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

Globalization

Global Merger across Four Countries
The Independent

A mega-merger of three law firms based in the US, UK, Canada, and France is the “biggest combination” in the industry’s history according to SNR Denton’s global chairman, Joe Andrew. The law firms SNR Denton in London and the US, Salans in Paris, and Fraser Milner Casgrain in Canada have been rebranded as Dentons and will comprise nearly 2,600 lawyers in order to expand its operations in the growing markets of Asia and Latin America. “There are bureaucratic issues, but people realize that with this deal they will able to make more money” and “people realize that we will have more to sell, that we are more concentrated with real presence,” according to Andrew.

Choosing Between Russian or International Law Firms
The Moscow Times

Clients seeking legal services in Russia are finding that the choice between domestic Russian firms or international ones often extends beyond questions of language and culture. The choice often rides on a firm’s area of specialization and the jurisdiction in question. Dimitry Afanasiev, chairman on Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners notes, “If English law applies then English and American law firms are likely to have a competitive advantage. English law is typically applied to large merger and acquisition deals to large capital market transitions and/or credit deals. Everything else is pretty much an area where Russian law firms can compete.” Delphine Nougayrede, a partner at DLA Piper, notes that Russian law firms often provide excellent services, however large international firms have advantages when it comes to integrated international networks and quality controls. International law firms are now hiring more Russian-trained lawyers, while Russian firms are integrating with the international legal market and law associations.

South Korean Legal Education Reforms Yields Surplus of Lawyers
American Lawyer

Recent polling by the Asian Institute for Policy Studies shows that while South Korea’s concerns over the North are increasing, jobs remain the number one concern. Recent reforms to the legal education system have more than doubled the number of law graduates and there is a lack of legal positions. Prior to the introduction of US-style legal education in 2009, the law was open only to 1,000 students who passed the elite bar exam and trained at the government’s Judicial Research and Training Institute. Compare that to the 1,900 graduates of 25 new law schools produced just last year. Moreover, because in-house legal departments in South Korea have traditionally been relatively small compared to their US counterparts, the legal market has a relatively fixed number of positions. Joongi Kim, the associate dean of international affairs at Yonsei University, expects to see increases in the size of in-house departments as a result of the surplus of new lawyers.



Law Firms & Practice Management

Forensic Firms and Law Firms Go Head-to-Head Over Cybersecurity
The Wall Street Journal

Whereas forensic investigators were typically retained by companies after serious breaches to their information systems, some companies are now turning to law firms to conduct internal investigations of these incidents. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. recently hired Boston-based Ropes & Gray LLP in part because the firm could offer attorney-client privilege and a level of secrecy that a forensic firm could not. Law firms are also able to help companies work through federal and state laws governing public disclosures of data breaches. According to Mike Dubose, head of Kroll Advisory Solutions’ cyberinvestigations practice, “what a company does not want is its investigation or due diligence, undertaken with the best of intentions, to be used against it in litigation.”

How Entrenched is the Billable Hour?
New York Times Op-Ed

According to an opinion piece by Steven Harper, former partner at Kirkland & Ellis, “[i]t requires clients to press harder for alternative fee arrangements, courts to back away from policies that embed the billable hour, law firm leaders to stop rewarding excessive associate hours and senior partners to consider the deleterious consequences of their myopic focus on short-term profit-maximizing behavior.” Under the leveraged pyramid model, a junior associate who bills 2,000 hours annually, multiplied by $400 per hour, generates approximately $800,000 a year for the firm; the associate billing the hours may see one-fourth of that amount in salary. In 2009, DLA Piper announced that it eliminated associates’ billable hour towards a performance-based reward system, but the barriers to changing the billable hour remain difficult to overcome.



Legal Education

2011 Law School Graduates Struggle to Make Good Living
Wall Street Journal Law Blog

A new academic study has found that over 50% of 2011 law school graduates were not earning enough to buy a $100,000 house. The study, conducted by University of St. Thomas Law Professor Jerry Organ, judged as “financially viable” graduates earning an annual income at least two times their annual tuition or at least two-thirds of their law school debt. Organ warned, “Law schools are going to find themselves with fewer students to fill their seats unless costs come down or the job market improves significantly.”

