Wood R. Foster, Jr., a Minneapolis lawyer and former president of the Minnesota State Bar Association, has written a striking review of recent changes in the legal profession. Foster spent his career as a commercial litigator with Siegel Brill, a small Minneapolis firm. Relatively few lawyers from that background have written about changes in the legal profession, and Foster does so eloquently.
Foster covers the growing surplus of lawyers, which he dates to 2000; fracturing of the profession; stalled diversity efforts; the high cost of legal education; BigLaw and its equally big shadow; and the impact of technology.
With some irony, Foster quotes a column that he wrote in 2000 after holding a series of focus groups with lawyers. “I have found,” he wrote then, “that lawyers are generally reluctant to visualize the profession’s future.” The future, however, arrived anyway. Today, he reflects, “a good argument can be made that the legal profession has changed more in the last 15 years than it did in the 150 years from 1849 to 1999.”
Foster’s views echo those I hear from many practitioners in their 60s and 70s. While academics continue to debate the existence of change, these lawyers have lived it. Their vantage point makes them particularly sympathetic to the newest generation of lawyers. “There really can be no doubt,” Foster concludes, “that it has been a rough ride for lawyers graduating from law school since 2000. . . . [The facts] add up to an unflattering picture of why so many young lawyers are finding it so hard to get the kind of start in their chosen profession that older lawyers like me were able to take for granted during the last half of the twentieth century.”
Give Foster a read. His featured series of articles absorbs much of this issue of Minnesota’s Bench and Bar journal.
Casebooks are shockingly expensive. The latest edition of Stone, Seidman, Sunstein, Tushnet, and Karlan’s Constitutional Law has a list price of $242. It’s even more shocking when you consider where the money goes. Not to pay for the cases and other primary materials that make up most of a casebook’s contents: they’re public domain and free to all. Mostly not to cover printing costs: the paperback edition of The Power Broker (to pick a book with the same word count and heft as a casebook) has a list price of $26, and you can buy it on Amazon for $18. Mostly not to authors: royalty rates are typically 10% to 20%. No, most of that money ends up in the pockets of the casebook publishers and other middlemen in the casebook chain. This is a tax on legal education, sucking money from law students and from the taxpayers underwriting their student loans.
In a perceptive and persuasive recent essay, Choosing a Criminal Procedure Casebook: On Lesser Evils and Free Books, Ben Trachtenberg runs through these numbers and reaches the obvious conclusion: law schools shouldn’t be asking students to shell out the big bucks to read public-domain legal materials. Casebooks should be cheap or free.
Trachtenberg’s preferred solution is that law schools, alone or together, fund the creation of “top-quality casebooks” which could then be made available to students for the cost of printing. Here at Law School Cafe, Kyle McEntee endorsed Trachtenberg’s suggestion and added that “it may make more sense to do this through an external organization funded through grants” to save students even more.
Originally published on Above The Law.
Law students spend between $3,000 and $4,000 on books during law school. For those that borrow, add another $1,000 on the 10-year plan or $2,000 on the 20-year plan. While a drop in the bucket compared to tuition and living expenses, $4,000 to $6,000 for books is not insignificant.
Shaving these costs down to the cost of printing is a common suggestion, but it does not appear to have been done at scale. In a new article in the Saint Louis University Law Journal, Professor Ben Trachtenberg from the University of Missouri School of Law outlines how to actually do it with the goal of encouraging action.
The question is: will it happen?
Dave Hoffman has posted a thoughtful piece about the future of legal education, in which he wonders whether legal educators, law graduates, potential students, and others can have a conversation about legal education rather than a rancorous debate. I think many conversations are already occurring offline, but I’d like to create such a discussion here by exploring a few of Dave’s thoughts in what I hope is a conversational manner.
Dave suggests radically decreasing the regulations that law schools face through the accreditation process, with the hope that this would “enable students to cheaply access the right to take the bar.” I’m with him on some of his principles, which I hope will make our conversation productive, but disagree with his conclusion.
