August 5, 2011

WHY DO SO MANY LAWYERS DISSATISFIED WITH THE PRACTICE OF LAW MAKE A TRANSITION INTO THE PRACTICE OF LAW?


As I made the transition in the early 90's from advising law students to providing support for dissatisfied lawyers, I assumed their paths would lead them to in-house, government, non-profit and non-law positions. My role would be to help them market and promote themselves so they could find the unadvertized openings in these varied settings.

However, over the last ten years what has happened is that, while lawyers did leave the law firms where they had been working, few chose these alternatives. For practical and substantive reasons, they decided to stay in private practice but usually in a law firm with far few lawyers, often becoming solo practitioners.

Are you surprised by this trend?

What factors do you think caused it?

I invite and encourage you to post your thoughts and comments here.

November 11, 2010

SERIES OF ARTICLES ON LEXIS HUB FOR NEW ATTORNEYS

LEXIS HUB FOR NEW ATTORNEYS HAS AGREED TO PUBLISH A SERIES OF FOURTEEN ARTICLES I HAVE WRITTEN - FIVE ON THE FUNDAMENTALS OF THE CAREER SEARCH AND NINE ON HOW TO SEARCH FOR A SATISFYING POSITION. (TO READ THE ARTICLES YOU MAY HAVE TO REGISTER AS A MEMBER.) HERE IS A LINK TO THE FOURTEENTH AND FINAL ARTICLE. MY SUGGESTION IS THAT YOU IMMEDIATELY SCROLL TO THE END OF THE ARTICLE WHERE YOU WILL FIND THE TITLES OF ALL FOURTEEN AND BEGIN READING FROM THE FIRST ONE "UNDERSTANDING CAREER PLANNING"

October 14, 2010

Miner Solidarity, Billy Elliot, Law Firm Associates and Law Students

This morning as I reflected on the rescue of the miners in Chile, I thought about the miners in the musical, Billy Elliot, so I played the CD. Below are some excerpts. As I was drafting this message, I thought about two issues that have puzzled me for years, Why do associates not organize and stand together to oppose inappropriate and unprofessional actions of the partners and others at their law firm which can have a serious negative effect on their careers; for example, not providing them with meaningful substantive work, training and feedback? Why do law students not stand together to oppose actions by law school faculty and staff which will likely divert them from satisfying careers; for example, not training them for the practice of law and not reducing the high cost to attend law school? Your thoughts and comments of this would be appreciated.

THE STARS LOOK DOWN
"And the stars look down at their reflection
And the stars look down and there's a light
When the stars look down they'll see the justice
And the right
And the stars look down and see the struggle
And the stars look down and know the pain
And the stars will lead us back to where light shines again
Where we'll stand as one beneath the sun
One beneath the sun
When we stand as one
All out together
When we stand as one all out as one
When we stand as one all out for victory
When we stand as one till we've won
When we stand as one all out together."

ONCE WE WERE KINGS
"So we walk proudly
And we walk strong
All together
We will go as one
The ground is empty
And cold as hell
But we all go together when we go."
.

November 11, 2009

Will college students continue to remain ill-informed about law schools?


Law schools have failed their students and the public but college graduates continue to apply and attend without having the facts or information needed to make an informed decision.

I request that you read this post and, if appropriate, forward it to any college students considering going to law school as well as any of those, such as pre-law advisers, who advise such students.

This is a unique, almost chaotic, time in the legal profession.

Large law firms are reevaluating the way they do business as the economic downturn has resulted in their clients no longer being willing to pay for the training of associates. Many also want value pricing not hourly fees.

Small firms are being given a second look and becoming more attractive to lawyers. In that vein, the presentations I am making to bar associations, including one this past September for the New York State Bar Association Committee on Lawyers in Transition, are aimed at helping lawyers learn about small firms and how to find positions there.

Law schools are under attack from all quarters: including law firms asking that the law schools prepare their students to practice law; students who are paying so much and often believing that they are getting so little; the ABA for inadequate teaching methods and devoting too much time to academic research.

Lawyers are expressing great dissatisfaction in their large firm practices. The American Bar Foundation's After the JD study of 5000 associates from the year 2000 on found that 59% of the graduates of the top law schools working for large law firms planned to leave within two and a half years.

A significant aspect of what I refer to as the "funneling" of as high as 95% of the graduates at selective law schools to large law firms through on-campus interviewing is that as many as 50% of the students wanted careers serving the public and were diverted from those careers. As you are aware we still have a crisis in the country where 80% of the legal needs of the 45,000,000 least wealthy of us are not met by the legal profession.

Some articles point out that the high cost of law school is "justification' for law students to take high paying positions. Rarely examined is why that cost is so high.

Those involved in advising college students who plan to go to law school in the past have focused primarily on how to get into the schools rated the best by the USNews annual survey. The problem is that that survey is defective. For example, it does not have a criteria evaluating how well the law school prepares students for the practice of law. Its focus is on intangibles such as reputation and which law schools get the most graduates the fastest into the largest law firms.

What is needed is a group of students or prelaw advisers who will research and inform college students about the state of legal education today. The group might want to design a far-reaching project could evaluate law schools based on whether they teach the fundamental values and skills of the legal profession and other relevant criteria such as reasonable cost. One example of such an evaluation tool is at the end of Overcoming Law School Defects .

The articles on my website and blog contain much information, resources and warnings about the deficiencies of legal education for those considering doing so.

I also recommend you read what Chuck Newton just posted in this Third Wave Blog entitled Death to Big Law (Schools)?

Law schools simply cannot live off the hope that poor (literally), innocent students can borrow ever increasing amounts of money, almost on a whim, to satisfy the peculiar beguilement and distraction of law school insiders. It is having and will continue to have very severe financial consequences for its graduates; marked by intense dissatisfaction for the choice they made to attend law school in the first place.

I invite anyone interested in talking about any of these issues or in designing a law school evaluation project to post a comment here or contact me directly by email.

November 9, 2009

Encouraging Congress to Really Examine the Dramatic Unjustified Increase in the Cost of Law School


When I read a the United States Government Accountability Office Report to Congressional Committees on HIGHER EDUCATION Issues Related to Law School Cost and Access October 2009, I was not impressed. Those drafting the report seemed to simply accept the statements of law school officials that ABA accreditation has no affect on the cost of law school but the change to a more hands-on resource-intensive approach to legal education has affected cost. The law school officials also said that competition among schools for higher rankings reportedly have affected costs. Admitting that they strive for high ranking in this defective and highly criticized magazine's attempt to compare law schools is hard to believe.

After I read the report I drafted this Memorandum which has been forwarded by my Congressman to the above committees.

MEMORANDUM

TO: U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP)
U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor
FROM: Ronald W. Fox, Esq. admin@ronaldwfox.com
Career Planning for Lawyers - Lawyer Satisfaction Blog
DATE: November 2, 2009
RE: Issues Related to the Dramatic Increase in the Cost of Law School

The impetus for my writing this was the New GAO Report, "Higher Education Issues Related to Law School Cost and Access" and briefings made to your committees.

