Artificially Intelligent Legal Research

May 24th, 2016 / By

At least three law firms have now adopted ROSS, an artificial legal intelligence system based on IBM’s pathbreaking Watson technology. The firms include two legal giants, Latham & Watkins and BakerHostetler, along with the Wisconsin firm vonBriesen. Commitments by these firms seem likely to spur interest among their competitors. Watch for ROSS and other forms of legal AI to spread over the next few years.

What is ROSS, what does it do, and what does it mean for lawyers and legal educators? Here are a few preliminary thoughts.

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Federal Criminal Defense: Representing Indigent Clients as a Public Defender

May 22nd, 2016 / By

The right to counsel for criminal charges is essential to our system of justice. The federal and state governments must provide you a lawyer if you can’t afford one. As such, underfunded public defender offices raise serious constitutional — not to mention moral — questions.

In this episode, Candace Hom, a 2001 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, explains her role in the criminal justice system. She also talks about how she builds trust between her and clients, the various legal job roles within the federal public defender office, and the challenges of dealing with prosecutors — even the good ones.

This episode is hosted by Debby Merritt a law professor at The Ohio State University. It is sponsored by ShouldIBeALawyer.com and Top-Law-Schools.com.

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Doctors and Lawyers

May 22nd, 2016 / By

Medicine and law are highly regarded professions; talented students used to eagerly seek entry to both of these fields. But now applications to law schools are falling while those to medical schools are rising. What’s behind that phenomenon? Let’s take a look at employment trends in these two professions over the last forty years.

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Professional Salaries

May 19th, 2016 / By

How much should a professional worker earn? The Department of Labor (DOL) recently decided that salaried professionals who work full-time should earn at least $47,476 per year. Under the Department’s new overtime rules, salaried workers earning less than that amount will be entitled to overtime pay for extra hours. A real professional, in DOL’s eyes, earns at least $913 per week–or $47,476 for a year of full-time work.

Hold your excitement: This salary test will not apply to lawyers, because DOL counts lawyers as professionals no matter how little they earn. See 29 CFR 541.600(e); 29 CFR 29 C.F.R. 541.304. Employers are free to continue working their lawyers for long hours and low pay. It’s worth considering, however, what this rule tells us about societal expectations for professional pay. If professionals earn at least $47,476 per year, how do lawyers stack up?

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Business Immigration (OR): Helping Companies Bring Foreign Nationals To The U.S.

May 15th, 2016 / By

After graduating from Lewis & Clark Law School in 2010, Melina LaMorticella began her career at a local immigration boutique. Several years later she joined Tonkon Torp, a mid-size firm in Portland, OR. Business immigration law, however, is Melina’s third career. In the 15 years before starting law school, she worked in publishing and as a paralegal.

In this episode, Melina explains how the U.S. considers immigration applications from professional workers. She also talks about the charged political atmosphere she operates in, as well as what her typical day looks like.

This episode is hosted by Debby Merritt a law professor at The Ohio State University. It is sponsored by ShouldIBeALawyer.com and Top-Law-Schools.com.

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The Crisis That Wouldn’t End

May 14th, 2016 / By

The crisis in legal education was supposed to be over by now. The recession, after all, ended in June 2009. Even allowing for a slow recovery, legal educators predicted that JD hiring would be robust by this point. When applications fell and schools cut class sizes, educators hoped for a recovery bonus: An improved job market, combined with smaller graduating classes, would boost placement rates and attract applicants back to law school. Meanwhile, some projected, the economy would suffer a lawyer shortage.

Things haven’t worked out that way. As the ABA employment report for the Class of 2015 shows, JD employment remains depressed–and there is some evidence of a downward trend. In this post, I explain why law schools need to take this news very seriously.

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Prices and Priorities

May 11th, 2016 / By

Bob Kuehn has written a terrific essay refuting the notion that clinical courses are too expensive for law schools to offer. His online piece includes plenty of hard data; some he gathered and some he drew from other sources.

