Legal Troubles
June 28, 2016 9:01 AM   Subscribe

As the rich get richer, trouble continues to brew for law schools in the United States.

More bad news and signs of trouble:

The numbers of law school applicants, applications, and admitted students have fallen for five years in a row. Although no law schools have closed outright*, a few have merged in order to stay afloat: Hamline and William Mitchell, Rutgers Camden and Rutgers Newark, and back in 2010 Franklin Pierce merged with the University of New Hampshire.

* Although Cooley did close one of its campuses in 2014.

The Department of Education has recommended that the ABA be prevented from accrediting any new law schools for a period of one year. You might think that surely the ABA wouldn't be so foolish as to accredit any new law schools in this market, but just last year the ABA accredited yet another law school. On the other hand, the ABA has announced that it will begin conducting random audits of law schools' employment statistics, funded by a $250,000 fine imposed on the University of Illinois in 2012 for intentionally reporting false admissions data for six years.

Meanwhile, Richard Posner gave a scathing critique of law professors' overblown self-importance and the detachment of legal academia from the real world:
I don’t doubt that law professors are frequently active outside the classroom and that their academic work sometimes addresses practical issues, but what I’d like to see is evidence of impact. Amicus briefs? Working for nonprofits? Blogging? “Speaking truth to power?” Absurd: speak all you want, professors, power doesn’t listen to the likes of you.
His statement is reminiscent of Chief Justice Roberts's criticism of law journals:
Pick up a copy of any law review that you see and the first article is likely to be, you know, the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th-century Bulgaria, or something, which I’m sure was of great interest to the academic that wrote it, but isn’t of much help to the bar.
Roberts's remarks led to the publication of this delightful bit of academic trolling [pdf]
posted by jedicus (66 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
For those who don't know: unlike the journals in most (almost all?) other fields, law journals are virtually all non-peer-reviewed and run by law students, not attorneys, judges, or law professors. The primary contributors to law journals, law professors, are often not practicing attorneys—many are not even licensed. Posner has long criticized this approach, summarizing it as "a world where inexperienced editors make articles about the wrong topics worse."

This has lead to a parallel system of bar journals aimed at practicing attorneys. While these are also generally not peer-reviewed, they are at least peer-edited.
posted by jedicus at 9:14 AM on June 28, 2016 [27 favorites]


instead of fining the schools, they could just transfer the student debt from all students enrolled during any fraudulent years to the school. That would probably be more useful to society than an abstract fine.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:18 AM on June 28, 2016 [37 favorites]


I'm really not sure what the diagnosis is here, much less a prescription to treat it:

* there are too many law school students for the number of jobs: bad.
* law school enrollment is dropping like a rock: bad.
* there are law schools closing: bad.
* there are new law schools opening: bad.

And all of this is subsidized by government loans and regulated by incestuous state bar associations. And the best hope for all of it is that the programs become academic philosophizing indistinguishable from a four year degree in rhetoric -- which might actually give students some skills worth having!
posted by mikewebkist at 9:42 AM on June 28, 2016


Pick up a copy of any law review that you see and the first article is likely to be, you know, the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th-century Bulgaria

This feels like garden variety right wing anti-intellectualism, and I'd point out that the first article in the most recent issue of the law review from John Robert's alma mater is about how the Supreme Court uses the guise of the principle of "judicial restraint" to make large changes to constitutional, so maybe I won't take his criticism very seriously?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:43 AM on June 28, 2016 [36 favorites]


Getting yourself $200,000 in debt for a law degree strikes me as self indulgent at best. Doing so in near middle age is downright foolish.
posted by Bee'sWing at 9:48 AM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


One way in which law school is helping the rich get richer:
Too many law schools are inducing students to take on debt that under no reasonable set of circumstances will they be able to repay. In the meantime, they are heaping scholarships of increasing amounts on the relatively few high-LSAT scorers still applying to law schools. Those beneficiaries are less likely to be black, Latino, or from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

In the end, disadvantaged students end up subsidizing the attendance of their more privileged peers — a reverse ­Robin Hood scheme that is as regressive as it is indefensible.
posted by clawsoon at 9:51 AM on June 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


Given the great surplus of attorneys in the US, is there any evidence that the price of legal services is falling? I'm not sure that it is, because the legal resources that attorneys use to perform their jobs are as expensive as ever. Google Scholar is great, but it's not (yet?) a replacement for something like Lexis or Westlaw.
posted by dominicmauro at 9:51 AM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


These are bad things for (most) law schools, not necessarily bad things for (some) law students, (most) lawyers, or (most) buyers of legal services. The ongoing market correction probably isn't as strong as it should be, especially because it shows signs of slowing.

As for a prescription: I tried to keep the post relatively neutral, but in my opinion the answer is to reduce total law school enrollment by about half, mostly by closing law schools. At the same time, shift the JD to a more purely practical degree program (leave LLMs, SJDs, and PhDs for those who want to be academics). Close most of the law journals and make them peer-reviewed. Drop the Socratic method in favor of direct instruction and hands-on learning. Oh, and convert the entire thing to an ordinary 4 year bachelor's degree program, instantly making legal education more accessible while cutting the cost to get a law degree by half or more, giving lawyers 3 more useful earning years, and avoiding the problem of lawyers who might have children hitting the end of their primary child-bearing years just as they're about to become partners (~35). That would go a long way to closing the gap between the number of women associates (almost parity) with the number of women partners (much less than parity).
posted by jedicus at 9:52 AM on June 28, 2016 [26 favorites]


I think the question of whether there are too many law schools (and thus too many lawyers, including unemployed lawyers) is a difficult one. There are almost certainly too many law schools for the available number of paying legal jobs, and definitely too many when you factor in the cost of obtaining a law degree. I've got a degree from a top 15 law school and finding a job was hard for me, I can't imagine what it's like if your school isn't as well known or acknowledged.

