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PLP Pulse: News from the Frontiers of the Legal Profession
September 2013
 

Legal Education

Obama on Law School: “Wise to think about two years instead of three”
New York Times DealB%k Blog, Wall Street Journal, WSJ Law Blog

Last month President Barack Obama, during a tour of colleges and universities, casually said, “I believe that law school would probably be wise to think about two years instead of three years,” but also questioned whether, “law schools could maintain the quality and keep good professors and sustain themselves without that third year.” The president speaks from experience as a graduate Harvard Law School, former president of the Harvard Law Review, and former professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago. The president’s comments added to the debate around this issue prompted by the ever increasing costs of a legal education, the high debt law students are shouldering upon graduation, and the lack of job opportunities.

In response to the president's comments, the Wall Street Journal reported that some critics of the shortened legal education say even three years of law school does not adequately equip students with practical skills. Michael Livas, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center said, “if we are not producing good results in three years…how are we going to do it in two years?” Brian Tamanaha, professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis noted, “it is not that the third year has no value, it is whether the value is worth the additional burden.” Barry Currier, the American Bar Association‘s managing director of accreditation and legal education added, “maybe we can’t afford three years of legal education anymore—but there are a lot of ways to reduce cost, and just slicing off a whole year is a blunt instrument.” The debate stretches back to the late 19th century, when college graduates could sit for the New York bar after completing two years of law school. In 1901, retired judge Francis Finch defended the third year stating, “A course of two years can only cover the technical subjects of study and that more or less by a process very like cramming…Much has to be omitted which is very useful and beneficial…[a]nd the things omitted under the compulsion of the narrowing time are precisely those which ought to be added to turn out something more than a cheap lawyer.”

Opening the Veil to Elite Law School Admissions
Slate

Asha Rangappa, the dean of Yale Law School, writes that the admissions process at elite schools needs to open itself up and shed light onto how admissions decisions are made. Prior to the electronic age, the “black box” admissions process was more or less assumed. Indeed, apart from the generic application materials, communicating with applicants was a time-consuming and difficult process. However, with the advent of instantaneous communication, the black box admission process is anachronistic and counterproductive. Keeping the admission process veiled has led to the increase in for-profit college admissions consultants—consultants whose only qualification is having attended an elite university, consultants who often provide overly extensive levels of editorial assistance, and consultants who only the wealthy can afford. With so many social networking options, admission officers now have the means to offer a peak into what they are looking for. Some of these things are obvious (make sure you application is free of typos, grammatical errors, and incorrect punctuation). Others are more subtle, like know the difference between an obstacle (like being a political refugee) and a disappointment (like not making a sports team). Rangappa notes that providing candid advice directly and freely from the admissions office goes a long way in reassuring students that the process is not a black hole. It also democratizes the process by making sure that everyone has access to the same information.

Fewer Elite College Grads Applying to Law School
New York Times Economix Blog

In response to a post on the Associate’s Mind, the New York Times Economix blog analyzed the decline in the number of law school applicants coming from top-ranked colleges and universities. In general, the number of applicants to law school for the fall of 2012 was down 17% from 2008, but amongst the U.S. News top 20, the number of applicants was down an average of 28%. From the top five schools 30% fewer Harvard graduates, 18% fewer Princeton graduates, 27% fewer Yale graduates, 18% fewer Columbia graduates, and 17% fewer University of Chicago graduates applied to law school in 2012 compared to 2008. Some possible reasons for the steeper decline from top-ranked schools include a greater range of jobs available for non-legal careers, and better career services offices that may be more likely to inform students that there are fewer opportunities than in the past for law graduates.

More in Legal Education



Innovation & New Models

ABA Attitudes on Non-Lawyer Fee-Sharing Shifting
WSJ Law Blog

Recently issued guidelines from the American Bar Association (ABA) may indicate a shifting attitude towards fee sharing with non-lawyers in the US market. In the new guidelines, the ABA announced it was softening its stance on fee sharing with non-lawyers allowing firms to indirectly split fees with outsiders, which may be a precursor to a change in longstanding ethics rules preventing such arrangements. While the formal opinion they released isn’t binding, it could encourage state bar associations to relax their own rules on fee sharing. Countries like the United Kingdom and Australia have recently embraced the idea of non-lawyer profit sharing and while the ABA still has concerns over confidentiality and independence that non-lawyer involvement brings, this announcement may signal that the US is closer to entertaining a more progressive approach than it previously has.

