Guest Posts

Trends in Law Firm Staffing

May 28th, 2017 / By

Altman Weil has released its annual report on “Law Firms in Transition.” The report, based on a survey of managing partners of law firms with at least 50 lawyers, documents continued change in the way law firms staff their matters.

More than half of these law firms now use contract lawyers (57.1%) or part-time lawyers (52.7%). Almost half (41.8%) employ staff attorneys. Larger firms (those with at least 250 lawyers) are more likely than smaller firms to use these staffing strategies. Indeed, about three quarters of those larger firms use contract lawyers (77.0%), part-time lawyers (71.3%) or staff attorneys (78.2%). The numbers, however, are still significant at firms with 50-249 lawyers–especially for contract lawyers. More than half (50.4%) of the mid-sized firms use those lawyers.

Law firms have adopted these strategies because they increase profitability. Sixty-nine percent of the surveyed leaders indicated that “shifting work to contract/temporary lawyers” has resulted in a “significant improvement” in that metric. Almost half (49.5%) thought that “shifting work from lawyers to paraprofessionals” had the same salutary effect.

Law firms have also started to push the next frontier in staffing client matters: by using artificial intelligence (like IBM’s Watson) for some analyses. More than a third of law firms (36.3%) have started using those tools or “have begun to explore” those opportunities.

These results are not surprising to anyone who has followed law firm trends since the Great Recession. They underline, however, firms’ enthusiasm for these new staffing models.

H/t to TaxProf for noting the availability of Altman Weil’s report.

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Reflections of a Bar Exam Skeptic

May 26th, 2017 / By

Robert Anderson has posted a thoughtful comment on the bar exam in which he dubs me a “bar exam skeptic.” I accept the label with pride: I have been deeply skeptical of the bar exam for years. I first wrote about the exam in 2001, when the national pass rate for first-time takers was a relatively high 77% (see p. 23). My skepticism today, with a national pass rate of 69%, is no greater or smaller. As I wrote recently, it’s time to convene a National Task Force to examine our bar admissions process.

Who Cares About the Bar Exam?

As Professor Anderson rightly observes, decanal concerns about the bar exam have risen as pass rates have fallen. That’s human nature. The content and scoring of the bar exam are boring subjects for alumni gatherings, graduation speeches, or law review submissions. Few legal educators spontaneously write about setting cut scores, scaling essay questions, or equating test scores over time. The bar exam is like plumbing: most people take it for granted until something goes wrong.

But now the bar exam pipes are leaking and people are paying attention. The leak doesn’t mean we should patch things up just to revive pass rates; the bar exam should measure competence, not admit a predetermined number of lawyers. But now that people are paying attention, this is a good time to consider whether we’re using the right type of filter and piping in our rather antiquated system.

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What Do Students Do in Clinics?

May 17th, 2017 / By

Douglas Kahn has posted an article criticizing the “proliferation of clinical and other experiential courses” in legal education. These courses, he argues, reduce the number of “doctrinal” courses that students take, leaving them “ill-prepared to practice law as soon after graduation as law firms would like.” The TaxProf Blog posted a summary of the article, and a baker’s dozen of readers have offered pro and con comments.

It’s an old debate, one that has bristled for more than 50 years. The discussion doesn’t surprise me, but Professor Kahn’s ignorance of clinical education does. His bold assertions about clinics reveal little familiarity with the actual operation of those courses. Let’s examine some of Kahn’s claims.

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LST Reports Updated

May 11th, 2017 / By

As Debby pointed out, the ABA just released the latest employment statistics. Each school’s report is on the ABA website and their own website, but it’s not easy to compare schools in a giant spreadsheet, either with each other or year over year. I just updated the LST Reports with all the new data. These comparisons are easy using our tools.

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2016 Employment Outcomes

May 11th, 2017 / By

The ABA has posted its report on employment outcomes for the Class of 2016, along with two school-by-school spreadsheets. One of the spreadsheets tracks law school funded jobs that require bar passage; the other details other employment outcomes. My initial take-aways are:

  • Nationwide, the size of the graduating class fell 7.15%.
  • That decline allowed schools to register a slight increase in the percentage of graduates employed in the key category of full-time, long-term jobs requiring bar admission. That percentage rose from 59.2% to 61.8%.
  • The number of graduates employed in those job categories, however, fell from 23,687 for the Class of 2015 to 22,930 for the Class of 2016. That decline (3.1%) continues a trend noted last year, although the decline is smaller this year.
  • The number of students taking part-time JD Advantage jobs rose markedly–by 16.3% in the long-term category and 72.8% in the short-term one. The overall numbers are small compared to other job categories, but the jumps are noticeable.
  • The percentage of graduates known to be unemployed and seeking jobs declined from 9.7% to 8.8%. Those figures, however, must be read in connection with an increase in the percentage of graduates for whom employment status was unknown. If we assume that just a third of the latter graduates were unemployed and seeking work (a conservative estimate), then 10.04% of the Class of 2016 was still unemployed and seeking work ten months after graduation.