That said, I don't think we have nearly enough lawyers for the NEED people have for lawyers. Public defenders are egregiously overworked, most people in foreclosure or eviction cases are unrepresented, as are huge numbers in family court, and high numbers in bankruptcy as well. People need lawyers, but the cost of legal services is so high that most of them don't get it, and legal training doesn't prepare many people to take on these cases without practical guidance and training after graduation. As I implied up thread, I don't think law reviews are silly, and I think that hands on experience with good legal writing is very valuable,* but I also think rethinking how law school is structured to meet the actual needs of clients is not a bad idea.

*I review the writing of attorneys in my office many of whom have decades of practical experience, and they are often VERY bad writers. I'm far from above reproach myself, but even I am aware that they are bad writers.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:58 AM on June 28, 2016 [21 favorites]


Is the price of law school just reflective of what schools have to pay law professors to get them to teach law? Or...? I get why med school costs so much because it takes a billion years to get through and the facilities needed to teach current medical practice are extremely expensive. But the Law School is just in its own little 5 floor brutalist monstrosity with a couple floors of library and some janky offices. Why does it cost so damn much?

I don't know anyone who has been to law school as a middle-aged adult who is not a terminally self-indulgent jackass, which kind of tints my ability to be sympathetic. If you want a change of career, there are professional degrees you can get, that will actually get you jobs if you're willing to move, that can be had for a fraction of that.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:01 AM on June 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


The price of legal services has not fallen, no. There's plenty of competition, but costs such as law school debt (mainly relevant for solo startups, not big firms), rent, malpractice insurance, staff costs, advertising and research services are only increasing.

As all of this happened, law school tuition increased far, far faster than inflation, faster even than college tuition. It was a money-grab driven by a debt-fueled bubble that is in the middle stages of bursting.
posted by jedicus at 10:03 AM on June 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Like Bulgaraoktonos, I question the blanket assertion that there are too many lawyers. Between 2011-2012 (the last year I have data for), 1/4 of federal cases were filed without attorneys and 1.2 of federal appeals were filed without counsel. Meanwhile, Illinois--where I practice has only one full-time equivalent legal aid lawyer for every 4,752 legal problems faced by low-income individuals--basically, people needing legal aid get it for only one out of every six legal problems they face. The most recent survey (2003) found that low-income people in Illinois face more than 1.3 million civil legal problems per year. Which does not even begin to address the issue of states not providing adequate public defense.

And the ABA is lobbying for law school accreditation to stop counting legal aid or legal services fellowships in the year after graduation as employment, even thou one year law clerk positions with judges count. Or grads who've been hired by MegaLaw but told to defer their start for 2-3 years count as employed.

We need to do what jedicus suggests: reduce the cost of a legal education, increase the practical component of legal education, in addition to supporting low cost legal services in the communities by funding legal aid agencies and public interest law firms. Because it is not rational to expect new grads to just start their own practice, nor is it ethical.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:05 AM on June 28, 2016 [11 favorites]


As for a prescription: [...]

Sounds a lot like an engineering degree when you're done. Which self-regulates pretty well, though in a very different market context.

Lower the price to that of an engineering (or say nursing) degree (by 1/2 or 1/4?), it takes a lot of the sting out of the financial penalties people pay too.
posted by bonehead at 10:06 AM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


That said, I don't think we have nearly enough lawyers for the NEED people have for lawyers. Public defenders are egregiously overworked, most people in foreclosure or eviction cases are unrepresented, as are huge numbers in family court, and high numbers in bankruptcy as well. People need lawyers, but the cost of legal services is so high that most of them don't get it, and legal training doesn't prepare many people to take on these cases without practical guidance and training after graduation. As I implied up thread, I don't think law reviews are silly, and I think that hands on experience with good legal writing is very valuable,* but I also think rethinking how law school is structured to meet the actual needs of clients is not a bad idea.

Unsurprisingly, I totally agree with this; lots of people at all socioeconomic levels need legal advice/representation (empirical evidence: like two thirds of AskMe answers) and people don't know where and how to get it and it's often more expensive than they can afford, partially because the degrees are more expensive than the lawyers can afford.

I really wish we'd properly fund public defenders and legal aid for civil cases and stuff because, as in so many fields (healthcare, education, virtually everything representing the public good) the issue is not that there isn't a need for services, it's that we as a society have decided not to support people in fulfilling that need so stuff like good legal advice is expensive for middle class people and can be impossible to access for people who are poor.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:09 AM on June 28, 2016 [15 favorites]




It's possible that we have both too many lawyers and too few. More accurately, there might be too many lawyers, and they're poorly distributed. I don't think many people would argue against the need for increased access to legal services, but we could probably cut down the ranks of corporate counsel.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:21 AM on June 28, 2016 [19 favorites]


It's really interesting how law and medicine suffer from opposite problems -- there are too many law schools producing too many graduates, and too few medical schools producing too few doctors. One of those professions has seen average wages and job prospects decline in the past 10 years, the other has seen the opposite. Sure, it's a cartel, but capping med schools has been very good for actual doctors. For society as a whole? Debatable.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:25 AM on June 28, 2016 [9 favorites]


I don't think many people would argue against the need for increased access to legal services, but we could probably cut down the ranks of corporate counsel.

