the countryside pursuing their own brand of justice while staying one step ahead of the government’s loan-collection attack drones. Not me, though. I believe in buckets. One client at at time. One paycheck at a time. Until everything is right side up. It’s a chore, but chores build character, and character builds soul equity.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Brown is a founding partner of Boston MicroLaw, LLP, a firm of Boston Business Lawyers. He’s enjoyed his share of forbidden donuts.

Northeastern Law > Harvard Law? Validating an ATL Poll

ABOVE THE LAW POLL SHOWS NUSL TO BE ‘THE MOST WICKED AWESOME’ LAW SCHOOL IN BOSTON

Above the Law posted results yesterday of its tragically named student poll, “Which is the Most Wicked Awesome Law School in Boston?” 1 As Northeastern Law grads, the people behind Hungry Hungry Lawyers felt this poll was worthy of some examination. Don’t get me wrong, we have strong, positive feelings for NUSL, but if it’s better than Harvard, then we’d like our Supreme Court appointments now, please.

How is it that Northeastern dominated these rankings? Well, ATL used a student-satisfaction methodology, asking students how they felt about various aspects of the student experience. On the one hand, this doesn’t offer the top-down, third-party analysis based on objective factors that you get from something like U.S. News & World Report, but it might measure one of the most important factors students consider in choosing a school: How happy are current students with the product? And Northeastern students are typically happy with the product, as this poll reflects. Then again, it seems to us based on the results the poll is skewed by the unique perspectives of the different kinds of students answering the survey questions. Let’s consider:

Quality of Faculty and Academic Instruction (ratings are on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 4):

1. Northeastern (3.67)
2. Boston University Law (3.64)
3. Harvard (3.60)
4. Boston College Law (3.56)
5. Suffolk University Law (3.18)

So, yes Northeastern students tend to think their teachers are more up to snuff. This makes sense, because classes at Northeastern tend to be geared toward public-interest topics that NUSL students greatly value (except for the visiting prof. “Environment/Global Justice” debacle from the summer of 2011). That doesn’t necessarily mean the teachers are “better quality” than professors at other schools (for the record, some are great, others are good and then some less so), but they are typically excellent at serving their audience.

Also, let’s consider that Boston University students are — unequivocally and without exception — smug, self-satisfied and disappointed they didn’t get into BC. Therefore these respondents are more inclined to save face and overrate the institution that begrudgingly welcomed them after its first picks chose to attend BC. Even if every BU Law class were taught by Karl Childers, BU Law students would rate the faculty at nothing less than a 3.64.

The Terriers go so far as to rank their professors above those at Harvard, which can’t possibly be true. Of course, the perspective of Harvard students is skewed by the fact that they are smart enough to know when their professors are full of shit. It probably doesn’t happen often, but every teacher at one time or another is totally making it up as they go along, and the Crimson students are on top of that and therefore more reluctant to give their faculty perfect scores.

Finally, it doesn’t seem fair to Suffolk professors that they must be rated by Suffolk students. Many Suffolk students suffer from a Napoleonic complex, which is the natural result of attending law school in this market. As a result of this complex, they tend to perceive their professors as substandard — and, to some degree, the only thing holding them back from world domination. Therefore, their poor faculty took a beating in this poll.

Practical and Clinical Training:

1. Northeastern (3.92)
2. Suffolk University Law (3.24)
3. Harvard (3.20)
4. Boston University Law (3.12)
5. Boston College Law (2.93)

Northeastern and Suffolk are the only schools on this list really invested in practical and clinical training, and their students won’t shut up about it, so this result is no surprise. Harvard gets a pass here for being Harvard, but the fact that BC and BU students rank their programs so low in practical ed (which is vastly more important than traditional legal schooling), shows how vastly the law schools rankings overrate these programs.

Career Counseling and Job Search Help:

1. Harvard (3.34)
2. Northeastern (3.17)
3. Boston University Law (2.92)
4. Boston College Law (2.48)
5. Suffolk University Law (2.47)

Shockingly, Harvard students are satisfied with their job prospects. Career services counselors aren’t magicians, they’re only as good number of jobs available and the quality of the applicants chasing them. That BC, BU and Suffolk all rate their career services below a 3.0 would indicate to me that students in those schools are suffering in a weak market.

Social Life:

1. Boston College Law (3.62)
2. Northeastern (3.58)
3. Harvard (3.22)
4. Suffolk University Law (3.13)
5. Boston University Law (3.04)

At first, I thought this was total nonsense there’s no way BC students like their lives more than my colleagues at Northeastern. But then I remembered that NUSL’s Student Bar Association just books events at Conor Larkin’s every week. And that’s just about the worst bar in Boston, which is saying a lot. No whiskey, bad food, no space to move and abundant roaches. The woefully misinformed undergrads think its cool. It’s a train wreck, and not in a good way like Punter’s Pub, appropriately located across from Museum of Fine Arts. Now I’m wondering why the Huskies even ranked themselves this high.

No idea how it’s possible that Suffolk students are having more fun than the kids at BU, an institution you think would benefit from the abundant social opportunity in that neighborhood. Then again, Suffolk is right next to the Beantown Pub, home of the Paul Revere, which is a delicious sandwich. Delicious sandwich wins.

Overall Rating:

1. Northeastern (3.45)
2. Harvard (3.27)
3. Boston University Law (3.17)
4. Boston College Law (3.07)
5. Suffolk University Law (2.88)

There you have it, Northeastern wins law school. Huskies, let’s break out the Knob Creek, and get one of those old-fashioned NUSL-style parties brewin’. Or let’s just all go over to Conor’s. That’s fine. The whiskey is on me!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Brown is a Boston Business Lawyer and co-founder of Boston MicroLaw, LLP. He’s so glad now that he didn’t get into Harvard.