In a recent column, Professor Stephen Davidoff Solomon observes that the legal job market “is a world of haves and have-nots.” With BigLaw firms raising entry-level salaries from $160,000 to $180,000, he concludes, “[t]op law graduates are doing better than ever.” Conversely, “it is clear that it is harder out there for the lower-tier law schools and their graduates.”
I agree with Professor Solomon about the divided nature of our profession; that reality has haunted American lawyers for decades. Solomon, however, significantly overstates the percentage of law graduates who fall within his world of “haves” (those whose salaries recently climbed from $160,000 to $180,000).
Today’s New York Times includes a column by Elizabeth Olson discussing online initiatives by law schools. Elizabeth was kind enough to quote some of my thoughts on this issue. If you’d like to read more about my suggestions, which encourage law schools to adopt a more innovative spirit with online courses, you can do so here. This is an area in which we could do well by doing good–if we’re just courageous enough to break some of our conventional boxes.
Originally published on Above The Law.
Deborah Merritt, a law professor at the Ohio State University, published an informative analysis on her blog yesterday about the new market rate salary for large law firms, which has been extensively covered here on ATL.
To her and virtually every other observer, the increase to $180,000 signals that many large firms are prospering. In part the increase reflects a small but steady increase in associate productivity since 2008, reaching roughly the levels from the last market rate increase in 2007. The following chart is from the 2016 Report on the State of the Legal Market, issued by Georgetown Law’s Center for the Study of the Legal Profession:
Associates are continuously more productive by this measure than any other category of worker, although at lower billable rates than partners. Interestingly, the gap in productivity between associates and other groups is significantly greater post-recession.
BigLaw firms gave 2016 graduates a sweet gift earlier this month: new associates at many of those firms will earn $180,000 (rather than $160,000) when they start work in the fall. That’s the first salary increase in BigLaw since 2007.
What should we make of this increase? It shows, certainly, that many BigLaw firms continue to prosper. But we already knew that from the firms’ reports of profits per partner. We also knew that associates are the most productive workers at those firms. This raise reflects rather belated recognition of that fact.
One could argue, in fact, that BigLaw partners are still undervaluing their associates. As Bruce MacEwen notes, the increase doesn’t match inflation since the last increase in BigLaw salaries. $180,000 in 2016 has less buying power than $160,000 did in 2007.
But those kids are going to be alright. I want to focus here on a shadow side of the BigLaw salary increase, one that the press and blogs haven’t discussed. BigLaw firms are paying more money–but to many fewer associates. This trend, which concentrates higher salaries in a smaller number of workers, has important implications for the legal job market.
Originally published on Above the Law
Welcome to the second installment of Caveat Venditor, a series that assesses claims made by law schools to separate truth from fiction. This week we look at Brooklyn Law School’s employment rate of 92.2% posted on its “By The Numbers” infographic.
I noticed this claim on Brooklyn’s website after investigating the concern of a prelaw advisor. At the quadrennial Pre-Law Advisor National Council conference, this prelaw advisor asked what to do when a law school does not meet the accreditation requirements by not publishing the required disclosures. Indeed, Brooklyn was publishing an old report nearly six months after the ABA required them to publish its new one. Brooklyn remedied this problem on Monday, citing an “oversight due to transitions in several administrative departments in the last year.” According to a spokesperson from the law school, the ABA did not follow up with the law school to make sure it published the materials on time or at all.
When most people are injured in car wrecks or at work, they can’t afford to pay a lawyer an hourly fee out of pocket to win their case against a large corporation or their insurance company. That’s why attorneys for the plaintiffs in these lawsuits use a contingency fee, which pays the lawyer about a third of the total settlement or verdict — but only if the plaintiff wins. That amount covers the work done by the lawyers, and compensates them for the risk of no payout.
In this episode, Dan Minc, a 1977 graduate of Seton Hall School of Law, discusses how he managed to rise up to his firm’s managing partner after starting there as a first-year lawyer. He also talks about how he builds his book of business and what he assesses when determining whether to take a client. After all, he’s only paid if his client wins.
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