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Monday, October 17, 2011

Yet another reason for law students to develop some serious skills while in law school.

There's a trend toward clients not paying for the work done by first-year associates, on the theory that clients shouldn't be paying for training.  See this Wall Street Journal story (here).

Now, whether that's "fair" for clients to do isn't the issue.  Clients get to control what they will and won't pay for--at least unless absolutely no lawyers agree to absorb the costs of first-year training (and there will always be some lawyers who will agree to zero-out all first-year or summer associate time).  The fact is, if you're a law student, you need to be figuring out how to differentiate yourself from everyone else, and that means building up the skills that you can provide to your eventual employer(s).

But how do you do that if you can't find a job?  Yep, that's the problem.  Volunteering might not work because not all legal employers will take volunteers (due to insurance concerns or staffing concerns).  But there are two things that you can, and should, do during law school to increase the odds that someone will find your skills valuable.
  1. Extern.  (Or intern, or whatever your school calls working for someone who's doing some sort of legal work.)  Even though you have to pay for the privilege by paying tuition, there's no better way to see what's out there in the real world than working for someone.  At the very least, you'll become a better researcher and writer by externing.
  2. Participate in a clinic.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, is better than "live client" experience.  You'll learn both about the "hard skills" (drafting, negotiating, arguing in court) and the "soft skills" (listening, "reading" people, figuring out unspoken needs and motives) that lawyers use all the time.
We could bemoan the changes in legal practice today, or we can adapt to them.  I suggest adapting.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Read these two articles together.

See here (Florida's governor says that he'd rather fund educational disciplines that lead to jobs) with Brian Tamanaha's post on Balkinization (here) about how wildly misleading some law schools' employment numbers are.  Then get nervous.  Are law schools becoming educational dinosaurs?  Should they become dinosaurs?

Monday, September 26, 2011

What do you do when you don't like a judge's ruling?

Pick one:

1.  You say:  "Thank you, your honor."  Then you think about filing an appeal, if one's appropriate.
2.  You file a pleading that says, among other things:  "It is sad when a man of your intellectual ability cannot get it right when your own record does not support your half-baked findings."

Yep.  Someone picked #2.  Bad idea (here).  It was also a bad idea when the same person sent a bottle of wine to the judge to try to deal with the aftermath of the legal wrangling.

My guess--and I don't know this lawyer at all--is that the lawyer started to identify too personally with his client's case.  It's not that difficult to make that step from being your client's advocate to feeling as though your client's case is YOUR case and getting too overwrought when things aren't going your way.

There's a fine line between being an impassioned advocate and being someone who's too wrapped up in the case to be able to depersonalize things.  I remember being a baby lawyer and having a much-more-seasoned lawyer scream at me during a phone call.  I don't remember what the issue was, but I remember asking him why he was yelling at me.  As I explained, "This isn't your problem.  It's your client's problem.  So why are you yelling?"  He calmed down, and we worked well together thereafter.

Again:  the proper response when you disagree with a court's ruling?  "Thank you, your honor."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Good advice for exhausted law students.

In today's Wall Street Journal (here).  Reminds me of the good advice that my buddy Sarah Weddington gives--about putting your own oxygen mask on first (here).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A few thoughts on the New York Times article about the cost of legal education.

David Segal's article, Law School Economics:  Ka-Ching! (here), is a must-read for a variety of reasons.  First off, any potential law student who has not yet gotten the message that it's important to research schools to make sure that the fit and the job prospects are right for his or her needs is a student who's either too rich to care or too cavalier to be a good lawyer.  It's become really costly to go to law school "because you can't decide what you want to be when you grow up."  (Is law school good training for a lot of fields?  You bet.  Do you want to go into six-figure hock because you'll get good training?  Um....)

But there's more going on in this article.  I have a lot of respect for Rick Matasar, New York Law School's current dean.  I believe that he's one of the few deans in the country who's willing to question the current model of legal education.

The article questions the link between Rick's beliefs and his ability to effect change.  But as I've said before (here), deans can't change law schools all by themselves.  The principle of faculty governance means that the really important decisions (e.g., admissions, curriculum, faculty hiring) are shared between the administration and faculty; and although the budget is an administrative prerogative, I've yet to meet a law professor (me included) who wants to take a serious salary cut to make law school more affordable for students.