I think the Magee idea linked to above makes this mistake. I'm not corporate counsel, I represent largely indigent parents of special education students. I don't create wealth, I don't grow the economy, and even the money I make for my firm comes from the taxpayers under fee shifting statutes, so without me, the economy would probably be better off, but I don't think the country would be.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:26 AM on June 28, 2016 [9 favorites]


Law schools take on students in order to afford the tenured highly paid law faculty. Students some 5 years ago were noticing that the market for lawyers was very full and they should not have registered for a job prep program that would put them in debt and not get them jobs.

Law firms are following the pattern in other fields. para legals do the nitty gritty and the lawyer signs off. Para med people do simple doctoring. My dental hygienist now gives the needle to my gums prior to dentist doing the work...
In colleges, grad students, adjuncts, and in companies part time hires, contract workers.
The pattern has been there for some time now.
posted by Postroad at 10:28 AM on June 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


I encourage you to read the article I linked to. The author goes into a number of causes, greater allowance for discovery in the US system, who pays whom rules, use of juries in civil trials, differences in tort law, all of which means the US system needs more lawyers, which has the effect of making everything associated with the system more costly.

Not that the English common law system is perfect, but it is cheaper, and so allows access to civil resolution for many people.
posted by bonehead at 10:28 AM on June 28, 2016


There is also, let's be blunt, a problem of competence. While the law does not require the sheer intellectual horsepower of some other professions, it is nonetheless challenging to practice. Different types of practice emphasize different types of skills, but to be a decent lawyer in almost any type of practice, you will need to be pretty good at least a few different things that most people are not great at. If you took the bottom quarter of current law-school applicants (of which there are still too many) and made their educations entirely practical and sent them off into legal services work (supervised), they would still not be very good at it, nor would most of them ever get particularly good at it. Expanding the pool...? It depresses me, but I really don't know where an adequate supply of good lawyers for legal services work would come from.

Not that the English common law system is perfect, but it is cheaper,

Well, until you lose, and have to pay all the costs of the winner.
posted by praemunire at 10:33 AM on June 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


If I you're referring to me, please assume I've read anything to which I'm responding. It wasn't so amazing or mind blowing that there's no way a person could read it and disagree.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:34 AM on June 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos: I'm not corporate counsel, I represent largely indigent parents of special education students. I don't create wealth, I don't grow the economy...

Are you sure? Has there never been an extra aide hired as a result of your work? Never been parents who could afford to spend a little more time and money on themselves and their kid? Never been a kid who got just a bit more help in the short term and was able to contribute just a bit more in the long term?

You've never helped reduce the crippling, job-threatening anxiety that can come from dealing with scary bureaucracies and school systems and legal systems?

I'd write more, but as a parent of a special-needs kid who has been helped by great lawyers, I'm starting to tear up and I don't want to do that at work.

Are you sure?
posted by clawsoon at 10:36 AM on June 28, 2016 [25 favorites]


Getting yourself $200,000 in debt for a law degree strikes me as self indulgent at best. Doing so in near middle age is downright foolish.

Well how lucky for you never to have stared down the dark tunnel of today's job market. People who go to law school are making a bid for economic security, and until very recently, law seemed to be one of the few ways to get there.
posted by the_blizz at 10:45 AM on June 28, 2016 [18 favorites]


They should sue
posted by fallingbadgers at 10:52 AM on June 28, 2016


Getting yourself $200,000 in debt for a law degree strikes me as self indulgent at best.

Reading posts like this just reminds me of how law was once a "responsible" choice: it had good job prospects, and had some respect.

We are sold, time and time again, on the idea that there are plenty of jobs in field X, Y, and Z. It's an investment, but it will pay off. But then it turns out that there are now too many students; the hiring numbers were exaggerated; the job market is becoming more precarious as employers move to less-certified, cheaper workers.

It takes a while for everyone to realize it. Some people predict the bubble, but meanwhile, high school kids are talking to their counselors who still think law is a good bet, and law schools are promising results that they can't deliver on. And the idea of going to law school still carries an idea of promise that it no longer really deserves--especially among communities/families where there may not be many people with college or professional experience.

And in the end, it's the students who get blamed for making the wrong choice.

It's depressing.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:02 AM on June 28, 2016 [46 favorites]


Wasn't there a way to become a lawyer in England (the Inns of Court, as I recall) that didn't require passing through a law school?

