Campbell on Compliance

Compliance is one of the “hot” alternative jobs that law schools are promoting for their graduates. Much of this discussion, unfortunately, pays little heed to the nature of compliance jobs and whether legal education really prepares students to do this work well. The two seem to fit. After all, compliance is all about obeying the law, and JDs know a lot of law. The equation, though, isn’t that simple.

Perspectives:

Compliance at the University of St. Thomas

Joel Nichols, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, sent me some information about his school’s program in Organizational Ethics and Compliance. The program is still heavily centered in the law school, but it includes key collaboration with the university’s Opus College of Business. The program also offers several options to students, including a JD certificate, JD/LLM in Ethics and Compliance (which can be completed in seven semesters), MSL (for students without a JD), and LLM (for those who already hold the JD).

ExamSoft Settlement

A federal judge has tentatively approved settlement of consolidated class action lawsuits brought by July 2014 bar examinees against ExamSoft. The lawsuits arose out of the well known difficulties that test-takers experienced when they tried to upload their essay answers through ExamSoft’s software. I have written about this debacle, and its likely impact on bar scores, several times. For the most recent post in the series, see here.

Looking at this settlement, it’s hard to know what the class representatives were thinking.

The Unhappiest Lawyers

The New York Times recently covered an excellent study by Lawrence Krieger and Ken Sheldon. I wrote about the study, which analyzes lawyer happiness, when it first appeared.

The research finds that “service” lawyers, who work as public defenders, government lawyers, legal aid attorneys, and in-house counsel to nonprofits, are happier than “prestige” lawyers (those who work primarily for firms with 100 or more lawyers). Based on decades of contact with law graduates, that result does not surprise me.

The article and media coverage, however, downplay a finding that is much more important to our graduates, the profession, and potential clients: The unhappiest lawyers are not the prestige ones. Instead, that dubious honor falls to the “other” lawyers, those who work in smaller law firms “in popular practice areas such as general practice, family law, private criminal defense, and many others not typically associated with either very high earnings or primary public service.” (P. 589)

Predictions and the Pace of Change

The consulting firm Altman Weil has been surveying managing partners of mid- to large-sized law firms (those with 50 or more lawyers) annually since 2009. The latest report offers some intriguing perspectives on how attitudes have shifted since 2009. Equally important, the report illustrates how staffing patterns have changed–despite a rebounding legal market.

On the Bar Exam, My Graduates Are Your Graduates

It’s no secret that the qualifications of law students have declined since 2010. As applications fell, schools started dipping further into their applicant pools. LSAT scores offer one measure of this trend. Jerry Organ has summarized changes in those scores for the entering classes of 2010 through 2014. Based on Organ’s data, average LSAT scores for accredited law schools fell:

* 2.3 points at the 75th percentile
* 2.7 points at the median
* 3.4 points at the 25th percentile

Professional Status

I wrote recently about the two hemispheres of law practice. Lawyers view some practice areas (like securities law) as considerably more prestigious than others (like divorce law). This division has several implications for law schools: (1) students prefer schools that will lead to high-prestige practices; (2) schools try to satisfy that preference, both to attract students and to enhance their own intra-professional prestige; (3) schools assiduously avoid any reputation of producing low-status practitioners.

Before exploring these implications in greater depth, let’s examine what factors contribute to status differences in law practice. In other words, what marks a practice area as high status?