Notes:

  1. Ten percent of Boston readers chuckled at that title, and the rest of us groaned in unison and then politely acknowledged that, yes, some people here frequently use the expression, “wicked awesome,” typically to describe something that is the opposite of a “wicked pissah.” Then we pahked, got out of the cah, and apparently enjoyed them apples just like Matt Damon in that movie while baking beans and pretending that Dustin Pedroia isn’t a total douche who we’d all hate viscerally if he didn’t play for the Sawx. Ha ha, Boston!

DIARY OF A MAD LAWYER, EPISODE I: Epilogue of a Mad Journalist

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THE LEGAL INDUSTRY IS CRUMBLING, DON’T PANIC, I’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE

In a previous life, I watched the newspaper industry implode from the inside. Those of you familiar with demolition will note that this is the most dangerous vantage point from which to observe an implosion. It’s also the most advantageous, if your goal is to learn about implosions.

As the rubble of so much news print came tumbling around my shoulders in the decade between 1998 and 2008, I observed quite a bit. Particularly about what happens when people stop paying for the things they used to. Examples: Advertising; Newspaper Subscriptions. In response to the gradual (and then sudden) depletion of money, the newspaper industry stopped paying for news. Why not? Everyone else was doing it. By this, I mean that newspapers significantly scaled back their investment in their own industry. They stopped hiring new people. They gave the old people more to do. They started paying the old people less. As a result, the quality of the product suffered and no one really reads newspapers anymore. Yes, many newspapers have web sites. Some of them are now exclusively web sites. But with a few exceptions, the online product is hardly the informational juggernaut and profit machine that newspapers were at their peak. Before the Internet came along and complicated everything with its simplicity, newspapers were an insane bargain, in many cases delivering more than 100 pages of relevant information every day for no more than 50 cents. That product doesn’t exist any more.

I know this, because I chased an ambitious dream for most of my 20s. The idea was to write about professional sports for newspapers and get money for that. I followed that idea to the Super Bowl, the World Series and many other exciting and dangerous places. I went to Indianapolis more times than any New Englander is supposed to enjoy that city (which is either two or three, Indy is nice but it gets old quick). For reasons that still remain unclear to me, I lived in the mountains of North Carolina for two years. But I got to cover Panthers games and they give you free Krispy Kreme at those, so it all worked out. Nonetheless, I came to the conclusion that this chase would almost certainly kill me (either mentally or physically) in a span of 10 years or less. At the time I weighed circa 280 pounds, ate take-out food every day and almost never slept. A coworker and friend of mine died in his 40s just a few months before my last day. So, I did the objectively responsible thing and went to law school.

That was not supposed to be a punchline, but it totally is. I recently explained to a partner in a big Boston law firm that I had left journalism for law school. He laughed. “You sold out, and there are no jobs,” he said.

“That’s about right,” I replied.

“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha,” he continued. Also, he didn’t know of anyone who was hiring, but gosh, my background in journalism would sure increase my theoretical value to a firm engaged in content review if anyone were paying for that anymore.

And this is where the second act of my life starts to feel like an uninspired re-hash of the first. It seems the more skills I acquire, the less valuable those skills become. The state of the legal industry and that of the newspaper industry have forced me to spend considerable time examining each of these disasters. In both cases I’ve concluded the people in charge of these industries have proven themselves woefully inadequate at perceiving and solving the problems that threaten their businesses. People will always want information, so information-gathering skills are actually useful. People will always have legal problems, so legal services will always have value. How is it then that the people at the top of these industries have allowed the value of their products to wither and nearly die?

In short, the newspaper industry collapsed because no one got the right people in a room to figure out how to deal with the Internet. If I tell you that I can remove your two biggest material costs — paper and ink — you should figure out how to make that into good news, not a crippling catastrophe. I will argue that no one had more incentive and resources to develop social media platforms with the force and presence of Facebook and Twitter than the newspaper industry. But where established media should have driven social media, the opposite is now true.

As far as the legal industry goes, this is an implosion I’ve lived through before. People stopped paying for things. In particular, the economic meltdown of 2008 forced corporate clients to review their spending practices and they realized, oh yes, we’re not going to pay big firms to train junior associates any more. No problem, if clients weren’t going to pay to build new lawyers, then why should the firms? Also, many of the people who had been climbing the ladder to partner watched the ladder crumble beneath them. How did BigLaw respond? It stopped investing in itself. Mark my words, as I have been to this rodeo before: When your answer to decreased revenue is to stop investing in the quality of your product, you have chosen the wrong answer.

As a member of the Northeastern University School of Law Class of 2012, I am part of what will be known as a Lost Generation in the legal industry. The Big Firms significantly scaled back their investment in their own industry. They stopped hiring us and they stopped training us. When they need us, we won’t be there. And then they’ll be in a pickle. With so many of my colleagues toiling in part-time, temp and contract work, I determined that the best course of action for a person in my shoes is to respond to destructive forces with constructive energy. If the legal industry does not value me, I will value myself. So, I found a partner and we formed a new law firm. We’ll locate the market that Big Firms are ignoring. We’ll improve the delivery of legal services. We’ll do it cheaper, but we won’t deplete the quality of the product — or deprive ourselves of a generation of attorneys to do it.

As a veteran and inside observer of industrial demolition, I can tell you, the building is coming down. I’m not going to watch this one from the inside. I’m not going to watch it at all. Speaking from experience, I feel confident in this assertion: When the building starts to bend and sway, it’s time to construct another building. While BigLaw crumbles, I’ll be building something else.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Brown is a Boston Business Lawyer, and a founding partner of Boston MicroLaw, LLP. He’s tired of dodging debris from falling industries.