It seems absurd to me that in drug and biotech patent law, for example -- a discipline I have reluctantly concluded I am incapable of grasping the intricacies of -- that armed with the science degree which would seem to be a bare necessity, a person who wishes to specialize in that area of law would have to sit through three years of scarcely relevant education and come out with their technical knowledge three years out of date in a very fast moving field in order to become a lawyer.
posted by jamjam at 11:02 AM on June 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


From my own experience, I think law schools should probably be reduced to at least 2 years classroom with a full and final year of practical experience. When I interned during school, I was surprised at how little I was prepared for the regular every day element of the law. Sure, I could write a brief, but that's not going to court for this motion hearing or for that argument. It's not preparing discovery or responding to it, etc...etc. Most of the courses which involved practical elements, trial advocacy or clinics (working with clients) were entirely optional at my school, and in my opinion, they should be mandatory for any lawyer. As an intern, I heard a federal district judge offer one piece of advice (which was supported by a state supreme court judge), "Don't graduate and go hang up your shingle on your own. You will end up with a malpractice suit and before the bar." I completely agree with her and more so, every year. (Her advice was to find a mentor and learn those important things law school doesn't teach you first).

I agree there needs to be more lawyers for those who need them most, the folks who currently can't afford them.

Given the number of unemployable attorneys graduating, it does seem that there needs to be a drop in schools and students.

It takes a while for everyone to realize it. Some people predict the bubble, but meanwhile, high school kids are talking to their counselors who still think law is a good bet, and law schools are promising results that they can't deliver on. And the idea of going to law school still carries an idea of promise that it no longer really deserves--especially among communities/families where there may not be many people with college or professional experience.

I could have considered going into academia and pursuing a PhD in history. In part due to one professor (A MeFite, no less!), who constantly urged any student of his to reconsider this path for lack of job opportunities and good salaries (due to overwhelming PhDs graduating every year), I opted for the law. It would probably be better for everyone if folks started adopting more of a cautionary tale about becoming a lawyer.

Wasn't there a way to become a lawyer in England (the Inns of Court, as I recall) that didn't require passing through a law school?

Some states (very, very, few) still allow individuals to basically 'read the law' by essentially apprenticing with a practicing attorney.
posted by Atreides at 11:07 AM on June 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


We are sold, time and time again, on the idea that there are plenty of jobs in field X, Y, and Z. It's an investment, but it will pay off. But then it turns out that there are now too many students;

This will be "the trades" in a few years, if it isn't already. It's always, somehow, the fault of students picking the wrong fields, out of [laziness/greed/lack of discipline/fill-in-the-pejorative], never the fault of the actual economy.

armed with the science degree which would seem to be a bare necessity, a person who wishes to specialize in that area of law would have to sit through three years of scarcely relevant education

While I am a strong advocate of two-year law school (or, at least, the third year's being entirely internships), let me suggest that there is actual substance to be learned of the work of lawyering that goes well beyond the scientific knowledge involved. You think your patent's been infringed? Great! Um...what do you do next? Good thing you didn't waste your time taking civil procedure! (And what do you do when the Supreme Court hands down a decision that cuts the flow of patent litigation in half, and all you know is patents?)
posted by praemunire at 11:11 AM on June 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


I opted for the law. It would probably be better for everyone if folks started adopting more of a cautionary tale about becoming a lawyer.

I like being a lawyer, most of the time, but I'm very upfront with people who talk about going to law school, and I think lawyers should be. It's not a guaranteed career, it's expensive, and the work is often a delightful combination of boring and stressful. I don't know what to tell people to do instead, though, it seems like most careers are insecure and awful these days.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:13 AM on June 28, 2016 [13 favorites]


You think your patent's been infringed? Great! Um...what do you do next? Good thing you didn't waste your time taking civil procedure! (And what do you do when the Supreme Court hands down a decision that cuts the flow of patent litigation in half, and all you know is patents?)

If you've served an apprenticeship, when your patent's been infringed, chances are you've participated in actual cases rather than sitting through an unengaged class on civil procedure; somehow this strikes me as no disadvantage. And if the Supreme court has cut "the flow of patent litigation in half" that does not at all imply that the work of patent attorneys would be cut in half, an eventuality which seems decidedly unlikely in this, the Age of Intellectual Property, and in the worst case, a person in apprenticeship would begin their new profession free of the burden of hundreds of thousands of dollars of uselessly accrued and crushing debt.
posted by jamjam at 11:33 AM on June 28, 2016


I gave a prescription early, but here's what I think will actually happen, based on what I see at the law school where I work and what I hear of the wider market:

A few more schools will merge, a few will close, most will shrink. The main closers will be 3rd or 4th-tier state schools, low-end law schools unconnected to larger institutions, and recently accredited schools that never got off the ground.

Faculty cuts will lead to more schools paring their course offerings down to just the bar exam subjects and a few other core courses such as IP and bankruptcy. Adjuncts, non-tenure-track faculty, and non-faculty 'lecturers' will teach more and more courses, just as they are in the rest of academia.

Schools will emphasize practical classes and clinical classes, but they'll continue to charge through the nose for giving the students the privilege of doing free legal work. Some will partner with law firms and corporations to place students in clinical work with for-profit entities. There will be a mild ethical stir over this, but nothing will come of it because almost everyone is equally desperate.

Tuition won't come down, though it will reach an equilibrium with the market. Law school will remain a 3 year post-graduate program for no good reason.