The purpose of this Memorandum is to encourage your committees to solicit the views and opinions of others who can present to you a more in-depth analysis of the reasons why the rate of increase of the cost of law school has been so much higher than the rate of inflation and the cost of living over the last two decades.

There has been criticism of legal education in the traditional law schools ever since the day when Christopher Langdell instituted the case method at Harvard law School over 100 years ago but it reached its peak in 1992.

In that year, the MacCrate Report, also known as the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar Report of the Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession: Narrowing the Gap - Legal Education and Professional Development - An Educational Continuum was published. The task force, composed of prominent lawyers, judges and law professors, strongly criticized law schools for failing to teach eight of the ten fundamental skills needed to practice law and for not stressing the four fundamental values of the legal profession including the promotion of justice and the importance of taking positions consistent with one's personal values. The report also described as inadequate the traditional method of teaching the two skills it does teach in that it does not allow for the students to perform and be evaluated to ascertain the extent to which the students understand the concept presented .

The same ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar (which has been designated as the agency that accredits law schools) recently issued a Bar Report of the Outcome Measures Committee in which it says law schools should shift in assessment from the conceptual knowledge accumulated by students to the assessment of practical competencies (professional skills) and that law schools should incorporate ongoing assessments and other formative techniques to encourage and evaluate a student's development of tasks

Innumerable articles prior to and during this current economic downturn have been written demanding that law schools do more to prepare their students for the practice of law.

Tying together this failure to teach with the increase in the cost of law schools is Rethinking Legal Education in Hard Times: The Recession, Practical Legal Education, and the New Job Market a thoughtful paper by Daniel Thies, a student at Harvard Law School and the law student member of the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar submitted for the Council's June 2009 retreat. After describing the law schools' tepid actions in offering skills courses but stubbornly refusing to reduce the emphasis on academic research (see B. Barriers to Reform and C. Rethinking Priorities: The Questionable Value of Legal Scholarship Today, pages 18-22) concludes:

The economic recession presents a unique opportunity for legal education to shift its priorities. Rather than using student money to subsidize academic research from full-time professors, successful schools will need to seek new ways to train students in practical skills. Only then will schools continue to be able to attract qualified students. There are many different ways that a school can achieve this end, and no two schools' solution will look the same. As long as prospective students have sufficient information and schools have the flexibility to try different solutions, however, the law schools with the best programs will begin to rise to the top. Legal educators have spent much of the last century thinking about how to integrate practical training into the law school curriculum. To echo the MacCrate Report, "[i]n sum . . . the time has come to put the pieces together."

Another source of helpful information on how and why law school costs have risen unnecessarily can be found in The Deeply Unsatisfactory Nature of Legal Education Today - A Self Study Report On The Problems Of Legal Education And On The Steps The Massachusetts School of Law Has Taken To Overcome Them published by the Massachusetts School of Law, Lawrence Velvel, Founder and Dean. While I am not at all aware of what is needed in a law library, the report looks at the how outdated views of what should be in a law library (perhaps pursuant to ABA accreditation requirements) increase law school costs. The most significant point in the report related to costs is the systematic withdrawal of law school faculty into academic research and scholarship. Not only is it of little educational value to students, it also means that the faculty is unavailable for administrative duties which would be a benefit to students such as career counseling, course advice, admissions, etc. That translates into the need to hire more and more staff to take over duties that faculty have taken in the past.

I have been deeply concerned about the defects in legal education from the day I started as the Public Interest Adviser at Harvard Law School in 1984. I graduated from that school in 1963 and spent the next 20 years practicing law and designing programs aimed at delivering legal services to the public. There is another negative consequence of diverting funds to academic scholarship and failing to prepare students for the practice of law. In a deadly serious satire requesting that I be appointed law school industry czar, I point out how law schools have failed not only their students but also the public as in selective schools 95% of the graduates take positions representing the wealthiest 1% of the society while the 45,000,000 least wealthy of us cannot retain the services of a lawyer for 80% of their legal problems.

Most of the posts in my blog are directed at the defects in legal education and the diversion of law students by law schools to positions in large law firms. The cause of this misplacement are widely known: the failure of the law schools to teach skills or values or the existence of small law firms combined with the huge debt load taken by so many students,

Here is a post I wrote a few months ago, a simple way to reduce law school costs and debt by one-third entitled Envisioning Law Students Eliminating the Wasted Third Year of Law School In it I propose:

There is one significant aspect of legal education that CAN be significantly improved overnight; i.e., the extraordinarily high tuition that law schools charge. The resulting high debt load has, in the past, pressured students to take positions in large law firms that held no appeal to many of them except for the salary. Today even many of those with offers do not expect to have enough income from their positions to live on. What is the solution? Eliminate the third year of law school and roll-back, just like Wal-Mart might do, the expected debt by 33%. Over the years I have often talked to students, faculty and staff. In addition many articles have been written on the subject. Rarely has anyone come up with a justification for law students staying in law school for the third year. With general agreement that the law schools take three years NOT to prepare students for the practice of law, it hardly seems that law students or their careers would be negatively affected if they only devoted two years to NOT being prepared to practice law. Estimates vary about how much time would be required to teach students how to think like a lawyer. One semester may not be sufficient but a more reasonable estimate would be 2-4 semesters.

In addition, there is a reason why universities can refer to their law schools as "cash cows". One of the arguments in favor of establishing a public law school in Massachusetts has been that it would boost the state's revenues. Here is my post on why we don't need a public law school.

Many others write often and well about the defects of legal education including the greed and self-interest of the law schools that are behind their consistent increases in tuition and related costs.

Chuck Newton, a lawyer in Huston, writes often about the failings of law school Here is just one of his posts on his blog The Law School Tuition Bubble. Has Logical Reasoning Abandoned Our Law Schools?

Here is a related article by John DiPippa, Dean William H. Bowen School of Law, University of Arkansas at Little Rock A Change - in Legal Education - is Gonna Come (with apologies to Sam Cook) where he refers to the current education forces: i.e, calls for fundamental legal education reform gaining momentum, the ABA moving toward outcome-based accreditation standards and students demanding different approaches and wanting to see value for their tuition dollars. He concludes that the "salad days" for law faculties may be over.

Law schools have in many ways failed their students and the public. One and only one aspect has been the runaway and unrestrained raises in tuition over the last two decades. Much of the increase has been unnecessary. As noted above, I suggest that if you would like to investigate further the topic of why law school costs have risen so dramatically, you review the sources above and contact some of the writers and scholars involved. Should anyone want to discuss any of the issues raised in this Memorandum further with me (or any lawyer career related topic), as noted above, I can be reached at admin@ronaldwfox.com..

October 27, 2009

WHY WE DO NOT NEED A PUBLIC LAW SCHOOL


A proposal for a new public law school for Massachusetts, one of only 7 states in the country not to have a public law school, has generated an enormous amount of controversy with many saying that there is a need for a school with a reasonable tuition and others saying there is at this time no need for a school that would add more lawyers to an overcrowded field. Prominent among the opponents, shocking as that may not be, are the local law schools. What is shocking is that I find myself agreeing with the stand of the law schools.Over a week ago, I submnitted what follows as a proposed op-ed to the Boston Globe. I welcome your comments.

