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The Justice Chasm

June 17th, 2018 / By

The justice gap has become a chasm. Almost one-fifth (19%) of Americans now live in poverty or near poverty (p. 16). These low-income individuals collectively experience about 140 million civil legal problems a year (p. 14). Fifty-five percent of those problems affect the individuals “very much” or “severely” (p. 23): that’s 77 million serious problems a year. Yet these individuals receive legal assistance for only 30% of their serious legal problems (p. 35). Our legal system fails to address some 54 million weighty legal problems a year–and that doesn’t count the unaddressed legal problems of middle-income Americans or small businesses.

Pro bono services won’t bridge this gap. There are only 1.34 million active attorneys in the United States. Even if every one of us provided pro bono services to low-income clients, we would each have to handle about 40 pro bono civil matters a year. That’s in addition to the pro bono criminal, appellate, and law reform matters some attorneys already pursue. And each of these 40 matters would affect a client “very much” or “severely.”

Practicing lawyers will not–and probably cannot–serve 40 pro bono clients each year. Salaried lawyers cannot take that much time away from their assigned duties; struggling solos cannot afford to offer so many unpaid services. Equally important, many lawyers lack lack expertise in the practice areas that affect low-income clients.

Nor will taxpayers plug this gap. The Legal Services Corporation and other legal aid organizations suffer chronic under-funding. Indeed, they regularly combat political threats of extinction.

What’s the solution? Can the United States create a justice system that more fully meets the needs of its people? Or will we continue to maintain a system that, while delivering high-quality services to wealthy individuals and big businesses, offers little help to those who cannot afford the price tag of legal assistance? (more…)

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The Second Class Among Us

January 4th, 2018 / By

Bob Kuehn has posted a sobering analysis of the status and salaries of clinical, externship, and legal writing faculty. It should be no surprise that most of these professors lack tenure–and that they earn significantly less than the faculty who teach courses without significant writing or clinical components. The size of the differences, however, may take some tenure-track faculty aback.

Who are the colleagues who suffer lower pay and status? Overwhelmingly, they are women. More than 70% of legal writing professors and externship supervisors are women; about 60% of clinical professors are female. These are striking differences in a profession that is still male dominated in many ways.

I will have more to say about these differences over the coming days. For now, take a look at Bob’s data and think about some new year’s resolutions.

Update: I did not mention professors who teach academic support or bar preparation courses in this post, because I do not have the type of national data Bob gathered for legal writing and clinical professors. Academic support and bar preparation are among the most essential courses we offer in law schools–yet the faculty teaching them are at best second class. I will write more about these key professors soon.

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New AALS Section: Empirical Study of Legal Education & the Legal Profession

January 2nd, 2018 / By

If you’re at the AALS meeting, don’t miss the inaugural session of the new Section on Empirical Study of Legal Education & the Legal Profession. Spearheaded by Judith Wegner, this Section welcomes colleagues who are interested in conducting or using empirical research relating to legal education and the legal profession. You don’t need to be a numbers person to benefit from this Section–just someone who is interested in studying what we do in law schools and the legal profession.

The inaugural panel discussion, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday, January 3) shows the breadth of this Section:

  • Raul Ruiz (Florida International University): Predicting Student Outcomes: Data Mining for Law Schools
  • Victor Quintinilla (Mauer School of Law, IU-Bloomington): Productive Mind-Set, the Power of Belonging, and Bar Passage
  • Bryant Garth (UC Irvine and formerly American Bar Foundation): Understanding the Changing Legal Profession
  • Kellye Testy (LSAC and formerly University of Washington): The LSAC’s Emerging Research Priorities
  • Aaron Taylor (Access Lex and St. Louis University): AccessLex’s Emerging Research Priorities

If that’s not enough to pique your interest, there will also be break-out groups discussing:

  • Conducting and Consuming Research: What tools, resources, or professional development do you need to conduct or use empirical studies?
  • Institutional Excellence and Assessment: How can law schools best assess programmatic and student learning outcomes? What methods and data management strategies apply?
  • Admissions and Academic Success: What are best practices in admissions and academic success programs for students with mixed indicators? How do we know?
  • Bar Exam Preparation & Licensing: What interventions work in preparing students to succeed on the bar exam? How can professional licensing strategies be improved?
  • Professional Identity and Satisfaction: What can be done to enhance students’ sense of professional identity? What factors affect lawyer satisfaction, success, and happiness?

This is the place to be at AALS on Wednesday afternoon. If you can’t make the session but want to connect with the Section, email Judith Wegner at Judith_wegner@unc.edu.

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Lawyering Jobs

November 21st, 2017 / By

I’ve written before about the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projections program. Every other year, the statisticians associated with that program count the number of existing “lawyer” jobs as part of their work. This count is especially useful because it includes both salaried and self employed workers. The biennial counts thus include solo practitioners, law firm partners, and practicing lawyers who earn a salary from any source.

The counts offer an excellent opportunity to track the growth of lawyering jobs. Here are the number of “lawyer” jobs reported in selected years since 1978, when the program began:

  • 1978:   380,000
  • 1988:   582,000
  • 1998:   681,000
  • 2008:  759,200
  • 2010:  728,200
  • 2012:  759,800
  • 2014:  778,700

As I’ve written before, those figures show that the number of jobs for lawyers is still growing–but the pace of growth has slowed considerably. Between 2012 and 2014, the number of lawyering jobs increased by just 9,450 positions per year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released the figures for 2016, and the news is sobering. In 2016, the Bureau counted just 792,500 “lawyer” jobs in the economy. That’s an increase of only 13,800 positions since 2014–or just 6,900 positions per year. That’s better than the anemic growth between 2008 and 2014 (which included periods of job loss), but worse than growth in most other two-year periods.