Kuehn’s essay reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago with a member of my university’s board of trustees. I alluded to the challenges that public universities like ours face with reduced tax support for higher education. He responded differently than most trustees or administrators, who are happy to bemoan losses of public support. “There’s plenty of money,” he said. “It’s just a question of your priorities in spending it.”

And, of course, he was right. For the current fiscal year, my university predicted revenues of $6.1 billion dollars and expenditures of $5.5 billion. Even if revenues fell to match expenditures, that’s a lot of money to distribute.

Most universities, let alone law schools, are considerably smaller than Ohio State. About half of our budget, furthermore, stems from the medical school and health care center. (This is an interesting fact about many university budgets, that health care research and delivery is matching or exceeding other educational expenses.) Still, my board member’s comment is apt: Law schools operate sizable budgets and they have considerable discretion in allocating that money.

We don’t favor LSAT scholarships over need-based ones because budgets force us to do so; we make that choice to pursue higher rankings. Similarly, we don’t cater to the demands of tenured research faculty, rather than expanding clinical education, because our budgets are limited. We make that choice because it suits us (the tenured faculty) and because we hope, once again, that our choice will propel higher rankings.

Bob provides a welcome antidote to these ingrained choices. Expanding clinical education wouldn’t actually raise tuition; it would simply require faculties to change their priorities. And even those changes would be relatively small. We have to ask ourselves: What is the real root of our resistance to clinical education?

H/T to TaxProf for also featuring Bob’s essay today.

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How Law School Job Rates Changed This Year

May 10th, 2016 / By

Originally published on Above the Law.

Last week, the American Bar Association released the latest law school employment data. The entry-level market for new graduates remains grim.

Nationally, the legal job rate is up slightly from 58% to 59.2% for 2015 graduates. However, the raw number of legal jobs declined to levels not seen since 2011. The number of new entry-level jobs at large firms, on the other hand, remains steady — although the types of jobs offered by large firms continue to diversify.

With fewer students enrolled today, jobs rates in 2016 and beyond should improve, even if the raw number of jobs continues to decline. But given that law schools still face significant financial pressure, administrators will be tempted to increase enrollment to keep the doors open. Current employment rates indicate that, for the vast majority of schools, that is not an equitable idea.

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Estate Planning and Probate (SC): Counseling on Legal Services and Otherwise

May 8th, 2016 / By

Kathryn Cockrill is a 2009 graduate of Touro Law School. Despite going to law school in the Northeast, she moved south to Charleston following law school. While she started her career at a small firm, she recently went out on her own to reap the rewards of building a business in estate planning and probate.

In this episode, Kathryn explains the ins and outs of probate, for both the living and the deceased. She also talks about how she avoids bill collection pitfalls, why she plans to hire help once her firm is on more stable financial footing, and why her practice keeps her interested and invested.

This episode is hosted by Kyle McEntee, LST’s executive director. It is sponsored by ShouldIBeALawyer.com and Top-Law-Schools.com.

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2015 Employment: Fixing the Fruit Salad

May 6th, 2016 / By

As promised, I explain here a quirk in the ABA’s employment report for the Class of 2015. That report shows that 62.4% of the 2015 graduates obtained jobs that require bar admission (“lawyering” jobs), while just 59.2% of the graduates secured lawyering jobs that were also full-time and long-term (i.e., expected to last at least one year).

Those percentages are sobering in themselves, but they are even more worrisome when compared to percentages for the Class of 2014. For the latter class, the ABA reports that 64.1% of graduates obtained lawyering jobs, with 59.9% of the graduates landing full-time, long-term jobs in that category. The percentage of graduates securing lawyering jobs, in other words, seems to have declined.

Things are bad, but not quite that bad. Here’s where the data quirk comes in.

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Deborah J. Merritt

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ABA Journal Blawg 100 HonoreeLaw School Cafe is a resource for anyone interested in changes in legal education and the legal profession.

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