There's a real opportunity here for highly-ranked law schools connected to universities with substantial endowments (like the one I work for) to reject austerity, expand scholarship offerings, attract great faculty, and experiment with new legal education models that aren't based on what Harvard did in the mid 19th century. When the dust settles they could be on top, or at least better off than they are now. But I don't see any sign that those schools have the strength of leadership or vision to do it.
posted by jedicus at 11:42 AM on June 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


Oh, this is a better link for "the rich get richer", showing which law firms have raised their first year salaries to $180,000. 7th/8th/9th year salaries at those firms (just before becoming partner—or not) have generally increased to ~$300,000. To be clear, only about 17% of new lawyers are employed at those kinds of firms. A strong plurality of new attorneys make $35,000-65,000 per year.
posted by jedicus at 11:54 AM on June 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


Lawyers' salaries was where I learned the term bimodal distribution, and that was years ago -- that division between the legal haves and haves-not gets worse every year.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:01 PM on June 28, 2016 [7 favorites]


I like being a lawyer, most of the time, but I'm very upfront with people who talk about going to law school, and I think lawyers should be.

Both of my parents have law degrees. My father threatened to kill me if I went to law school; my mother just threatened to disown me. Both of them claim it permanently alters your thought process, often for the worse.

So, there's a tried-and-true tactic to dissuade people from going to law school!
posted by Maecenas at 12:01 PM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Reading posts like this just reminds me of how law was once a "responsible" choice: it had good job prospects, and had some respect.

It has been a long time since law was a "responsible" choice for anyone other than the graduates of the top law schools and some of the top graduates of some of the lesser law schools.

When I graduated from a law school in Oregon in 1980, I couldn't find anyone who would hire me as a lawyer, so I hung up my shingle and starved to death. I abandoned the profession seven years later for a clerical job that paid $18,000 per year. That first paycheck was like gold. So much for a decent ROI. I finally broke the $50,000 barrier 13 years after passing the bar, when I landed what would now be called a "JD advantaged" job in bank regulatory compliance.

The difference between then and now is that in the late 70s and early 80s there was a dearth of placement statistics and, without the internet, there was no way to see that law schools were producing more lawyers than there were jobs that required bar membership. The law schools were certainly not going to admit it, and it didn't seem to matter to the Oregon State Bar or the ABA.

So I blamed myself for my failure to break into the profession. I even bought into the notion that I should have been able to make it as a sole practitioner right out of law school. I didn't know that that law school was, yes, a scam for many of us below the top ten percent of the class and outside the charmed circle of the great national law schools. Why? Because the jobs weren't there.

Thanks to the placement reports that law schools have been forced to publish since the crash of 2008, I now know that only half the members of my alma mater's most recent class are in jobs that require bar membership. The others are JD advantaged, which is another way of saying under employed and disillusioned. How on earth are they servicing their student loan debt? How do they maintain their morale when the alumni magazine and the bar journal only cover the high fliers in the profession?

With the data law schools are compiling about their graduates' placement outcomes, law schools should be able to predict which of their current students are likely to find themselves in the JD advantaged category or just plain unemployed. The just and compassionate thing to do would be for the law schools to dismiss those students after their first year. To keep the students from feeling completely ripped off, the law schools could award them paralegal certificates and send them on their way.

But the real solution to the crisis in legal education is to stop the flow of non-dischargeable student loan dollars that is insulating law schools from the forces of the free market. If law school graduates who could not make it in the profession were free to discharge their student debt in bankruptcy, the cold winds of accountability would soon be felt in the offices of even the most complacent law school deans.
posted by A. Davey at 12:09 PM on June 28, 2016 [12 favorites]


Medicine is adding professional "tiers" like Physician's Assistant which have a shorter educational timeline (read: are cheaper), with a modest reduction in responsibilities. But that gets less-indebted people out into the community to provide care, sooner than it takes to make an M.D. For folks who are eager to get to work but who lack the capital -- who might have never tried medical school -- they now can have a career in health care.

Lawyers, can you start doing an abbreviated law school for law professionals who would work under the supervision of a "full" lawyer the ways that PAs work under an M.D.?

(ObDisc: I work for a small .edu who started up a PA program a couple of years ago. I routinely see a PA for my health care. I think the whole notion is wonderful.)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:30 PM on June 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


showing which law firms have raised their first year salaries to $180,000

For what it's worth, there are plenty of people in this particular law firm bubble who are non-plussed about the salary increases. They tend to be tracked very neatly with increasing expectations for billing hours, and that's no exception with the newest increase. People working the minimum amount (say, 1600-1800 hours) are getting laid off along with the increased salaries, because the numbers were crunched on their billing rate and hours vs their salary and found wanting, and the firm can no doubt find hungrier people who are willing to work more hours to justify the increased salary. So there's a real sense of "here's $20,000 more - now go out there and work your ass off on Sundays to justify it." Some people (like me) prefer to get paid a lower salary and have lesser expectations (a reasonable 9-5, more or less, is the holy grail for some of us who are burned out on prestige, hours, and bullshit).

Of course, to people outside this particular strange bubble, the idea that someone would be upset with a major salary increase is insane and anger-making! And maybe it should be anger-making when other people are working as hard and making $35,000. That's insane. I don't know. It's all insane. This whole profession.
posted by naju at 1:43 PM on June 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


If you've served an apprenticeship, when your patent's been infringed, chances are you've participated in actual cases rather than sitting through an unengaged class on civil procedure; somehow this strikes me as no disadvantage.