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE ON THE PUBLIC LAW SCHOOL PROPOSAL

What's missing from the discussion about the need for a new public law school for Massachusetts is any consideration of the failure of the existing law schools to serve not only the educational needs of their students but also the legal needs of the public.

In 1980, Lloyd Cutler, Esq. (adviser to Presidents Carter and Clinton) remarked that 95% of lawyers' time is devoted to the wealthiest 1% of our society, the 25% most disadvantaged get 5% of their time and the remaining nearly 75% cannot afford and get virtually none of their time."

As Harvard Law School's Public Interest Adviser from 1984-89, I observed that at least 40% of the students hoped to represent individuals in personal plight matters. That school and other "selective" law schools, however, funneled as many as 95% of their graduates to large law firms by failing to prepare them to work in small law firms and by devoting staff time to the insidious on-campus interviewing placement program.

Little has changed. Diverting students from their career dreams has led to shattered self-confidence and rampant dissatisfaction within the legal profession as well as continued lack of access to the justice system for the public. So while we seem to have too many law schools in this state and this country, recent surveys indicate that only 20% of the legal needs of the 45,000,000 least wealthy in this country are met by the legal system.

The possibility that the new school might contribute to the state coffers is not a plus. The law school industry continues to ignore decades of calls that it provide quality legal education at a reasonable cost. For years, universities have been able to consider their law schools "cash cows". Law schools increase tuition to outrageous levels far beyond the rate of inflation with many questioning the value of what students (some borrowing up to $200,000 at a time when starting salaries are plummeting) get in return.

Last Friday's edition of the Harvard Law Record published a copy of an alumnus' response to a request for a contribution suggesting ".. you might concede that the Law School could ease financial strain on students without reducing the quality of the J.D. degree. One way would be to drop the third year or, or postpone it to mid-career."

Law professors teach large classes with little opportunity for students to show their understanding of a concept and be evaluated on that performance. Staff is hired to replace faculty who take less of a role in administrative duties such as career planning and devote time to academic research unrelated to effective student education.


During the current economic downturn, with large firm layoffs and job deferrals, one school's solution is to offer a masters degree, basically a fourth year of law school through which the student can finally learn to practice law. Most law schools, however, are content to promote alternative paths that students are unprepared to pursue, hoping for the return to "normalcy" when they can revive the funnel to the large law firms and thereby shore up their US News ranking.

If law schools fail to reform legal education to prepare their students to practice law at a reasonable cost and to serve the legal needs of the public, the legislature should enact a law reinstituting the former system by which lawyers became members of the bar - "reading the law". California, Vermont, Virginia, New York, Maine. Washington and Wyoming still have variations on this process whereby an applicant may take the bar exam after study under a judge or practicing attorney for an extended period of time. Such a law should also establish an office within the Executive Branch which would provide limited supplementary training to advise and support those pursuing this option.

We do not need another law school. We need to demand that the current ones uphold the fundamental values of the legal profession and devote their efforts to meeting the needs of their students and the public.

_____________________________________________________________
Ronald W. Fox, Esq. directs the Center for Professional Development in the Law and is the author of Lawful Pursuit: Careers in Public Interest Law
______________________________________________________________


October 7, 2009

August 9, 1989 - Harvard Law School

AUGUST 9 1989 - HARVARD LAW SCHOOL

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1963, I worked for a large law firm, served in the US Army JAG and worked in an insurance company. After two years as an associate for a sole practitioner, I founded two small law firms representing individuals and community groups and became one of the first lawyers in the country to offer divorce mediation. Concerned about the issue of the unmet legal needs of the public, I served on the boards of legal services programs, created referral programs for the Massachusetts Bar Association and the National Lawyers Guild, started an association of legal clinics, and served as president of a family mediation association.

In 1983 I returned to Harvard Law School as its public interest adviser. On August 9, 1989, my position was eliminated by a recently appointed dean of that law school. I have reprinted below some material related to the elimination of that position.

Since that time I have provided career advice to lawyers and law students and consulted to law schools, law firms and bar associations. In addition I have advocated for the restructuring and reform of legal education.

From what I have observed over the last 20 years, though there has been much criticism of legal education and calls for reform (including the highly regard 1992 ABA MacCrate Report), the law schools have largely ignored them.

Are you as concerned as I am that during the current economic downturn, the law school industry is desperately trying to maintain the on-campus interviewing "funnel" to BigLaw despite the recent survey of 5000 associates finding that 59% of "top-ten" law school grads plan to leave BigLaw jobs within 2 years while other data indicates that 80% of the legal needs of the least wealthy 45,000,000 of us are unmet?
.
Do you think that there have been and will continue to be positive changes and improvements in the delivery of legal education?

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August 8, 1989

HARVARD LAW SCHOOL
Cambridge, Massachusetts 01938

OFFICE OF THE DEAN

Mr. Ronald Fox
Harvard Law School
Pound 310

Dear Ron

Many thanks for your recent gift to the Law School Fund. I appreciate your support of the School's annual giving program.

With best wishes

Sincerely,
/s/ Bob
Robert C. Clark
Dean

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

August 14, 1989

MEMORANDUM
TO; The File
FROM: Ron Fox
RE: Meeting with Dean Robert Clark

On Wednesday, August 9, 1989, at 11:30 A.M., I met with Dean
Robert Clark. He told me that he had made some decisions about restructuring and that I was not likely to be pleased. June Thompson would no longer be in admissions and would be full time in placement and there was also going to be an appointment of a new director of counseling. He mentioned that he did not know what I did in my job, although he had seen one letter that I had written and he thought it was very good. He had decided that it was not cost effective to have a 8/10 position devoted solely to the 6 to 8 people who were interested in public interest, therefore, my position was being eliminated as well as the position of my assistant (Dana Bullwinkel] who is about to enter graduate school).

I asked him to clarify whether or not that meant that I had been fired. He said that that was putting it too bluntly: my position was being eliminated. He said that he did not know how long I had been working at the law school. I was not being told that I had to leave the next day. When the administrative dean, Simone Reagor, returns from vacation, I would talk to her about the details.

When I asked him whether he had mentioned that there was going to be a new position, new director of counseling, he said that was the case, and that it was a position for which I would not be considered. (It now appears that this new position was created by the half of Mark Byers, the career counselor for the law school, that was assigned to the Placement Office and the other half of his time that was assigned to the Counseling Office under the Dean of Student's Office and Mark has been told that he can apply for this job but that he should be looking elsewhere in the event he does not get it.)

I had prepared a memorandum for him and had attached to it some of the material I had written over the last year and a half on public interest career planning and placement problems and issues at the law school and my suggestions and proposals. I gave it to him and told him that if he wanted to discuss any aspect of the material, I would be prepared to do so.