Overall, the report suggests continued weakness in the entry-level job market for law graduates. The decline in the absolute number of graduates holding full-time, long-term jobs requiring bar admission is worrisome–especially since we take that measure a full 10 months after graduation. Even more troubling is the fact that 10% of the nation’s law graduates are unemployed and seeking work a full ten months after graduation.

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Clinics and Costs

May 6th, 2017 / By

Bob Kuehn has written an incisive article about the relationship between law school tuition and clinical education. Contrary to many educators’ assumptions, Bob finds that there is no statistically significant relationship between the tuition charged by schools that require a clinical experience and schools that do not. Requiring students to complete a clinic before graduation, in other words, does not correspond with increased tuition.

Similarly, schools that guarantee students a clinical experience–should they choose to take one–do not charge significantly higher tuition than schools without that guarantee. Accounting for tuition discounts did not change these results: Schools with clinical requirements or guarantees did not acquire significantly more tuition revenue per student than those without those requirements or guarantees.

The same story emerged when Bob analyzed clinical course availability (rather than requirements or guarantees). Enhanced clinical opportunities never correlated significantly with higher tuition (either list price or discounted). On the contrary, several analyses found a significant relationship between clinical opportunities and lower tuition rates. Bob summarizes the results of his research in a post on the Best Practices for Legal Education blog.

How could this be? Aren’t clinics incredibly expensive to run? Well, yes and no. As Bob explains, the availability of clinical education depends more on the choices that law schools make than on the direct cost of clinics.

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Our Broken Bar Exam

May 4th, 2017 / By

The bar exam is broken: it tests too much and too little. On the one hand, the exam forces applicants to memorize hundreds of black-letter rules that they will never use in practice. On the other hand, the exam licenses lawyers who don’t know how to interview a client, compose an engagement letter, or negotiate with an adversary.

This flawed exam puts clients at risk. It also subjects applicants to an expensive, stressful process that does little to improve their professional competence. The mismatch between the exam and practice, finally, raises troubling questions about the exam’s disproportionate racial impact. How can we defend a racial disparity if our exam does not properly track the knowledge, skills, and judgment that new lawyers use in practice?

We can’t. In the language of psychometricians, our bar exam lacks “validity.” We haven’t shown that the exam measures the quality (minimal competence to practice law) that we want to measure. On the contrary, growing evidence suggests that our exam is invalid: the knowledge and skills tested by the exam vary too greatly from the ones clients require from their lawyers.

We cannot ignore the bar exam’s invalidity any longer. Every legal educator should care about this issue, no matter how many of her students pass or fail the exam. The bar exam defines the baseline of our profession. If the exam tests the wrong things, we have a professional obligation to change it.

*   *   *

For the rest of this essay, please see aalsnews. I discuss the concept of exam validity, our lack of agreement on “minimal competence,” and how educators and practitioners could work together to solve these serious problems.

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Jobs and Salaries for New Lawyers

April 30th, 2017 / By

What does the job market look like for new lawyers? The ABA will soon release statistics about the Class of 2016, and NALP will add additional information by the end of the summer. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) gives us an advance peak.

Each year, BLS reports job numbers and salaries for a wide range of occupations. This series of reports includes only salaried positions; for the legal profession, the series omits both solo practitioners and equity partners in law firms. Still, since most new graduates seek salaried positions, these numbers offer a useful measure of the profession’s ability to absorb and pay new members.

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Does Feedback Improve Performance?

April 27th, 2017 / By

My colleague Ruth Colker gives her 1L students the opportunity to obtain mid-semester feedback on their written work. In her Constitutional Law course, currently taught during the spring semester of the first year, Ruth invites students to submit a practice answer to an essay question drawn from a previous exam. She grades each practice answer using the same rubric she used on the previous final, makes extensive written comments on the answers, and encourages students to discuss their answers with her in person.

The exercise is not mandatory; nor does it factor into the final grade. About half of Ruth’s students choose to obtain this optional mid-semester feedback. She wondered if those students performed better on the final exam than students who did not elect the feedback. To study this question, she assembled a team of colleagues, including an expert statistician, Abigail Shoben, from Ohio State’s College of Public Health.

I was delighted to work as part of this team, which also included law colleagues Ellen Deason and Monte Smith. We’ve just published our results. Here are some of the highlights:

 

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International JD Students

March 18th, 2017 / By

A recent news story notes that 17% of Harvard’s first-year law students are international students. This statistic intrigued me. International students have long been a staple of LLM programs, but how many enroll and graduate from ABA-accredited JD programs?

The answer, it turns out, varies a lot from school to school. I used the ABA’s Standard 509 reports to count the number of “nonresident alien” students enrolled at each accredited law school. That number undercounts “international” students because it does not include foreign students who hold permanent resident visas. Nonetheless, it offers some measure of a JD demographic that has received little press attention. I explore here the presence of nonresident aliens in accredited law schools–although I will refer to these students as “international” students (a somewhat imprecise but friendlier term).

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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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