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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?

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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).

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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.

 

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.

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.

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.

Information? Please!

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CONSIDERING THE VALUE OF INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS IN THE CURRENT LEGAL MARKET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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