University of Arizona Cuts Law School Tuition
Wall Street Journal Law Blog & National Law Journal

The University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law became the first US law school to make significant tuition cuts since nationwide application totals began to decline in 2011. Citing a desire to make the school “more appealing and accessible,” its interim dean recommended the tuition cuts, which amounted to 11% for in-state residents and 8% for nonresidents. Brian Tamanaha, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, said that the cuts did not go far enough. “Although I applaud it, this strikes me as mostly symbolic,” he averred. “Their tuition is too high for the types of jobs available in Arizona, so an 11 percent reduction is not enough.”

A Supreme Court Justice’s View of Legal Education
Business Insider

US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia discussed the woes of legal education during a visit to the University of New Hampshire School of Law. Stating that legal education is a “failure,” declining in quality since Harvard created a formal law curriculum in 1870, Scalia feels that students are taking too many elective courses. By taking courses in subjects such as “law and literature, law and feminism, law and poverty, and law and economics” students are missing out on the “austere pleasures of doctrinal courses.” He also condemned law schools for prioritizing research over teaching, stating that professors are recognized “not…[for] how they teach but how they publish.”

Assisting Military Veterans to Obtain Legal Education
JDJournal

Military veterans who served following the 9/11 attacks are eligible for federal education aid and can attend public schools for free. However, federal aid for private schools is capped at 35-45%. Starting in fall 2013, Stanford Law School, New York University School of Law, and Columbia Law School will be participating in the Yellow Ribbon program, giving additional money to supplement benefits from the GI Bill. The schools have pledged to cover 50% of remaining fees and tuition while the Department of Veterans Affairs will cover the remaining amount.

Law Schools and Employment Patterns
The National Law Journal

The ABA’s recent requirements for more disclosures by law schools regarding graduate job placement has led to a treasure trove of new information that can better guide law school applicants. According to the NLJ, 23% of George Washington University Law School’s class of 2012 entered jobs that were paid for by the school itself. Rutgers School of Law-Camden sent the largest percentage of its class to state court clerkships, while the College of William and Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law sent more than 34% of its graduates into government and public interest jobs. Nine months after leaving campus, only 56% of 2012 law school graduates landed full-time, long-term jobs that required bar passage.



Attorney Regulation & Ethics

Questionable Legal Tactics under US Disability Law
New York Times

Two lawyers in Brooklyn, New York have been denied legal fees and ordered to stop filing cases under the American with Disabilities Act because their approach suggests they were less interested in serving the needs of individuals with disabilities than reaping financial rewards. The two lawyers charged $425 per hour for a total of $15,000 per case in as many as ten cases per day—cases so similar they could be considered boilerplate. Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. stated that “these tactics will no longer be tolerated” and he was prepared to inform the state bar authorities and chief judges across the country if the lawyers continued to litigate in such fashion.



Diversity

The Problem of Gender Parity in the UK Legal Profession
Guardian

A recent UK report found that, on average, female lawyers are paid £50,000 less per year than their male counterparts. Law Society President Lucy Scott-Moncreiff notes that a major reason for this disparity is the lack of women reaching senior positions. While 60% of graduate recruits at city firms are now women, the percentage of female partners at the largest firms rarely rises above 20% (e.g. 22% at Eversheds and 15% at Clifford Chance). Similarly, only 14 women out of 84 successful candidates were given Queen’s Counsel status.  Despite these statistics, Joy Van Cooten, chair of the Association of Women Solicitors, states that the regular release of reports on diversity and pay equity as well as firms establishing “gender targets” in recruitment and promotion programs mean that the gender issue will continue to be pushed forward.



Corporate Counsel

Microsoft Implements Incentive System to Improve Diversity
Washington Post

Microsoft has implemented a system of incentives to improve diversity among firms working with the company. The initiative, which made headlines when the company announced it in 2008, offers a 2% bonus to firms if they achieve one of three benchmarks: increase by 2% the number of hours that women and minority attorneys at the firm work on Microsoft matters; increase the number of women and minority attorneys at the firm by 0.5% compared with the previous year; or become more diverse than the Microsoft legal department itself, which is 54% women, minorities, and lawyers who are LGBT. Vice-president and general counsel, Brad Smith, and other senior Microsoft leaders would only receive their 5% year-end merit bonus if at least 75% of the law firms got their diversity bonus.



