Advocates for Starving Advocates

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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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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Cut Classes, Cut 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


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



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.