I left the office about 11:37 A.M.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

14 March 1990

PUBLIC INTEREST LAW CAREER PLANNING CENTER
955 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139

Ronald W. Fox Tel: (617) 868-6669
Executive Director Fax: (617) 876-0203

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE STUDENTS OF HARVARD LAW SCHOOL

I first want to say that my six years spent directing the public interest career activities at Harvard Law School was the most positive, rewarding and satisfying professional experience I have had since leaving the law school in 1963. I talked, wrote to, and learned from, intelligent, talented, concerned, responsible, committed people - students, staff of the law school, alumni/ae, other lawyers, and career planning professionals at other law schools. I also publicly want to let you all know how much I appreciate your personal visits, kind words and public statements in my support. Your actions made a stressful time more comfortable and gave me the reason, strength, encouragement and confidence to found the Public Interest Law Career Planning Center which will assist law students and lawyers who want to pursue careers in public interest, human services and government.

I came to the law school to direct the public interest career and placement activities after 15 years working in private practice and with many non-profit organizations trying to increase the quality and quantity of legal services delivered to people with low and moderate income. It appeared to me that Harvard Law School believed that it had an obligation to make careers in public interest law a realistic option for its graduates. And, in fact, over the next three years I received approval to establish the IL Public Interest Career Workshop; was given funding to publish the Public Interest Directory; was given the time to assist in the development of "Opportunities in Public Interest Law"; was encouraged to solicit $300,000 from an alumnus, Kenneth Montgomery, `28, for a public interest summer grant program which he generously funded; was given the time to establish a Task Force on Public Interest Law of the National Association for Law Placement; and was afforded the opportunity to give advice and guidance to about 100 individuals in each class and many alumni/ae.

I was impressed by the depth of commitment to public interest within the student body. I talked to students, analyzed class lists and read surveys that confirmed my findings that 40% of each class were interested in pursuing public interest careers. A study of one class revealed that by the time of graduation, 40% of its members had attended public interest workshops and/or devoted substantial time to public interest law either during the summer or in a clinical course. I spent many hours listening to students and providing information to allay their fears and to counter pressures from peers, the law school, family, and society in general to take positions they did not want. In addition, I received frequent calls and visits from anguished alumni/ae wanting to leave jobs in large firms they found boring and/or in conflict with their values. Yet every year, upon graduation, over 90% of the class take positions with large law firms representing commercial institutions and others in the wealthiest 1% of the society that the legal profession serves well. At the same time the rest of the society, 247 million people, are either totally unable to afford legal services if they have a housing, health, employment, discrimination or family problem, or, if they are indigent, only able to have a lawyer at no cost to them for one out of every fourteen of these legal problems. I refer to this factual situation as the "Crisis in Public Interest Law."

Many of you presently at the school as well as those who have recently graduated recognized that much of fault for, and the responsibility for remedying, the lack of diversity of career choices of graduates of the law school lay within the law school itself. You questioned 1) the curriculum's reliance on commercial cases, 2) the high cost of attending the law school accompanied by approval of higher student debt 3) the second-class status of the clinical program, 4) the preference given to large firms in the hiring process by the allocation of a disproportionate amount of staff time and resources to a recruiting process dominated by these firms and held in the fall when few other legal institutions know their future legal hiring needs, and by the failure to examine in depth negative aspects of such firms, especially the many student complaints of discrimination and unfair treatment 5) the failure of the law school to challenge the "prevailing wisdom" generalizations based on flawed assumptions, such as "Work in large firms is intellectually stimulating and prestigious and one receives the best training there," "Grades are very important in obtaining any job," "There are no jobs in public interest and even if there were, most students can not afford to take them because of the amount of their debt," "The work in public interest areas is boring, routine, uncreative and unimportant", "There is no training in public interest jobs" and "It is important that you find a job and become an employee rather than going out and creating your own institution" 6) the failure to provide adequate staff and resources for students and alumni/ae looking for career advice 7) the indifference and lack of availability of most of the faculty for career and job advice.

In early 1988, I requested funds from June Thompson, the Director of Placement, for additional staff and resources needed to create a Career Development Division in the Placement Office. Because of her basic disagreement with me about the existence of a crisis and her belief that there was little need for career advice generally and public interest career counseling specifically, the request was rejected. In April, 1988, I submitted a proposal through the Dean's Office requesting that a Career Development Center outside of the Placement Office be established to offer guidance to students, staff, faculty, alumni and others on public interest and many other less accessible and less familiar careers. I know of no staff or faculty meetings called to review the proposal, to discuss career issues, to debate differences in orientation or to set goals and priorities. No written responses were ever sent about the proposal and in early August. 1988, I heard indirectly that a decision had been reached - nothing would be done.

In April, 1989, after two very unsatisfactory meetings with June Thompson, I again renewed my request to the Dean's Office for the establishment of a Career Development Center. At about the same time I proposed the creation of a Center for the Delivery of Legal Services in the Public Interest which would coordinate research and activities on the "crisis" throughout the law school, including placement, career planning, the counselling center, financial aid, and the alumni/ae office. I inquired about the status of the proposals weekly. No staff or faculty meetings were ever called to review the proposals and I received no written response.

On July 1, Robert Clark became the dean and on August 9, 1989, two days after my return from vacation I was told to make an appointment to see him. At the meeting, after I introduced myself, he informed me that although he did not know what I did, he did know that it was not cost effective to have a four day a week position devoted to public interest when only six to eight people were affected so he was eliminating my position and that of my assistant, Dana Bullwinkel. He said that in our place a full-time staff assistant would be hired who would report to June Thompson and counsel students in all areas of the law, not just public interest.

The school lacks, and seriously needs, a well-supported, well-staffed, well-publicized, career development office and a public interest career center. I regret not having been given the opportunity to establish these offices but I remain optimistic. I believe that the law school will in the near future come to grips with the crisis. I do not think that it will ignore the imbalanced and inappropriate diversion of 90% of its graduates to the representation of 1% of the population. I do not think that it will want to be considered an irrelevant factor in the search for equality of access to the justice system. I am optimistic because so many of you spoke out this fall demanding more support, resources and guidance on the many varied public interest careers. I also want to express to all of you my deepest respect for the responsible actions you have taken in support of those who want to pursue legal services for those who need them the most. Because of your untiring efforts, your organizing, your factual and reasoned responses, your requests and demands, and your persistence, you have made many aware of the concerns of students and issues that had previously gone unrecognized. You have provided encouragement not only to students here but to students at other law schools and untold lawyers and college students considering a career in public interest law.

Your involvement is not only important, it is critical and necessary. Almost all of the significant progress that Harvard Law School has made and most of the programs that have been developed in the last fifteen years in the area of public interest career planning and placement have resulted from student demands. The creation of the public interest committee by the new dean with a broad mandate to review the role of public interest within the law school is a recent example. We are truly in the midst of a crisis which will not be resolved while you are in law school. How you respond to it in law school, however, may determine how you respond to it throughout your entire legal career. Your actions this fall have given many people reason to be optimistic. Continued best wishes in your efforts.