2013 ABA Journal Legal Rebels
ABA Journal

The ABA Journal highlighted the innovative achievements of several legal professionals in its 2013 “Legal Rebels” series. They include: Michele DeStefano, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law and affiliated faculty at the Harvard Law School Program on the Legal Profession, who co-founded LawWithoutWalls, a program that connects law and business students around the world to collaborate on “Projects of Worth” designed to solve problems in the legal profession; Fred Rooney, who leads the International Center for Post-Graduate Development and Justice at Touro College’s Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, an organization that brings together postgraduate training programs aimed at placing recent law grads in law firm incubators and legal residencies; D. Casey Flaherty, corporate counsel of Kia Motors America, who developed a test to audit the computer skills of lawyers working for and auditioning to work for Kia; and Karl Okamoto, a professor at Drexel University, who developed the transactional training program LawMeets, a mock negotiation competition that allows law students to experience acting as buyer, seller or client in a transaction.

More in Innovation & New Models



Globalization

Afghani Contractors Seek Out US Lawyers
New York Times

US law firms and lawyers are being hired by Afghanis as contracting deals from redevelopment efforts in the country go bad. Afghanis are adjusting to the high rates of American lawyers as they seek to smooth over relations with the US government or American companies with whom they have done business. For example, Mahmood Karzai, a brother of President Hamid Karzai, gave a $100,000 retainer to a US lawyer to investigate whether prosecutors in New York were planning to bring a case against him.

More in Globalization



Law Firms & Practice Management

Job Satisfaction Rises at US Law Firms
WSJ Law Blog

A survey from American Lawyer magazine finds that junior lawyers at major US law firms are happier with their jobs than at any time since 2004. However, the survey did find that female lawyers on average expressed less satisfaction than male lawyers on a number of fronts. Fewer women lawyers than male lawyers responded that they thought they would be made partner in the next five years, although this gap has narrowed since 2008. Women were also significantly more likely to say that if they leave the firm it would be for work/life balance.

Firm Continues Operating under Partner's Name after Her Death
New York Law Journal

In a controversy stemming from the death of a law firm partner in a plane crash, a state court judge held that the partner’s boutique law firm was not dissolved as a result of the death of the partner. Marya Lenn Yee was an equity partner at Donovan & Yee when she died from injuries she sustained in a California plane crash in 2008. The firm’s 1997 partnership agreement provided that the death of a partner shall not cause the dissolution of the partnership, unless only one partner remains and no additional partner is admitted within 90 days after the death. The firm added a new partner, Andrea Calvaruso who had previously been a nonequity partner at Donovan & Yee. The firm contended that the new partner had been added within the 90 day limit, but the decedent’s estate alleged that the addition of a new partner was a ruse to avoid dissolution. The estate and the firm also disputed whether the firm may still use Yee’s name. In its ruling the court found that the firm did not dissolve by operation of law upon Yee’s death, because Calvaruso was timely added to the firm’s partnership ranks within the meaning of the 1997 agreement. Moreover the firm has a right to continue to use Yee’s name. The partnership agreement provided that although the partner’s interest terminated upon the death of a partner, the firm would pay to the decedent’s estate an amount based on a formula using the deceased partner’s net capital account.

More in Law Firms & Practice Management



Public Interest Lawyering

Law Laboratory Seeks Access to Justice Through Innovative Teaching, Ethics Changes
ABA Journal

Several years ago, Professor Renee Knake of the Michigan State Law School didn’t like the state of the profession, seeing inefficiencies, a severe market drop and the inability to properly serve a large swath of the US population. She decided to do something about it, taking the ReInvent Law Laboratory from idea to reality in a year’s time with faculty buy-in and outside financial support. Her rationale was to “create a space where we could build an on-the-ground tool for rethinking the ways we deliver legal services, and then train our students and practicing lawyers to do it.” Through the laboratory, Knake and co-founder Professor Daniel Katz created a core curriculum for students that focuses on employer requests for specific jurisprudential skills in pillar areas of law, technology, design, and delivery. Knake herself is also interested in the constitutionality of ABA rule 5.4, which bars non-lawyer investment in firms, and sees changing that rule as a key to liberalizing the market for legal services. The laboratory asks students to consider and develop models that an outside investor would be interested in funding.

Sequestration Threatens Integrity of Federal Court System
Washington Post Op-Ed by Attorney General Eric Holder, WSJ Law Blog, & New York Times

US Attorney General Eric Holder wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post warning that sequestration is undermining defendants’ constitutional right to counsel. He noted that even the federal defense lawyers for the high-profile Boston bombing suspect are facing the prospect of three weeks unpaid leave. The New York Times reports that cuts for the fiscal year 2014 will result in staff reductions of 30-50% in the offices of federal defenders. The Wall Street Journal finds that budget cuts have already impacted the federal courts in New York City by reducing their hours of operation and raised safety fears as security is scaled back to save money. Commentators have noted that the current and proposed cuts not only undermine the functioning of the judiciary, but in some instances will increase costs as remedial measures are implemented that will end up being more expensive in the long-run.



