Advocates for Starving Advocates

Law Schools’ Struggle With Counting Continues

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WATCHDOG SAYS SCHOOLS FAIL TO MEET ABA REQUIREMENTS ON REPORTING JOB DATA

The long-term battle between legal educators and counting remains unresolved according to the watchdogs at Law School Transparency. Counting, the action of finding the number of elements in a finite set of objects, has long plagued law schools, particularly when it comes to finding the number graduates from each school who have found jobs in the legal field. This task once befuddled law schools to such a degree that they would count, say, a waiter at Applebee’s as pretty much a lawyer almost. Recognizing that counting can be quite difficult, the American Bar Association issued specific guidelines in 2012 to ensure that no Applebee’s waiter would ever again be asked to deliver a motion for discovery with that riblet basket.

As simple and specific as the ABA guidelines may be, schools are apparently still struggling to get it right based on a comprehensive review of data posted on the web sites of 199 ABA schools provided by the non-profit counting aces at Law School Transparency. The report is quite good, and we recommend you follow that link in the previous sentence to check it out. LST was founded in 2009 by then-Vanderbilt law students, which begs the question: Is reviewing law-job data a law job? (Seriously, someone in Vanderbilt’s career services department would love to know, so they check the right box on that now-mandated ABA form).

Anyway, LST reviewed the data from the Class of 2011 (the first to fall under ABA guidelines), and its report throws up red flags when schools fall short in reporting their methodology, fail to post required data to their web site or report incomplete information. In summarizing its findings, LST said exactly what we were thinking: “There has been much ado about the improved accreditation standards, but the improvements are meaningless without compliance and enforcement.”

Thankfully, someone has the time and inclination to review this data, which is difficult, because as former law students, the proprietors of Law School Transparency were almost certainly smothered in riblet sauce after pulling many double shifts at the ‘Bees.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Brown is a founding partner of Boston MicroLaw, LLP, and recently started blogging about Small Business Formation in Boston. His Applebee’s application was dismissed with prejudice. 

Five Hot Tips to Help New Lawyers Thrive in a Down Economy

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Things have been rough for new attorneys this year. Lately, it may seem like the system was built to keep us in a perpetual state of unemployment. Hungry Hungry Lawyers has scoured the web for news stories to help perk up your spirits and has developed these tips to guide you on the path to success.

1. GIVE UP

It has become notoriously difficult to find a job in a down market flooded with new attorneys competing for every position. However, progressive game theorists at Nebraska University have devised a unique workaround to this problem: Don’t be a new lawyer. This is a fantastic strategy. You can’t struggle to find a job that you are not looking for. So, stop looking for it.  Pow, struggle over. The theory seems solid. If you are no longer a lawyer, then you cannot be an unemployed lawyer, which is basically the same thing as being an employed lawyer. So, stop being a lawyer. It’s as good as getting a job.

In fact, the two-moves-ahead-of-us Cornhuskers at NU are so enthusiastic about the prospects of non-lawyers that they advise people to start not being attorneys before they go to law school. Apparently law school is hard. And expensive. So, why pay to be an unemployed lawyer when you can be a non-lawyer for free?  If you’ve already been to law school, no problem. Just edit the experience off your resume. The good news is that if you remain unemployed long enough, the student loan collectors will come and take your license. And then you’ll be an officially non-certified non-attorney.

2. WAIT UNTIL LAW FIRMS LET YOU WORK FOR LESS

The legal job crisis is largely the fault of new attorneys. Why? Because we make too much money. This is why law firms cannot afford to hire us. In fact, I’m always explaining to my student loan officer that the reason I can’t make this month’s payment is that I’m grossly overpaid and consequently unemployed. Realizing the salary burden generated by unemployed lawyers, the Dean of Rutgers Law School-Newark, John J. Farmer, Jr., has proposed that we give law firms a break. Specifically, if we start calling new lawyers “residents” and “apprentices,” then law firms will give those people less money = problem solved. Once law firms agree to stop paying us so much, then we won’t be making too much money and the law firms can hire us.

3. BE LESS USELESS

According to a scientific poll of one 3L at a law school in Cincinnati, new attorneys can’t do anything. This self-described useless law student makes a point. If new lawyers learned to do a thing, or perhaps many things, then perhaps law firms could afford to pay them the exorbitant salaries that currently stand as a bar to employment. This is why we recommend that law schools start doing two things: 1. Prepare students for the real world. 2. Develop some kind of post-graduate residency program to cultivate those practical real-world skills after graduation. New lawyers — those who received their J.D.s last May — will particularly benefit from this kind of program once they’ve re-enrolled in school and completed it in 2016. Some new lawyers may not be excited about this “do-over,” but just because you studied law for three years doesn’t mean your school taught you anything. Serves you right for learning wrong.

4. DON’T PANIC!

Some smart guy blogging over at Harvard Law is a bit unnerved by all this jittery law-school reform talk, and he’s absolutely right. With 25 percent fewer people wanting to be new lawyers, the legal academy is in an uproar. In the afore-linked blog post, Scott Burris, who is a professor at Temple Law, makes a good point: Just because the world is going to hell, and none of us have jobs or the skills to perform the jobs we don’t have, that doesn’t mean that students should stop paying for three years of law school. Burris writes that there are lots of important things that law schools should start teaching students. They just shouldn’t stop teaching all the stuff that 3Ls in Cincinnati now tell us are useless (Editor’s Note: Mr. Burris has responded to this post in the comments below, and believes his position has been mischaracterized). Likewise, John Thies, President of the Illinois State Bar Association, points out that just because law school needs to change doesn’t mean that us new attorneys should graduate with anything less than $150,000 in student loans. Thies, who argues that law-school debt of this magnitude is “unsustainable,” also agrees that we shouldn’t do too much to disrupt the system that has sustained that debt for decades. Long story short, don’t panic or disrupt the status quo. Just wait until the tables have turned, you’re an experienced attorney and it’s your job to not hire overpaid, underskilled new attorneys. Or maybe become a law professor, there seems to plenty of money in that.