Sincerely,
/s/Ron
Ronald W. Fox

September 18, 2009

NOW ACCESSIBLE ONLINE - Think Small! Learning about and Locating Positions in Small Firms - New York State Bar Association Committee on Lawyers in Transition Webinar

I had the opportunity and the privilege yesterday to make a presentation entitled "Think Small: Learning About and Locating Positions in Small Law Firms" for the New York State Bar Association. About 30 who registered were "live" in the "studio" at the law office of Lauren Wachtler, the chair of the Committee on Lawyers in Transition. An additional 175 registered for the webcast

THE VIDEO OF THIS 110 MINUTE WORKSHOP IS NOW ACCESSIBLE ON-LINE HERE..

BEFORE YOU BEGIN, HOWEVER, READ BELOW!

IF YOU DECIDE TO VIEW IT, I SUGGEST YOU DO THE FOLLOWING:
1. PAUSE THE VIDEO AS IT BEGINS;
2, CLICK THE ATTACHMENT ICON AFTER "HANDOUT #1 SUGGESTED READING ";
3. DO THE READING AND THE EXERCISES; AND THEN.
4, WATCH THE VIDEO

I initially talk about how we got to this point (my 50th year in the legal profession) where the vast majority of the public are unable to obtain the services of a lawyer and the vast majority of lawyers are dissatisfied. (I quote from the recent American Bar Foundation "After the JD" press release indicating that 59% of the associates from what they refer to as the "top ten law schools" intend to leave their present large firm employers within 2 years and that those in firms of greater than 250 lawyers are less satisfied than their counterparts in smaller firms.)

I state my belief that the culprit are the law schools which funnel their students to BigLaw through on-campus interviewing and ignore those unable to be interviewed and, in the process, neglect the legal needs of the public by failing to teach skills, values and career planning and charging outrageous amounts for tuition, far greater than the worth of the services delivered. My experience in the last 25 years leads me to conclude that lawyers who are unhappy because they are unable to find employment or dissatisfied at the law firm the law school "placed" them in, will invariably suffer from a lack of self-confidence, self-respect and self-worth.

The second part of the program begins with making lawyers aware of one of the four fundamental values of the legal profession - the commitment of a lawyer to take a position consistent with his or her professional goals and personal values. I then suggest how to go about finding a position in a small firm pointing out that 66% of all lawyers in private practice are in firms of 5 or less lawyers. I advise that they choose and area of law, find out who does it, make contact with some to promote and market yourself, keep doing something and eventually accept a position likely to provide career satisfaction.

I also suggest that, as they implement this process, they might want to look at themselves as independent contractors and, rather than limiting themselves to jobs as employees, look for opportunities to work part-time for one lawyer, then one or two others until they are full time partners, associates or solos.

The program raised a number of issues. Whether or not you view the webinar, I invite you to comment and share what you think about these or any related topics: the legal needs of the public; the need for major restructuring of legal education; OCI and the funnel; dissatisfaction of lawyers in BigLaw; the lack of self-confidence of lawyers generally; the opportunities in small firms.

I HOPE YOU FIND THIS PROGRAM HELPS YOU IN YOUR SEARCH FOR CAREER SATISFACTION..

Ron Fox .

September 8, 2009

Think Small! Learning about and Locating Positions in Small Firms - New York State Bar Association Committee on Lawyers in Transition Webinar

On Wednesday, September 16, 2009, from noon to 2pm (EDT), I will be doing a live webcast for the New York State Bar Association Committee on Lawyers in Transition entitled Think Small! Learning About and Locating Positions in Small Law Firms

"For many years, if not decades, there has been an intense focus on large law firms as if they represent the entire legal profession. The lack of openings within large law firms makes this a most appropriate time for lawyers and law students to realize that there are nearly unlimited options in small law firms. There are jobs; there are positions; there are openings!"

For more information and to register for this free program go to this NYSBA website..

September 4, 2009

Prospects Dim for Law Students OR The Light at the End of the Funnel

A week ago today, I submitted the following to the New York Times with a request that it be considered for an op-ed stating, as required, that it had not been previously published. The paper's guidelines state that if you receive no telephone call or e-mail within three business days, you should assume that the paper has decided not to print the submission.With that in mind here is the comment I sent to the paper.


The Light at the End of the Funnel

By Ronald W. Fox

The theme of Downturn Dims Prospects Even at Top Law Schools (August 26, 2009) is the negative impact on law students of the reduced hiring by large law firms.

Twenty five years ago this week I became the Public Interest Adviser at Harvard Law School. Over the next five years, based on conversations with students and placement staff at law schools across the country, I concluded that more than half of all law students hoped to work with individuals or small entities.

Sadly, the law schools, deaf to their students' career aspirations, failed them: did not teach them to practice law; did not teach them that lawyers must be committed to taking positions consistent with their professional and personal values; and did not make them aware of the wide range of options for lawyers.

They did, however, set up a well-staffed extremely efficient on-campus interviewing program limited to large law firms, the only ones who could predict their needs two years in advance. These large firms were eager to hire and were quite successful.

In most selective law schools nearly ninety-five (95) per cent of the graduates of each class flowed through the "funnel" to jobs in those firms representing primarily large corporations.

Since I left that position twenty years ago this month, I have had the privilege of working with lawyers dissatisfied with the path they had traveled. Most hoped that the benefits of a law degree would be autonomy, intellectual stimulation, knowledge of a trade, respect, reasonable income and a life of serving others.

Instead many found themselves unhappy in their jobs but felt trapped. With few skills, little awareness of any options or how to look for unadvertised positions, they could not even begin to search for a new position until they regained their self-confidence and a sense of self-worth.

I strongly believe that much of the well-publicized malaise and dissatisfaction within the legal profession is caused by the neglect of, and the disinterest of the law schools' faculties and staff in, the careers of their students.

While the law schools in the past have been wildly successful in raising the cost of attending law school far beyond the rate of inflation often justifying increases (and the debt required to afford it) by not so subtle promises of high-paying positions in large law firms, this is no longer the case.

What the writer of the article might have suggested is that the prospects are dim, not for the students, but for the law schools, as prospective law students, aware of what some have referred to as the law school financial hoax stop applying to law schools that refuse to prepare them to practice law for a reasonable tuition.

The writer might also have looked into the connection between the law schools' neglect of their students and the unmet legal needs of the public.

Upon hearing of the passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, my wife and I took our 10 year old grandson to the JFK Library and read in the family's statement about "his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all."

Much like what we are facing on the issue of healthcare, but not as well publicized, are statistics that indicate that eighty (80) percent of the legal needs of the 45,000,000 least wealthy members of the public are not met.

According to the ABA's MacCrate Report, a fundamental value of the legal profession is the commitment of lawyers to: promoting justice, fairness, and morality; helping the profession ensure legal services to those who can't pay; and enhancing the capacity of legal institutions to do justice.