Except that, hey, maybe in those cases you worked on, jurisdiction or extraterritoriality weren't issues, so you don't know that they can be issues, and then you lose the 12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6) motion and not only look like a clown, but rightfully get sued for malpractice by your ticked-off client. Each case is its own thing, with its own specific fact pattern that implicates some issues and passes others right by. Courses don't substitute for practical experience, but they at least alert you to where the main lines of dispute in any given area are likely to be. (Also, if you are working on whatever cases happen to be on wherever you're apprenticing, you are by no means guaranteed to work on all the major phases of a lawsuit. In about two years working for one lawyer, I never worked on a complaint. Every case that was going on when I came in was further down the line than that.)

And if the Supreme court has cut "the flow of patent litigation in half" that does not at all imply that the work of patent attorneys would be cut in half,

For patent litigators, it sure does.
posted by praemunire at 1:51 PM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


People working the minimum amount (say, 1600-1800 hours) are getting laid off along with the increased salaries, because the numbers were crunched on their billing rate and hours vs their salary and found wanting, and the firm can no doubt find hungrier people who are willing to work more hours to justify the increased salary. So there's a real sense of "here's $20,000 more - now go out there and work your ass off on Sundays to justify it."

People at the firms that went to $180K are not billing 1600 hours, except in extraordinary circumstances. Frankly, people billing 1800 must have been people already planning to quit or be eased out in the relatively near future (or people where the firms aren't getting enough work to go around, which is a whole separate problem)--there's no future in 1800. Expectations at $160K were already unreasonable and inhumane and were not at all being restrained by the thought that, after all, associates are only getting paid $160K, so only so much can be expected of them. All the $180K really does is adjust for the rise in cost of living in the big cities, and give associates back a tiny sliver of their part of the firm-revenue pie, which has shrunk steadily since 2006. Any partner who tells you you should be unhappy getting paid more is being disingenuous as heck.
posted by praemunire at 1:58 PM on June 28, 2016


law professors' overblown self-importance
I blame John Houseman...
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:03 PM on June 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


People at the firms that went to $180K are not billing 1600 hours, except in extraordinary circumstances.

I was an associate at the firm at the top of that list -- the one that led the move to $180,000 a year for first years. My last year there I billed 3,900 hours. It was a long time ago and expectations were different, but feel free to AMA.
posted by The Bellman at 2:06 PM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Fair. I'm in the patent prosecution world where the numbers and expectations play out in different ways. We generally bill less hours, and have strict caps/ceilings on any given matter. 3900 is unthinkable, phew.
posted by naju at 2:10 PM on June 28, 2016


My last year there I billed 3,900 hours.

Jesus Christ.

How much of that was quarter-hour shenanigans, churn, billing travel time while doing non-billable work, etc? Did they make living arrangements at the office or were you still expected to pretend to live at home?
posted by jedicus at 2:18 PM on June 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


We had two jury trials and an international arbitration that year. Every minute of billed time was real and I worked substantially more than that.

For example, during the arbitration, we lived in a hotel, prepping witnesses and exhibits in a conference room all day while the arbitration went on in converted ball room downstairs. At night, we would go down the hall in the same hotel and sleep for a few hours in our rooms, then go back to work down the hall in the conference room in the morning. This went on all day, every day, including weekends, for three months.

I don't think people work like that anymore. Clients won't pay for it and young lawyers are too smart to do it, but that was the culture at the time.
posted by The Bellman at 2:29 PM on June 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


(And yes, we had onions on our belts.)
posted by The Bellman at 2:31 PM on June 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


I have hope that most millenials will just outright refuse to work those hours for any amount of money - we're/they're the generation that's returning work-life balance to the forefront, right? But I'm not certain the profession can be rehabilitated so easily. And money is, well, money.
posted by naju at 2:39 PM on June 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


I have hope that most millenials will just outright refuse to work those hours for any amount of money

Right before the bubble burst (2006-07) a lot of large firms were talking about work/life balance and offering lower billables or at least perks to offset higher billables (e.g. a multi-month paid sabbatical around year 5). As I understand it that's pretty well out the window.
posted by jedicus at 2:42 PM on June 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


Just want to mention that it's not just predatory law schools that are creating this mismatched supply/demand of too many/not enough lawyers. Federal and state legislatures are hugely complicit, respectively, by creating unreasonable and screw-poor-people restrictions on federal civil legal services funding; and by underfunding public defense in all states, and refusing to provide for court-appointed counsel for immigrants and parent's on the verge of losing their kids in most, to the point where lawyers $200,000 in debt are ruthlessly competing with each other for jobs requiring 60/hours a week which pay less than teachers (ie. $35,000/year). Which, as you can imagine, explains part of why poor people lawyers are generally unable to unionize or achieve financial/work-life stability except in the rarest of circumstances, and come close to committing legal malpractice pretty much on a daily basis. This is at least as much your representatives' fault as it is the salaries of law professors or the ABA's.
posted by likeatoaster at 2:43 PM on June 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


I have hope that most millenials will just outright refuse to work those hours for any amount of money - we're/they're the generation that's returning work-life balance to the forefront, right?

In my experience, the exact opposite is true.

No one I know has enough market power to have a work/life balance, because our generation is freaking screwed. I mean, except I guess white boys in tech.
posted by likeatoaster at 2:46 PM on June 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


I graduated from a mid-tier school in 2009. The market was terrible. People's offers were revoked, most of us never had offers, it took years for people to finally find something stable. A large portion of my class left the law all together. Leaving has it's own challenges, since a lot of people still assume being a lawyer is a good profession. Trying to explain to a hiring manager why you want to work as a random analyst in a corporation instead of being a lawyer is hard.