Want a nice building?  It'll cost you.
Want really talented faculty and staff members?  It'll cost you.
Want enough staff to help you with your studies and help you find a job?  It'll cost you.
Want the ability to prove yourself, even though your predictors* suggest that you might not fit this career?  You're going to have to prove yourself at a school willing to take a chance on you, which means it's going to have to have a large enough budget to diversify the risks of students dropping out after the first year.

Be realistic. Law school tuitions aren't going down, and for many people, they're simply unaffordable--especially when you link the cost of law school to the likelihood of repaying law school loans, which are virtually always nondischargeable in bankruptcy.

What does this mean for you when you're choosing a school?  You might want to listen to Bill Henderson & Andy Morriss.  They've suggested looking at lower-cost options (here).  That would mean that you should (1) pay attention to the amount that you'll be spending on law school after you take any scholarships into account, and (2) consider state law schools.**

Do the math.  Do I think that law school makes sense for a lot of people?  Sure.  But the students I want are those who have thought the economics of going to law school through thoroughly first. 

* And in case you think that I'm a predictor snob, I'm reasonably certain that I had the lowest LSAT in my first-year class.  It's possible to overcome your predictors.

** Of course, as the states reduce their subsidies of law schools, more of those schools are considering going to a private financing model (here).  So much for affordable tuition.

UPDATE (7/19/11), from my very smart friend George Connelly, Jr. (and his firm picture does NOT do him justice):  
Two comments.  First, as to having to pay the best teachers, I pointed out that, 40 yrs ago, I can think of several with tenure (2 with endowed chairs) who had no interest in teaching or, for that matter, contact with students, while some who aspired to teach did not have the gene (and probably could not have gotten it with gene therapy).  If that is what our law students today are being charged for, it is highway robbery.

Second, about burgeoning student loans for law students:  law schools ought to guarantee at least part of them, to have skin in the game, and in that event the placement (aka career "services") offices might feel pressure to help secure jobs for students below the top 10%.

Thanks, George:  my favorite teachers, at Rice and at Stanford, were both (1) really, really good scholars and (2) teachers who cared enough about their students to work hard at teaching well.  It's possible that imprinting establishes teaching ability, to some extent.  Law professors who, as students, had professors who were inspired teachers as well as scholars (Jack Friedenthal, Bob Weisberg, and Larry Temkin all come to mind for me) are more likely to spend time honing their teaching.  The other factor, of course, is that people will do what their employers reward, so if law schools don't factor in teaching for things like promotions and raises, the ball game's over as far as spending time on teaching is concerned.  As for skin in the game, I agree that it's important, and one way to keep skin in the game is to crack down on misleading information--if schools can hide their true placement statistics and the most realistic starting salaries, then there's no consequence for misleading people, and schools will focus more on the factors for which they get rewarded (in the rankings, by their universities, etc.). 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Do not go to law school because you want to get rich.

See here.  Very few lawyers get those top-paying jobs, and even fewer of them stay in those jobs for a long time.  Go to law school because you think you might be interested in doing something that a lawyer can do, including but not limited to practicing law.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Should I transfer?

One of NBR's favorite first-years came into her office today to tell her that he'd be transferring to the University of Michigan.  It's fair to say that she was happy for him but sad for everyone else.

Transfers happen, though, and NBR still keeps in touch with students who have transferred.

But should YOU transfer?  Here are some considerations:

1.  Your 1L grades are exceptionally good.
2.  You have specific career goals (for example, becoming a law professor) that are best served by graduation from a school that places many of its graduates in law teaching.*
3.  You hate the school that you're currently attending.
4.  You hate the area of the country in which you're currently living.
5.  You don't mind having your first-year grades changed to "pass" at your new school and at having to apply for activities, such as law review, that would have been automatic at your current school.
6.  You have loved ones who live near your new school, or who are moving there.

Each of these is a decent reason to transfer, and the more of these reasons you have, the more you should consider transferring.

