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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.

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.

 

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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BC Law Dean Thinks It’s Time to Inform Naive Undergrads

SCREAMING EAGLE: Vincent Rougeau, Dean of BC Law, says it's time to inform undergrads on the realities of law school.

BUT MANAGING EXPECTATIONS WILL NOT MAKE A BETTER LAW SCHOOL

SCREAMING EAGLE: Vincent Rougeau, Dean of BC Law, says it's time to inform undergrads on the realities of law school.

SCREAMING EAGLE: Vincent Rougeau, Dean of BC Law, says it’s time to inform undergrads on the realities of law school.

The condescending notion that prospective law students need to be educated on “reality” in order to “fix law school” is uttered far too frequently. Vincent Rougeau, Dean of Boston College Law School, promoted this red herring in his recent U.S. News & World Report article, “Four Ways to Fix Law School.” His ideas to mend the system include more hands-on learning and exposure to international law in law school, more post-graduation partnerships with employers for recent graduates, and the radical idea that prospective law students should be told what they’re getting into. Those first three ideas are important  and indeed many schools have moved or are moving toward similar innovations. But the last idea is misguided, narrowly focused and even dangerous.

Rougeau mistakenly assumes that law students don’t know what they’re getting into. Puzzling, since this same group of people are often characterized as intelligent, diligent, and thorough. Certainly they possess the ingenuity and cleverness to investigate law schools and weigh their options. One hopes that they had the common sense to do so prior to making the commitment. As long as the information offered by schools is accurate, open, honest, and reflective of actual realities instead of manipulated to boost a school’s rankings, prospective law students will be able to make the determination for themselves.

He also shares the mistaken belief that law students think that the degree entitles them to a six-figure salary post-graduation, and that this is what drives them to attend law school. Firstly, not all law students elect to attend for the money. Reasons vary, and law schools should be ready to accommodate students regardless of motivation. Secondly, those who do attend for the big payday don’t believe that the J.D. is an automatic ticket to it. They strive and compete for grades and internships to position themselves for those lucrative jobs. While many of those have dried up, try convincing someone who wants to go to law school to make a lot of money not to do so because they won’t be the one to land that six-figure job.

The idea irresponsibly draws attention away from real reforms that law students and recent graduates need most. Measures that will help students and recent grads with mounting debt, shrinking salaries, and fewer job prospects. While Rougeau correctly points out that law schools must add programs that enhance students’ practical skills and job prospects, he neglects to address the other half of the equation. Namely, what law schools need to subtract in order to meet the needs of students. For instance, nowhere in his article does he mention costs or inflated tuition (BC charged $43,170 in 2012-2013). Without a discussion of costs, a law school’s commitment to real reform can’t be taken seriously. This doesn’t just mean freezing tuition, it means lowering it. It means fewer school facilities with unnecessary bells and whistles. It means a two-year program option. And it means either lowering salaries of administrators and professors, or demanding more from them to justify those salaries. If law students need to be educated about the realities of law school and their prospects thereafter, administrators and professors need a lesson about the realities of a 40 hour work week and merit-based salary scale.

The argument that efforts to fix law school must include lowering expectations of law students is nonsensical. Schools must improve the product, not manage the expectations of the customer.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jon Cohen is a founding partner of Boston MicroLaw, LLP, a firm of small business attorneys in Boston, and a recent graduate of the Northeastern University School of Law. He swears he researched the average annual salary for an entry-level attorney before he entered law school.

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Cut Classes, Cut Costs

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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.