I was lucky and eventually landed a decent gig in-house that pays ok and has reasonable hours (side note, I need to hire someone with 1-2 years of transactional experience in Southern California - MeMail me if you know someone looking), but that was after a few years of not working, doing doc review, and working terrible hours at a small firm for terrible pay just to get experience. The loans are still a constant struggle and are a big reason my wife and I have delayed having children or buying a house.

I don't know what the solution is but it's not just law that has this problem. A lot of industries seem to be great for the few at the top and a constant struggle for everyone else. There is a huge need for lawyers doing public interest work, but no one that wants to pay for them.
posted by Arbac at 4:13 PM on June 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


The government will eventually forgive the loan — in 20 years — if he’s unable to repay it

Wait, what? Is that true of all government school loans?
posted by lumpenprole at 5:29 PM on June 28, 2016


Wait, what? Is that true of all government school loans?

Not exactly. Depending on the loans in question and the repayment plan you're on, it can be 20 or 25 years (or 10 under the public service loan forgiveness program, but there are some really important caveats to that).
posted by jedicus at 7:00 PM on June 28, 2016


"I was an associate at the firm at the top of that list -- the one that led the move to $180,000 a year for first years. My last year there I billed 3,900 hours."


Did you ever stop to figure out how much you were earning per hour? (Not per billable hour -- per hour of your time.)

I left a firm where I was working insane hours to take a govt job where I'm earning less $$ per year, but more $$ per hour of my time for 40 hours/week. That's a no-brainer IMO. (And more importantly, I have more power to make things better.)
posted by mikeand1 at 7:05 PM on June 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


Why wouldn't you pay them 90k and get two? Because they won't work the crazy hours for that? That's why you got two!
posted by ctmf at 7:26 PM on June 28, 2016


Threads like these make me grateful to be a permatemp contract (paid-by-the-hour) attorney for my firm. I get paid overtime (and doubletime for over 12 hours on a weekday / over 8 hours on a Saturday or Sunday). It helps me walk the very fine line between being impoverished and being worked to death. The firm demands insane hours from its salaried attorneys, but because there are actual financial consequences if it wants me to work a 16-hour day, it is a lot more careful about how much work it asks me and my fellow contract attorneys to do in a given week.

The thing that makes this arrangement do-able for me is that I didn't rack up $200,000 in debt (I went to a cheap state school years ago before tuition skyrocketed). I don't think it's such a great arrangement for my younger coworkers who didn't have that option. I am extraordinarily lucky compared to them.
posted by creepygirl at 9:03 PM on June 28, 2016


Lawyers, can you start doing an abbreviated law school for law professionals who would work under the supervision of a "full" lawyer the ways that PAs work under an M.D.?

It's more like nurse practitioner than PA (I think?), but Washington State recently started a program for limited license legal technicians. Scope of practice is limited, mostly to family law matters, I think, and stopping short of representating clients in court, but LLLTs can practice (some) law without lawyer supervision and without a J.D.
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 9:59 PM on June 28, 2016


No one I know has enough market power to have a work/life balance, because our generation is freaking screwed. likeatoaster. I'm GenX (and we all know about the who-got-more-screwed-pissing contest that can arise when Millennials and GenXrs start comparing their reality bites career options) but I went to law school with a bunch of Milennials (I sort of worked first, in a series of noviable jobs, while using my Dad's Shell gas card to buy groceries and get $20s from strangers filling up their cars) now I'm in a JD-required non-practising position at a nonprofit social justice organization.

And as my husband and I continue to lose financial ground (and he's a white male in tech), as I wake up in fear most nights that my promise of loan forgiveness will evaporate before my loans are forgiven, as I put aside the JD-required (interesting) parts of my job to fundraise--asking people whose law firm bonuses are larger than my entire salary/benefits package for a pitiful $1000 in charitable donation (I manage to donate more than that each year!)--I cling to the small gratitude that the only bonus I am able to grab from my job is work-life balance. A very very healthy work-life balance and an office with four walls and a door.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:37 AM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


And, of course, occasionally, my work really helps people. Which is what lawyers outside of the massive corporate structures do, frankly. They really do help people. Folks who need to be divorced from one another but can't negotiate on their own how to share their acquired debt or what their responsibilities to each other for the first couple of years apart might/should/can be. People whose schools are not accommodating their children's needs. Immigrants who can't even view their own immigration court records without making a FOIA request. People who were hit by a driver while they were crossing the street or whose neighbor's tree fell on their garage. People who've been arrested, denied housing benefits, or whose husband died suddenly and no-one seems to know how to access his railroad pension.

So, really, I don't think the problem with the legal profession in the US is too many lawyers, as much as I agree that there are too many law schools, charging too much tuition and accepting too many students and not providing students sufficient practical skills.

This latter problem is the one I'd like to see solved first and creatively. A shift toward clinical education; perhaps one which partners with law firms or courts or legal aid organizations to fill the huge gap in legal services that exists in the US. DLA Piper is doing this in DC; there are court-based legal aid programs in domestic relations in California which partner with local law schools to help staff them; and--of course--many law schools already have clinics that use legal aid professionals as teachers who draw on their organizations to fund clients.