But the lawyers who are law professors and deans of law schools may not be living up to this commitment to justice if they are not preparing students to represent those with middle or low income, not making students aware that two-thirds of all lawyers in private practice are in firms of 5 or less lawyers (including one-half who are solos) and not reducing the cost to attend law school so that debt load does not drive career choice.

They certainly are not eliminating the funnel, the on-campus interview program which "places" students rather than helping them to actively "choose" what interests them.

We are faced with a situation where at least one-half the law students in the country would like to provide services to individuals and have little to no interest in large law firms while millions of the public are in need of their services.

Will law schools take no action except wistfully yearn for a return to the halcyon days when they will again divert law students from representing the public, funnel students to large law firms, and continue without restraint to raise salaries and tuition, all under the banner of "law is now a business"?

Or will they incorporate the fundamental values of the legal profession and act, not based on self-interest and those of large law firms, but for the benefit of law students and the public. If they do, we can be proud of law schools and consider them partners in Senator Kennedy's "tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all."

Ronald W. Fox is the founder and primary consultant of the Center for Professional Development in the Law a/k/a Career Planning for Lawyers .

Additional Biographical Information

Since 1990, Ron has: provided individual guidance to lawyers in transition seeking positions consistent with their personal values and their professional goals; posted on his Lawyer Satisfaction Blog ; consulted to over 25 law schools, including Cornell, Boston College, Notre Dame and Northwestern; presented workshops for the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York; created and facilitated the ABA Public Service Division's "Town Meeting" for the six Washington D.C. law schools; and authored Lawful Pursuit: Careers in Public Interest Law published by the ABA Law Student Division;

Ron graduated from Harvard Law School in 1963 and practiced law in a variety of settings for 20 years including two law firms he founded. In 1974 he was one of the first providers of divorce mediation and was active in developing that field until 1990. Working with bar associations, he designed and created numerous lawyer referral and other programs aimed at the delivery of legal services to low and middle income individuals. From 1983-1989 Ron worked at Harvard Law School providing career planning services to law students pursuing careers serving the legal needs of the public and also co-founded the Public Interest Committee of NALP.

September 1, 2009

EXCERPTS FROM THE LAID OFF DIARY

Many of you are aware of LawShucks which has become well known for keeping track of the number of lawyers and staff laid off from BigLaw. Recently someone began to post his/her thoughts under the title of The Laid Off Diary

As I read the articles, I recognized that the diarist, although likely not having the background and experience of a career planner, had distilled in the various articles the essence and fundamentals of the approach I employ in helping lawyers make a transition from dissatisfaction or unemployment to, hopefully, a satisfying position.

I took excerpts from many of the posts in the diary and, with the approval of Law Shucks and its diarist, present them here. I think you will find what follows worth reading.

EXCERPTS FROM THE LAID OFF DIARY

Apple
It's so easy to have taken the path we did. Major in some bullshit liberal arts degree, whack through the LSAT for a few hours, get into a good law school, study two weeks before each final for an OPEN BOOK final, be wined and dined for two summers, wear nice suits and have the little numbers in our bank account go up and up.... but through all of this, did most of us actually stop and think about what we WANT to do? what our GOAL is?

Falling Forward
We are all entrepreneurs of life in some sense trying to find the idea that is a home run... Sure, there are some formula one race car drivers that were groomed from the age of 4 or gymnasts whose parents sent them to gymnastics training at the age of 6 but not all of us had our paths laid out in front of us like that. Moreover, even laid out paths might end up like the roll over bar and be a bust even though it seemed like a golden fail proof idea. For some, BigLaw seemed like a pig-in-shit perfect path for them but at the end of the day, it might just be the shit without the pig (er...well, you get the idea). Sure, our endeavor into BigLaw was costly (student loans, time spent and brain cells killed studying for the bar, and self-esteem and dignity lost through working in BigLaw), but let's try to learn from this lesson, move on, and fall forward

Valuation Model
It's simple logic. If you sacrifice X for Y, make sure Y is more valuable than X. It might be that BigLaw is your dream job, it is what gets you going in the morning, and it is more important to you than family (I'd hate to be you). But if it's not, make sure you know that. Make sure during the valuation of your life and the things in it, your model correctly reflects the true value of your job. And don't just use the blue book value or the value that other people tell you it has, be honest with yourself and use the value that correctly reflects whether it is a mint condition Maybach 57 or a beat up rusty piece of shit with rips in the sticky nylon seats that smells oddly of cat piss and cotton candy.

Laying Seeds
But everything I'm doing now makes me think about these damn bean stalks. I've called every partner, senior associate, recruiter, or professional contact that I've made since I've been laid off. They've all tried to help and give me advice but nothing has come to fruition. I've been following leads, trying to branch out, making new contacts, etc. Sometimes when I see a job opportunity, I work myself up over it and get the feeling "this is the job! this is it! I'm made!" but I either don't get the job or it turns out to be b.s.

Benefit
I will admit that I was able to benefit from my time in the slammer doing hard legal labor, which consisted of 60-70 hours of busy boring and unchallenging work, and that I am much more competent than most people I meet. I won't claim that I'm more competent than my peers who worked in TinyLaw because they may have an expertise that I do not have because they worked in TinyLaw (e.g. a trial lawyer at a plaintiff's firm has much more trial experience than most BigLaw trial lawyer) but I do believe that I at least sound pretty damn sophisticated and it comes from 1) being able to talk out of my ass flawlessly, and 2) working on sophisticated deals in BigLaw.

Journey
When I first started writing to you, I did it because I was 1) fed up with BigLaw; 2) bored; 3) enjoy bitching and thought you'd like to hear about it; and 4) wanted to tell people about the "real" truth about BigLaw (or at least as I perceived it). But I've discovered that this has now become a diary of my journey and transformation as just another "lawyer" into... I'd like to cross over to business and do something creative but I have to admit, it's difficult not to just fall back into being a "lawyer" because that's what I know and that's how the world sees me. But now I have to break through that image and reinvent myself that is both in the legal world and in the business/entrepreneurial world. Will this diary be as moving as the Motorcycle Diaries? I don't presume to think I can move the world the same way Che has, but I hope I can at least shift my career and hopefully business people will stop thinking of us as boring losers. and besides, all I have is a scooter. The journey begins

Networking, Not Netwhoring
We know why networking is important-only 5-10% of jobs are advertised, it never hurts to have someone higher up pull strings for you, and blah blah blah But, it's HOW you network.

Let's Do Lunch
At associate development lunches at the firm, we were told to find a niche practice which most of the time resulted from happening upon an assignment that required us to do about 30 hours of mind numbing research on a boring or obscure part of the law and then being the "go to" person every time that issue came up. We were actually encouraged to seek out mind-numbing work and "fall" into that niche practice instead of CHOOSING a practice area or niche that made us tick. Not very encouraging. Shouldn't we first find out what makes us tick and then seek out a position or build one around what we are interested in? Are lawyers that afraid to go after what they want that they are willing to hang their hat on any random ass nail they happen to find sticking out of a wall and 30 years later, still hang on that same damn rusty nail?