5. WANT TO BE EMPLOYED MORE

According to experienced Boston attorney Gabriel Cheong, the only thing standing between you and success is “Drive.” Cheong defines Drive as “the desire to succeed,” and calls it, “the only thing that makes us successful.” (Also, P!nk songs are involved somehow, but as new attorneys, we lack the experience to understand that part.) Based on Cheong’s Drive Doctrine, it’s clear that if you find yourself unemployed, this is not a result of a lousy economy or the simple arithmetic that shows more applicants than jobs, but rather your own failure to want to be employed more. If you’re unemployed, you lack drive. The solution: Just acquire some bootstraps and hoist yourself up by them. It’s also plausible that you have drive, but your drive is not to be employed. Perhaps you are unemployed because you had a greater desire to succeed at not getting hired. Which means you’ve unwittingly manifested your greatest desires. Congrats, friend.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Brown is a founding partner of Boston MicroLaw, LLP, a practice of small business attorneys and business formation lawyers located in Boston, MA. He used to think Drive was a Ryan Gosling Movie, but now he believes Drive is the Secret To My Success, which is a Michael J. Fox movie.

Why ‘The Atlantic’ Is Only Half Right About the Legal Job Market

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AND HOW IT SPREADS A FAULTY PERCEPTION ABOUT THE DEMAND FOR NEW ATTORNEYS

It’s hard to blame The Atlantic for reaching what would appear a perfectly logical conclusion: That an abundance of unemployed attorneys signals a diminished need for new lawyers. If only this were true.

In an article published earlier this week, business writer Jordan Weissmann points to plummeting law school admissions — down 24 percent over the last two years — as a solution to the glut of jobless lawyers flooding the market: “The last thing the economy needs is thousands of additional J.D.s sitting around with no work and $125,000 of grad-school debt hovering over them.” Weissmann goes on to suggest that a decline in new lawyers, which he describes as a “correction” will help restore “sanity” to the job market. Again, this is perfectly logical, but it’s also incorrect and it’s indicative of a widespread misperception of what’s really happening in the legal industry.

There is a faulty perception among misinformed observers the legal services market that suggests the sharp, large-firm hiring freeze correlates to a lack of demand for legal services. And while Weissmann does a commendable job explaining how large firms lost the need for new associates, he appears misguided about the true need for more lawyers. Contrary to what Weissmann is reporting here, the need for attorneys is actually quite significant, and the industry’s failure to meet this need has bloomed into a major problem threatening the integrity of the American justice system. The fact is, middle-class Americans need lawyers and the large-firm business model has made them nearly inaccessible. Meanwhile thousands of new graduates are unemployed, but lack the resources to serve the untapped middle-class market.

The most significant issue affecting the legal market is not an oversupply of service providers, but  rather an abandonment of the middle-class consumer. Most middle-class clients can’t afford $200-300 per hour for legal services, but also make too much money to qualify for pro bono assistance. This leaves many people who need legal services trapped in a position to represent themselves on a pro se basis. The problem is so bad that in 2011, the World Justice Project ranked the United States 11th out of 11 high-income countries in providing access to justice. In 2012, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court took note of the problem in its state, reporting a growing trend of self-representation in the Commonwealth’s trial courts, with 75 percent of parties in both the Housing Court and the Family & Probate Court appearing on a pro se basis. Meanwhile, new attorneys have been cast off by large firms to cut costs, so there lies a resource of licensed legal service providers who don’t know how the first thing about running a legal practice or representing the people who need them.

Gillian K. Hadfield, professor of law and economics at the University of Southern California told the New York Times last month that the problem is not an abundance of lawyers. “We have a significant mismatch between demand and supply. It’s not a problem of producing too many lawyers. Actually, we have an exploding demand for both ordinary folk lawyers and big corporate ones.”

While Weissmann suggests the legal market is suffering from a simple supply and demand problem, the real issue at play is the absence of a mechanism that would connect attorneys with a market that desperately needs them. The solution to the so-called Justice Gap and the so-called Employment Gap is one in the same: Pair underemployed attorneys with underserved middle-class clients. Last year, former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey said it’s imperative that law schools train law students in practice management and that experienced attorneys volunteer as mentors to help a new generation of lawyers extend services to the middle class.

“Ironically, while thousands of new law graduates fret about the chronic joblessness that awaits them, tens of millions of Americans need attorneys but cannot afford them,” Coffey wrote. “And much of the unmet need rests in America’s middle class, which is neither rich enough to pay $250 an hour for lawyers nor poor enough to qualify for legal aid organizations.”

Weissmann’s incomplete analysis suggests that winnowing the supply of attorneys  will restore order. This ignores the reality that the economics of the legal industry have changed permanently. Even in a strong economy, it’s not likely that corporate clients will resume paying for junior associates now that they know they don’t have to. Meanwhile, the wait-and-see approach would continue to expand the Justice Gap and leave an unserved market in the lurch. The fact is that a reduction in law-school applicants, as Weissman suggests, is not the jolt of adrenaline that will shake the job market back to life. Instead, it will take an industry-wide commitment to change, encompassing law schools and large firms, to meet the need for legal services with people trained to provide them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Brown is a founding partner of Boston MicroLaw, LLP, a firm of small business attorneys in Boston, dedicated to meeting the small-business needs of middle-class clients. He also served as a Northeastern University School of Law Legal Fellow researching potential solutions to the Justice Gap and the Employment Gap, so reading J.H. Weissmann’s article made him just a little sad.

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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.