But doing it systematically requires compromises people don't want to make. It means salary-sharing that--unlike the gig economy or current adjunct faculty schemes--provides the supervising attorneys with professional wages and real benefits. It also means that law firms contribute meaningfully (financially) to the legal services industry. It also means that government contribute meaningfully to defraying the cost of legal services.

Basically, it means shifting the entire profession--and parts of society--to view legal services as a public good, rather than a means of making piles of money for a dozen large law firms. No small task.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:09 AM on June 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


Everything makes sense through the lens of "A future without work".

There's a tremendous amount of work to do. We have to teach children, we have to heal patients, we have to care for the elderly, we need to provide legal services...

And yet. this delusion persists. There's some sort of unwillingness to respect anything but the most narrow fields (of which I'm lucky enough to be part!) as work that will persist.

It is the aggregation of status. And it is awful.
posted by effugas at 7:29 AM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Like Bulgaraoktonos, I question the blanket assertion that there are too many lawyers. Between 2011-2012 (the last year I have data for), 1/4 of federal cases were filed without attorneys and 1.2 of federal appeals were filed without counsel.

Yeah but we don't judge how many shovels we need by looking at how much land there is, we judge it by how many people will pick up a shovel and dig at any given time. We have unethically created a legal system with people whose "speedy trial" on an offense with a 6 month likely sentence takes 18 months to start, yes, but that doesn't mean we need more lawyers we also won't pay.

I guess there's some sort of appealing symmetry in the irony of having a pile of people needing representation on one side and a pile of people unable to get paid for representing them on the other, but it seems to me that having only one of those groups is better.
posted by phearlez at 8:12 AM on June 29, 2016


Sorry if this observation has been made upthread and I missed it, but there is a lot of dull, boring, but formerly profitable work that used to be done by lawyers that has been taken over by organizations like LegalZoom. Wills, forming LLCs, and other boilerplate work. I have to believe that this has killed a lot of demand for attorney's services. It's kind of like the accounting profession, which had to adjust years ago to the fact that people won't pay to do bookkeeping work.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:41 AM on June 29, 2016


Why wouldn't you pay them 90k and get two? Because they won't work the crazy hours for that? That's why you got two!

It's a weird combination of things. Partly, because the hiring/development process at large firms makes almost no sense, each junior associate is kind of a lottery ticket that a firm hopes will become a very valuable partner (and still at the firm) in 20 years and so they're all trying to buy up as many lottery tickets as they can and bumping salaries is a good way to do that. That's why people with experience that's assumed to be more useful, like Supreme Court clerkships, make even more money than other associates when they're hired. Plus, all of these firms are playing an inscrutable prestige game where the first person to cut salary (or even not raise it) gets a lot of negative attention and might get less of a share of the elite law school graduates going forward. My gut feeling is that they're mostly concerned about the prestige for its own sake, with the prospect of future hiring being more of a fig leaf, because, honestly, these firms are promoting something like 3% of the associates they hire to partner and mostly increase the ranks of partners by making flashy lateral hires of already experienced lawyers.

The other big thing is that, even with salaries at their current level, associate work is a major source of profit for large firms. I can't exactly say why that is other than that there's the potential for a ton of volume and I guess I can see some clients balking at lots of hours from the guys who bill at $1000/hour, but associates who bill at $500 don't seem so bad until you realize they're staffing way more of them on any given project. There's obviously some incentive to hold the line on salaries, but if you're making a ton of profit off of their collective work, I can see why you'd be more willing to open the pursestrings a bit, especially when you see these associates as younger versions of yourself and not, as is the case with all too many employer/employee relationships, dangerous outsiders who are trying to take your money.
posted by Copronymus at 10:59 AM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


I guess there's some sort of appealing symmetry in the irony of having a pile of people needing representation on one side and a pile of people unable to get paid for representing them on the other, but it seems to me that having only one of those groups is better.

That's probably true in some cases, especially for criminal law, where we could stop prosecuting so many minor crimes and legalize some drugs and maybe we could get those numbers down to the point that current public defender service levels could reasonably and ethical handle it. What do we do about eviction cases? What do we do about foreclosures, or child custody, or debt collection? Those are all areas where people are often or largely unrepresented and where any system that's feasible in America requires them to be represented to achieve something resembling justice. Bank of America will always have lawyers, and personally I'd rather live in a world where the people whose homes they're trying to take get them too.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:04 AM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Heh. I had a whole long comment written out, but probably shouldn't make any detailed comments here. It's good to see an interesting discussion of the legal profession on the Blue from time to time. We should have a MeFi Lawyers Happy Hour Meetup or something.
posted by The World Famous at 11:36 AM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


personally I'd rather live in a world where the people whose homes they're trying to take get them too.

Me too. I suspect you and I share a vision of a better world where everyone gets representation. My point is just that piling up more and more lawyers who nobody will pay doesn't get us the political will to actually pay those lawyers, it just gets us more unemployed lawyers.

I'll absolutely acknowledge the "well, actually" about how much law there could be to practice, but the systemic impediments to actually getting people that work are so huge that it just seems like a pointless theoretical to me. And the situation fresh JD grads find themselves in is way too ugly for me to think that's not a little mean. So for all practical purposes in our current society, "there are too many lawyers" is a reasonable statement.
posted by phearlez at 11:39 AM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


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