Bid-ness Development
how am I getting all these CEOs and managing directors and founders to meet with me or invite me to lunch (and more than once) or coffee or to their offices or call me or give me a standing invite to lunch if I'm ever in their city? I can't teach you. Either you're social or you're not. Either your extroverted or you're not. Either you can sell yourself as someone interesting enough that someone will want to talk to you or you can't. Either you're creative on how to reach out to these people and get in front of them or you're not. But I can say that it gets easier as your Rolodex expands because then people start introducing you to their network.

August 31, 2009

AREA OF PRACTICE PREFERENCES

AREA OF PRACTICE PREFERENCES

If you are a lawyer who is dissatisfied, underemployed or unemployed, or a law students looking to the future, you may want to consider your options in a wide range of areas in which lawyers practice and then explore some of them in more depth.

My suggestion is that you circle the practice areas that APPEAL to you. Note that I did NOT say in which ones you have experience or took classes in in law school or CLE courses. I just want you to indicate your interest in representing clients with issues or claims in specific areas of the law.

(I found this list here after clicking on "Choose from a List")

Adoptions;
Automobile Accidents;
Bankruptcy;
Breach of Contract;
Business Law;
Business Litigation;
Child Custody;
Child Support;
Civil Litigation;
Civil Rights;
Collaborative Family Law;
Collections;
Commercial Litigation;
Construction Law;
Consumer Fraud;
Consumer Law;
Contracts;
Corporate Law;
Criminal Law;
DUI/DWI;
Debtor and Creditor;
Discrimination;
Divorce;
Domestic Violence;
Drug Crimes;
Education Law;
Elder Law;
Employment Contracts;
Entertainment Law;
Estate Litigation;
Estate Planning;
Family Law;
Fathers Rights;
Felonies;
Foreclosures;
General Practice;
Guardianship and Conservatorship;
Head and Spinal Injuries;
Immigration;
Insurance;
Intellectual Property;
Labor and Employment;
Landlord and Tenant Law;
Legal Malpractice;
Libel, Slander and Defamation;
Litigation;
Medical Malpractice;
Medicare and Medicaid;
Motorcycle Accidents;
Nursing Home Litigation;
Patents;
Personal Injury;
Police Misconduct;
Products Liability;
Real Estate;
Residential Real Estate;
Sex Crimes;
Sexual Harassment;
Slip and Fall;
Social Security;
Social Security Disability;
Taxation;
Traffic Violations;
Trucking Accidents;
Trusts and Estates;
White Collar Crime;
Wills and Probate;
Workers Compensation;
Wrongful Death;
Wrongful Termination

July 26, 2009

Can We Expect the Legal Media to Think Outside the Box?


Journalists of the legal media could be a force in correcting decades of law school misplacement.

I just read the most recent of the plethora of articles focusing on placement offices and what they are doing for law students during this unique "challenging" "chill" inducing situation where more and more large law firms are withdrawing from on-campus interviewing and not hiring students for summer and permanent positions.

I quickly recognized thirteen issues NOT considered in this article (to a great extent applicable to another such article.)

1, Isn't the use of the word "firm"misleading if it refers to the few firms (only 10%) with > 100 lawyers?

2. Who created the "box' that LS students have to think outside of and why?

3. Were the few firms able to enter the "box" providing positions desired by LS students.

4. Were the few firms able to enter the "box' providing positions through which students could serve legal needs of the public.

5. What are the goals, values & hopes of LS students?

6. What careers do LS students envision upon graduation?

7. What percentage of LS students want positions in regional firms, smaller firms, local firms, or government jobs,"

8. Are there summer paid positions for law students in "popular" cities in firms of < 6 lawyers? .

9. What is the process to go through to find these unadvertised positions?

10. What percentage of LS students want to go solo & not be employees?

11. Has the LS prepared the students to practice solo or in firms of < 6 lawyers?

12. When the economy improves, do LS expect to again funnel students back into the "box"?

13. Why is this concern one for the career staff? Why aren't the LSDeans and faculty being interviewed?

How many other examples can you find where the legal media ignored the fundamental issues and concerns of law students in the areas of career planning and professional development?

June 10, 2009

Debra and Ron Post 4: What Do Women Want?

For information on the genesis of these posts and on who "Debra" is, click here and read the intro to "Debra and Ron Post 1."

 

Ron: Would you counsel women law students toward or away from BigLaw?

 

Debra: In my opinion, as I said in Post 1, training, opportunity, career development and networking are far better in BigLaw, even with all its shortcomings. Women, like men, need it; it needs us.  Like every other business institution, law firms need and benefit from women among their leaders.

 

Ron:  I am sure that they do but the issue is the distribution of scarce resources (women lawyers) where society most needs them (and here would be the key place in which we would have a difference of opinion - more later).

 

Debra:  Women lawyers are not scarce resources.  My understanding is that in excess of 50% of law school grads are in fact women.  Society needs us in plenty of places, to be sure, but there are enough of us to go around and to represent more than a tiny percentage of the leadership in big firms.

 

Ron:  Boy do I disagree.  They are a "scarce resource."  As I have mentioned often, 95% of the women (and the men) who have graduated from "selective" law schools (not the best, just the ones difficult to get into) start out overrepresenting the 1% wealthiest of society while most of society has no access to lawyers.

 

Debra:  Your comment doesn't seem responsive to the scarce resources point.  Women - and, for that matter, men - may be scarce resources in the public interest sector, but that is an allocation issue, not a resource constraint.  There are plenty of lawyers in the US and plenty of law students in US law schools.

 

Ron: The fundamental question is what women (and men) law students envisioned and wanted to do with their legal training. I spoke to the entering class at Notre Dame Law School. I asked about their career plans. The plurality wanted to represent women and children. To coin a phrase "What Do Women Want?

 

What if the answer is that a majority want to represent women, children and men in human and civil rights areas such as housing, education, family, healthcare, environmental, employment discrimination, plaintiff injury and gay rights?

 

Debra:  I think it's sexist and incorrect to presume women have different goals than men in pursuing careers in the law.  Like men, women come in all shapes and sizes, and our goals run the gamut.  Many men no doubt want to practice in human and civil rights areas such as housing, education, family, healthcare, environmental, employment discrimination, plaintiff injury and gay rights, just as many women want instead to be business lawyers, judges, venture capitalists and what have you.  We have to take great care not to make sweeping generalizations about anyone's goals or talents based on gender, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.  I'm sorry to sound like a political tract here, but I see too much jumping from the specific to the generic where women and minorities are concerned.  It's not fair or sensible to make assumptions for these reasons - a fact of which I remind myself every time I'm tempted to disdain stay-at-home moms!  :)

 

Ron:  I referred to women because our original subject had been about women so I continued to use them as the subject.  You are correct that men certainly want to practice in human and civil rights. But for years I have used a form which allows clients to select a variety of areas of practice that appeal to them. I would Ď€have to say that more women chose family and divorce and more men chose owning a professional sports team ( - :

 

Debra: Might you have some adverse selection going on here? If your base group features a plurality of people who don't want to be BigLaw or business lawyers in the first place, these practice area choices may be a foregone conclusion.  Or maybe you're seeing the unsurprising results of all the pressure to choose "humane/girly" areas that many women feel from firms, law schools, parents, the whole white male power structure that permeates our society.  Or maybe I'm just a feminist baby-boomer with a real fire in her belly who doesn't want to admit that her younger sisters feel differently in larger numbers than they once did.  :)

 

Ron: You are probably quite correct here. Much of my efforts have had the label of "public interest" attached to them and many of those seeking my advice would likely be predisposed to such areas. Again, what I would like to see is a massive restructuring of legal education so that law students (women and men) make informed choices about what they want to do after graduation.