Bad reason to transfer:  the USNWR rankings.  The rankings are decent at separating the very best schools from the ones that have scary bar passage and employment statistics.  They're not great at making fine distinctions among schools that are within, say, 30-40 ranks from each other.

As for NBR's student, she wishes him well and is planning to stay in touch with him.  Go, um, gophers?

* A plug for NBR's school:  it's barely old enough for a bar mitzvah but has already placed several of its graduates in law teaching and administrative positions. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Trying to decide whether to go to law school?

Check this post out (here).  Is law school a good investment?  Yes, for some people; no, for many others.  It's important to think about why you're interested in law school and to do your research before you matriculate at a particular school.

Am I glad I went?  You bet.  But, then, I have the job that my husband calls the "loophole in life."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Yes, that's what we need: more reliance on the numbers during the hiring season.

See this post on TaxProf Blog (here).  I agree with the idea that law students should have plenty of options when it comes to finding jobs, but this system seems to me to undercut the employers' ability to find the diamonds in the rough.

I'm going to bet that every employer that subscribes is going to want "top 10%, Law Review, judicial clerkship" folks.  Those folks don't need a huge amount of help finding jobs--and I think that focusing only on these criteria is causing just that type of mismatch between employer and employee that triggers the attrition in BigLaw associate classes.  These criteria are some indication of talent, but they don't--in and of themselves--indicate a candidate's other necessary abilities for success.  (Well, Law Review, at least, indicates that the candidate can probably research and write well and can work well in a team environment.)

Cutting out the interview stage only makes sense when employers are only asking about "top 10%-ish" information and not asking about those qualities that will lead to success in their particular business environment.  What employers should do instead is figure out what attributes they really need and focus their interviews to learn if a candidate has those attributes in abundance.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Great news for Kindle readers!

We received some good news recently:
Wolters Kluwer Law & Business (Aspen Publishers) has partnered with to sell eBooks via the Kindle platform.   Law School Survival Manual: From LSAT to Bar Exam will be among the first titles to be part of this exciting new opportunity. Through this partnership with Amazon, customers will be able to purchase the Law School Survival Manual via the Kindle Store on the website, directly through the Kindle eReader, and through multiple Kindle applications, including Kindle for iPad, Kindle for iPhone, Kindle for Android, Kindle for PC, Kindle for MAC, and more.
The Kindle version should be up soon.  Enjoy!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

An interesting discussion on choosing law schools.

Over at Above the Law (here).  From our point of view, the best school for you isn't about which one's higher in the rankings.  The best one's the one that will (1) get you to where you want to be, if you know (neither of us knew what we wanted to do with our law degrees when we were choosing among schools); and (2) give you a great education with the least debt load possible.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Before this year's USNWR rankings come out.

Read this post (here) on the Legal Profession Blog by Professors Bill Henderson and Andy Morriss, who are two of my favorite thinkers on the topic of legal education and the profession.  They're right:  if we lie about our employment statistics in order to lure more students to our schools, that's a horrible lesson to teach those students once they realize that they've been hoodwinked (or even if they weren't hoodwinked).  Lying to potential law students opens the door for them to justify letting their clients lie to the public later on in life.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A must-read article from the New York Times about the cost-benefit analysis you need to do before going to law school.

David Segal's article, "Is Law School a Losing Game?", is a must-read for those of you considering law school.  See here.

Part of the reason that you should read this article is to help you realize that you can't rely on many of those nifty numbers in the U.S. News rankings -- particularly the employment statistics.

Here's our favorite part of the article, and not just because it quotes Bill Henderson (although that's a big plus). 

How do law schools depict a feast amid so much famine?

Enron-type accounting standards have become the norm,” says William Henderson of Indiana University, one of many exasperated law professors who are asking the American Bar Association to overhaul the way law schools assess themselves. “Every time I look at this data, I feel dirty.”

I[t] is an open secret, Professor Henderson and others say, that schools finesse survey information in dozens of ways. 

The article also quotes the University of Alabama's Andy Morriss, who points out how easily students can rack up astonishingly awful debt.

We're not saying that you should scratch law school off your list.  We are saying that you should go into law school with your eyes open.