Innovation & New Models

Narrowing the Gap between Technology and Law Practice
The ABA Journal

The ABA’s Techshow kickoff event, LexThink.1: The Future of Law Practice, discussed significant disruption and technology shifts occurring in the legal profession. “The office is dead,” proclaimed speaker Matt Spiegel, co-founder of MyCase, a web-based practice management software for lawyers. The conversation revolved around the idea that for law firms to remain competitive they will need to allow work to be conducted outside of the office space. Companies like LegalZoom are challenging firms to incorporate more tech-savvy approaches to legal practice.

YouTubing Justice in the UK
Guardian

The UK Supreme Court recently launched a YouTube channel of short summaries of its final judgments. The brief summaries, read by a justice immediately after a judgment is released, are posted on the website for public viewing. They are part of the court’s overall web-strategy, which includes a streamlined website launched in 2009, a Twitter account with over 27,000 followers, and a live online hearings portal launched in partnership with Sky News. The UK Supreme Court is not the only court experimenting with online formats. The Brazilian Supremo Tribunal Federal has a YouTube channel in which the most important legal hearings are recorded in full and uploaded to the site. The UK Court currently does not record and upload full hearings due to both length and costs.

Investing in High-Stake Litigation
New York Times DealBook Blog

New firm Gerchen Keller Capital has raised $100 million in the last year to invest in high-stake litigation between companies. Gerchen is the latest investment shop to enter the relatively new market that is quickly gaining interest on Wall Street. These firms bankroll plaintiffs in exchange for a part of the potential winnings. Other successful firms include Burford and Juridica Capital, both started in 2007 in London. In 2011, former lawyers founded Blackrobe Capital and Fulbrook Capital Management and a litigation team from Credit Suisse left to form Parabellum Capital in 2012. The industry has come under scrutiny by the US Chamber of Commerce, which said these investment firms can inappropriately influence cases or encourage frivolous lawsuits.



Public Interest Lawyering

Corrections Officials Propose Doing Away with Law Libraries in Prisons
Boston Globe

New York corrections officials have proposed allowing local jails to close their law libraries as a cost-cutting measure. Jails would still be required to provide inmates access to legal materials through computer terminals with online access or by submitting written requests to nearby court libraries. The proposed changes could save each jail an estimated $5,000 in annual expenses. But inmate advocates argue that the changes would make conducting legal research more difficult for those with little legal knowledge. “It’s not comparable access to a law library, in our opinion,” said Jack Beck, director of the prison visiting project at the Correctional Association of New York.

Hastings Law Students Help at Local Hospital
New York Times New Old Age Blog

A partnership between University of California Hastings College of the Law and the nearby Lakeside Senior Medical Center helps to provide geriatric patients the legal help they need. Each semester, eight Hastings law students spend 12 to 15 hours a week at the clinic working with patients who have been referred by their doctors. Although the students help patients with a variety of needs, the majority of work is focused on completing advance directives.

Rural Areas Offer Subsidies to Attract Lawyers
New York Times

Struggling to attract lawyers to its rural locations, South Dakota will begin offering an annual subsidy of $12,000 to lawyers willing to commit five years in the state’s most needy areas. The subsidy, which covers 90% of the cost of a year at the University of South Dakota Law School and which will go into effect this June, is being compared with a 40-year-old federal medical program, the National Health Service Corps. That program offers up to $60,000 in tax-free loan repayment to doctors for two years of service and up to $140,000 for five years of service in underserved areas. Professor David Wilkins, Faculty Director of Harvard Law School’s Program on the Legal Profession states that while the National Health Service program is effective, expecting similarly-sized subsidies for lawyers is unrealistic. “What we need now is experimentation, like what is happening in South Dakota,” he said.



Editor: Daniel L. Ambrosini
Managing Editor: Nicola Seaholm
Contributing Editors: Nathan Cleveland, Derek Davis, Bryon Fong, Rachel Gibson, Nicholas Haas, Hakim Lakhdar


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