These figures, unfortunately, coincide with ones released by the ABA for recent graduates. Since 2013, the number of “lawyer” jobs for new JDs has fallen each year, from 26,653 for the Class of 2013 to 22,930 for the Class of 2016. (Figures for the Class of 2017 won’t be available until next spring.) Graduating classes have been smaller, so the percentage of employed graduates has improved somewhat–but the number of jobs found by those graduates has declined.

To me, the BLS projections underscore the wisdom of creating programs that allow college graduates to perform some aspects of law practice. There is plenty of demand for legal services–just not at the price demanded by fully licensed JDs. Rather than continue producing JDs at rates the job market can’t absorb, schools would be wise to consider alternative programs.

These figures also counsel caution about recent upticks in LSAT takers. More students may be considering law school, but schools need to remain wary about the employment market. If we admit more students, will employment rates fall again?

* Note: The BLS statistics for “lawyer” jobs report only positions listed under that category. Some BLS tables also report small numbers of judges and law clerks, but I have eliminated those categories for simplicity.

 

 

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Council, Please Shape Up

August 6th, 2017 / By

The Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has weathered significant criticism over the last few years. Some of that criticism has been well founded; other attacks have been unfair. But now the Council is acting as its own worst enemy–pursuing a course that has already provoked significant criticism in the legal academy and probably will attract negative attention in the press.

As Jerry Organ explains in a detailed column, the Council voted in June to make several changes in the form used to report law school employment outcomes. The Council acted without any public notice, without following its usual processes, and without gathering input from anyone outside the Council. The lack of process is especially disturbing given: (a) some of the changes had previously provoked vigorous debate; (b) the Council had previously rejected some of the proposals in light of that debate; and (c) the Council–along with legal education more generally–has been accused of lacking transparency.

I am sure, as Council Chair Gregory Murphy has written, that the Council acted in good faith–believing that the changes would receive “universal, or near universal, acclamation.” But that’s the problem with disregarding process and input: a small group of decision makers can persuade themselves that they know best. This case is a good illustration of how even highly educated, well intentioned groups can fall prey to that fallacy.

(more…)

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The High Cost of Not Lowering the Bar

June 28th, 2017 / By

Gilbert A. Holmes is Dean and Professor of Law at the University of La Verne College of Law

In July of 2016, graduates from ABA-approved law schools in California had a first-time General Bar Examination pass rate of 62 percent, and all bar takers in the state had a first-time pass rate of 56 percent. These numbers are down from previous years, sparking debate, discussion and deliberation about the reason for the decline and what can be done about it.

Deans of ABA-approved law schools in California have been calling for a lowering of the cut score that serves as the basis for grading of the exam. California has the second highest cut score in the country. It also has the lowest pass rate, even though researcher Roger Bolus reported to the State Bar of California that the state’s bar exam takers perform higher than the national average on the only portion of the exam that every state except Louisiana administers—the MBE.

The State Bar has responded to this call by engaging in a number of studies about the content and validity of the bar exam and the California grading system. (more…)

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Bar Exam Scores and Lawyer Discipline

June 3rd, 2017 / By

Robert Anderson and Derek Muller have posted a provocative paper, The High Cost of Lowering the Bar, in which they argue that “bar exam score is significantly related to likelihood of State Bar discipline throughout a lawyer’s career.” Thus, they warn, “lowering the bar examination passing score,” as several California law deans have advocated, “will likely increase the amount of malpractice, misconduct, and discipline among California lawyers.”

Anderson and Muller urge the state bar to collect more detailed data on the relationship between bar scores and lawyer discipline–and then to consider the possible impact on attorney misconduct if the Supreme Court lowers the passing score. “The data we have collected,” they conclude, “should raise serious concerns about the effect on consumers of lowering the passing score.”

What type of correlation did Anderson and Muller identify? Should it affect decisions about the passing score for the bar exam? Let’s take a closer look.

(more…)

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More on the Bar Exam: Correlation and Competence

May 31st, 2017 / By

Derek Muller has identified an intriguing study of alternative ways to assess bar applicants. In 1980, the California bar examiners worked with a research team to explore the desirability of testing a wider range of lawyering skills on the bar exam. The researchers designed a two-day supplement to the bar exam and invited all July test-takers to participate in the supplemental exercise. More than 4,000 test-takers volunteered and, using appropriate sampling methods, the researchers chose 500 to participate. A few volunteers were unable to complete the exercise due to illness, so the final sample included 485 bar examinees.

These examinees completed the supplemental exercises in August 1980, shortly after taking the regular July exam. For two days, the examinees interviewed clients, drafted discovery plans, prepared letters, wrote trial briefs, cross-examined witnesses, and made arguments to mock juries. Each day’s work involved 5-6 tasks focused on a single client matter. Professional actors played the role of clients, and the researchers developed elaborate protocols for scoring the exercises.

How did results on the supplemental exam compare to those on the conventional test?

(more…)

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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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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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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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