Diversity

Many Large Companies Failing to Abide by SEC Diversity Rules
Think Progress

Three years after new Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules requiring companies to disclose the role diversity considerations play in board hiring were enacted, most companies are failing to comply and boardroom diversity remains stagnant. The new SEC rules require companies to indicate “whether diversity is a factor in considering candidates for nomination to the board of directors, how diversity is considered in that process, and how the company assesses the effectiveness of its policy for considering diversity.” A forthcoming note from Columbia Law School student Tamara Smallman finds that 60% of Fortune 50 companies fail to fully comply with the requirements and an additional 10% fail to mention diversity at all. The failure to embrace these rules is likely a contributing factor to the seven consecutive years in which the percentage of women on Fortune 50 boards has failed to crack 20%.

Three Women Designated as Indian Senior Advocates
Bar & Bench

In a rare move, the Supreme Court of India designated three women—Vibha Dutta Makhija, Meenakski Arora and Kiran Suri—as Senior Advocates. Each of the three women appointed are long standing members of the bar and have impressive legal backgrounds. The appointments represent a near doubling of the number of women senior advocates designated by the Supreme Court. Until the selection of Vibha Dutta Makhija, Meenakski Arora and Kiran Suri, only five out of the 309 senior advocates were women. Indeed, the lack of women was so striking that in an interview last year, Senior Advocate Rajani Iyer admitted that there might be an “inbuilt resistant” against women lawyers in the Indian legal profession. While the increase from five to eight is certainly not a large number, Kiran Suir notes that, “Finally, something good has happened.” Similarly, Meenakshi Arora said, “Now it is time for more women lawyers to be designated as Senior Advocates. It is time to prove that we are no less than any of our male colleagues and if not better we are at par.”

More in Diversity



Attorney Regulation & Ethics

Sexual Abuse Victims Sue Law Firm for Lying to Judges
New York Daily News

Almost a dozen victims of sexual abuse by a Brooklyn Poly Prep football coach accused attorney Jeffrey Kohn and his law firm, O’Melveny & Meyers of repeatedly lying to Brooklyn federal judges over several years about the existence and results of early internal investigations into the abuse of students at Brooklyn Poly Prep. The plaintiffs claim that the alleged lies delayed the litigation in federal court, and the victims were unable to access the investigative notes of former federal prosecutor Peter Sheridan, who was hired by Poly Prep to investigate the abuse allegations. Counsel to the victims alleged that Kohn and O&M lied when they said Sheridan had concluded that there were no complaints predating 1991. Moreover, counsel for the victims asserted that Sheridan was fired by Poly Prep before he could finish his investigation and he had reached no such conclusion. The plaintiffs’ legal bills now exceed $2 million and they are seeking legal fees and treble damages. They are also seeking interest on the settlements and are demanding that O&M be disgorged of any legal fees earned in the litigation. The case raises a number of issues regarding the liability of counsel for what might otherwise be interpreted as privileged information.

More in Attorney Regulation & Ethics



Corporate Counsel

Paul Dacier, GC of EMC, Takes up Reigns at the Boston Bar Association
Boston Globe

Paul Dacier, general counsel of EMC, was recently appointed head of the Boston Bar Association—the first general counsel to lead the association in its 252-year history. The appointment of Dacier also mirrors the growing importance of corporate counsel in the legal profession and within corporate governance structures. Indeed, CEOs and other top corporate leaders lean on their in-house counsel for business as well as legal advice—particularly at IT companies where patent and licensing laws are critical. At EMC, Dacier and his legal department are known for fighting against “patent trolls,” entities established for the sole purpose of purchasing patents and suing companies for alleging infringement. As president of the Boston Bar Association, Dacier plans to focus on pushing for increased funding for the judiciary (which currently stands at $580 million of the state’s $34 billion budget). Dacier notes that budgetary shortfalls within the judiciary lead to justice delayed, as some judges have backlogs of over 600 cases. Dacier also hopes to focus on prompting civility among lawyers. He says, “Getting a law degree does not mean you can become obnoxious.”

Survey Finds High-Level Women In-House Lawyers Paid Less
Corporate Counsel

According to a survey by ALM Legal Intelligence and Corporate Counsel, when it comes to total cash compensation (salary reported as of March 1, 2013 combined with annual cash bonus for 2012), male chief legal officers and general counsel earn an average of $723,700 while women in the same positions earn an average of $575,200. At the highest levels, men made 40% more in bonuses than women. Among deputy chief legal officers, the disparity was somewhat slimmer, with men earning an average of $386,700 and women earning an average of $316,400. The National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) has conducted a survey of law firm partners yielding similar results. NAWL president Deborah Froling believes that one solution is to increase the number of women working in-house and says, “When you look at corporate legal departments that are headed by women, there tend to be more women there and they’re a little more sensitive to the compensation issues.”



Lawyer Profiles

The Robber, the Judge, and the Case for Leniency
New York Times

Taking the Long Road One lawyer found a balance working in-house, but it wasn't a short trip
Corporate Counsel



Managing Editor: Nicola Seaholm
Contributing Editors: Nathan Cleveland, Derek Davis, Bryon Fong, Hakim Lakhdar, Nick Robinson


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