June 8, 2009

Debra and Ron Post 3 - ARE LAW SCHOOLS MERELY FUNNELS FOR BIGLAW?

 For information on the genesis of these posts and on who "Debra" is, click here and read the intro to "Debra and Ron Post 1."

 

Ron: When I began to work as the public interest adviser at Harvard Law School in 1983, I knew that there were thousands of capable lawyers who represented those truly needing legal services, what we referred to as the underrepresented in society. Students had no way of knowing that this was the case. What I did was to create a new public interest category "private public interest law firms", contacted hundreds of such lawyers across the country, and list them in the Public Interest Directory I edited in 1986.Quite soon, Harvard law School students were choosing summer positions with them and eventually taking permanent positions.

 

The reason so many law students at selective law schools take positions with BigLaw is not that it is a more satisfying option for them. It is simply that BigLaw has convinced the law schools to take your position that it is just too difficult to find better placements for their students (of course it helps that the recruiters for BigLaw wine and dine and provide great resorts for lovely social events for law school career planning staff at the annual NALP conferences).

 

Debra: All true, but I continue to dispute the "shunted" theory, and I continue to be certain that law students without the gumption to resist wining, dining and social events as they seek to make career decisions are highly unlikely ever to make good lawyers - particularly in the public interest arena.  I also wonder how many better or more satisfying options there are - truly - for rookie lawyers.  There are plenty of rookie MBAs, college grads and other entrants to the work force also on the hunt for careers and, as we've discussed above, very few companies and even fewer nonprofits are actually hiring untrained beginners.

 

I don't think the fundamental educational question is what law students envision and want.  That's a personal question each individual has the right to answer for himself, but I think the fundamental educational question is what do we need, as a society, from our lawyers.

 

Ron: I agree.  I agree. I agree.

 

Debra: In my view, Karl Llewellyn had the right answer to this question.  In a 1942 speech given in the context of there being little call for lawyers and "no pervading appreciation that law skills can be mobilized to serve" in the war effort, Llewellyn spoke of the special skills of lawyers and the risks of viewing lawyering as "mere monopoly of the knowledge of law" rather than as "vision and sense of the whole, and skills in finding ways, smoothing friction, handling men in any situation, with speed, with sureness. . . .a craft of doing and getting things done with the law."  That's what I think society should demand of lawyers and what law schools should prepare lawyers to offer.

 

Ron: That may take only one year of law school. Take a look at the mission statement of Stanford Law School and perhaps a number of other law schools. What is a fundamental provision and one of the fundamental values of the legal profession - serve the legal needs of the public. We have had twenty years of "selective" law schools funneling 95% of their graduates to BigLaw to represent the 1% of the wealthiest of our society. I believe that is contrary to the public interest. In fact, I wonder if the government should guarantee or provide any benefit for loans that go to those attending a law school that permits that distribution of its graduates. The fact that 80% or more of those attending these law schools do not envision working for BigLaw is just an added bonus ( - :

 

You and I differ here on a fundamental point. You suggest that each individual is free to make his or her own choice and is solely responsible for that decision. That ignores so many of the factors that pressure law students. We all know (I think) that law schools have never tried to control their costs which have far outstripped the rise in the cost of living. We also know (I think) that the cost could immediately be reduced by one-third by eliminating the useless third year. We know that it is only BigLaw that is given access to law students as the only game that can make (or was able to make) commitments 18 months in advance. We also know that the debt burden on law students when combined with the offers of BigPay from BigLaw leads many of them to believe that BigLaw is the only "reasonable" choice. In so many ways the law school "educated" law students that BigLaw was the place to go (in part because of the indifference of faculty.

 

Debra:  I must argue with the notion of "funneling."  Again, anyone who allows himself to be funneled into a career option he considers unacceptable is not someone I'd bet on to be a capable, zealous advocate - in any setting.  Starting one's legal career in BigLaw is a proven method for gaining experience and developing and honing practical skills and work habits.  For some, it's a career; for others, it's a useful first step; for still others, it's no doubt a bad fit.

 

I remain staunch in believing that it is up to each individual to choose for himself.  I was not funneled into BigLaw by the University of Chicago Law School or by anything or anyone else.  I made a conscious, informed choice, based on my interests and skills, to be a business lawyer.  Call me coldhearted if you like, but I have no sympathy for anyone who lets himself be funneled into doing something he does not want to do.  We are in charge of our careers, our happiness and our choices; it's short-sighted and adolescent to attempt to blame someone or something else when we choose poorly.

 

If 80% don't want to join BigLaw, then they shouldn't.  Not only would they presumably be happier elsewhere, BigLaw would have to make some needed structural changes if the well dried up and firms actually had to work to attract new grads.

 

Furthermore, neither I nor my firms represented only the top 1% of the wealthiest in our society.  Our clients ran the gamut from big to small to individual, and the businesses I helped clients take public, buy, sell, expand & finance created jobs and opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people.  This is clearly in the public interest.  The law firms I worked for as a lawyer, and with as a client, also funneled (to use that term more acceptably) millions of dollars, in time & money, to a huge variety of charities and pro bono causes.  I think it is just as misguided to suggest business and the lawyers who support it are contrary to the public interest as it would be to assert that all solo practitioners are saints dedicated to furthering the public interest.

 

Ron:  I realize that I have made some negative generalizations about BigLaw and that there are cases where they are incorrect but I think it is fair to say that BigLaw represents BigBusiness and many small firms represent LittleIndividuals. My worldview, of course, is that it is more important to take on the cases of those with claims for violations of their human and civil rights than to work to help form successful businesses but we need both and I am simply trying to level the playing field. I appreciate that BigLaw and BigBusiness contribute to charitable causes but prefer that lawyers who wish to have the opportunity to devote 100%of their time to such efforts. (I don't need to get into the stories of BigLaw associates who described being told they could not appear at a critical hearing for a pro bono clients because of what seemed to them a meaningless chore demanded of them by a partner.)

 

Debra:  There are certainly partners who make pro bono involvement difficult (just as there are multitudinous associates with no interest whatsoever in pro bono work), but all of the firms I've worked for as a lawyer or with as a client have healthy pro bono programs and are, in fact, casting about for associates willing to devote time to NPO boards, fund-raising efforts, case administration, etc.  We are totally in agreement, however, that lawyers who wish to have the opportunity to devote 100% of their time to such efforts do not belong in BigLaw.