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

Public Interest Lawyering

Four Part Series: In the Bronx, Justice Can Wait
New York Times (see related editorial)

In New York City’s poorest borough, criminal cases are routinely delayed for years, denying citizens their right to a speedy trial. As of January 2013, 73% of all Bronx felony cases exceeded the state court system’s own time target of a trial or resolution within 180 days. The severity of the problem is not shared with New York City’s wealthier boroughs; in recent years, the Bronx was responsible for more than half of New York City’s cases in criminal courts over two years old, and for two-thirds of defendants waiting for their trials in jail for more than five years. The conviction rate has declined precipitously and courts have taken to delaying cases for such insignificant reasons as a prosecutor’s vacation plans or even a backache. The fault is widespread and can be attributed to the area’s district attorney; defense lawyers who exploit delays; judges who are unable to maintain order in their courtrooms; and court administrators who have failed to secure and apply the resources their courtrooms desperately need. Unfortunately, change may come slowly or not at all to the Bronx, where many citizens are poor and do not have political capital.

The Fight for Legal Aid: Divisions Form over UK Ministry of Justice’s Plan to Cut Funding
The Guardian (see additional story)

A recent proposal by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) will cut the UK criminal legal aid budget by £220 million. Under the plan, the cost of judicial review will rise, lawyers’ fees will be slashed, and criminal legal aid contracts will be awarded through competitive bidding. The MoJ plan has received strong objection from a variety of constituencies and stakeholders from across the UK. Politically, a motion condemning the plans was recently put forward and signed by 60 members of Parliament, mostly Labour. The Justice Select Committee of the Commons is also expected to hold hearings on the matter. A legal watchdog group, the Legal Services Consumer Panel, has also criticized the plan as draconian. Elisabeth Davies, the chair of the group, states, “When a person’s liberty is a stake, they must have the freedom to choose who will defend them.” A recent survey by the UK Bar Council found that more than 70% of the public fear that further cuts to legal aid could result in innocent people being wrongly convicted. Moreover, 67% of those polled agreed that legal aid was a price worth paying for living in a fair society. Maura McGowan QC, chairman of the bar, states, “The public hugely values our legal aid system and it is concerned about the consequences of the government’s proposals.”

More in Public Interest:

In a First, Judge Orders Legal Aid for Mentally Disabled Immigrants Facing Deportation
New York Times

Law Firms & Practice Management

Law Firm Settles Fee Dispute with Client, Denies Overbilling, Denounces ‘Inappropriate E-Mail Humor’
New York Times DealB%k Blog

Was it “e-mail humor” or did some of the lawyers at the world’s largest law firm, DLA Piper, get caught overbilling a client? We may never know, because neither side is talking as result of the confidentiality provision of the settlement. Earlier this year, DLA Piper settled a lawsuit with Adam H. Victor, an energy industry executive, for an undisclosed amount. The case originally began as the result of Mr. Victor’s failure to pay DLA Piper their legal fees in connection with its representation of one of Mr. Victor’s bankrupt companies. Mr. Victor counterclaimed, accusing the law firm of a “sweeping practice of overbilling” and demanded a $22.5 million in punitive damages. Pre-trial document discovery unearthed damaging internal e-mails, exchanged among DLA Piper attorneys. The e-mails were reported to contain comments like, “I hear we are already $200k over our estimate—that’s Team DLA Piper!” and, “now Vince has random people working full time on research projects in standard ‘churn that bill baby!’ mode.” The dispute highlights a number of issues associated with the way lawyers get paid for their time, not to mention the danger of e-mails. So long as the billable-hour continues to be the primary measure of an attorney’s worth, we will no doubt continue to see cases like this in our legal profession.

Book Reviews: Lawyer Bubble—A Profession in Crisis
USA Today, Time Magazine, and Wall Street Journal

Is the end near, or are proclamations of the demise of the legal profession greatly exaggerated? If you were to ask Steven J. Harper, author of Lawyer Bubble—A Profession in Crisis, he might suggest to you that the profession’s days are numbered without drastic change. According to the synopsis of his book, Harper, an adjunct professor at Northwestern University and a regular contributor to the American Lawyer describes a profession in decline, and finds fault with practically everyone from the deans of law schools, to large corporate law firms, to the federal government issuers of public and private student loans. Harper identifies a number of reasons for the decline of the profession, including the manner in which attorneys bill for their time; the emphasis law schools place on law school rankings; partners’ focus on the bottom line and profits; and there being too many law students for too few jobs. Notwithstanding the doom and gloom foreshadowed in Harper’s book, he suggests a number of changes that could improve the future of the profession, and provides some insights on what the final outcome could be.

More in Law Firms & Practice Management:

Heller Ehrman, Greenberg Traurig Settle Malpractice Suit
Wall Street Journal Law Blog

Attorney Regulation & Ethics

Non-Lawyer Regulation of the Legal Profession: A Case for Change
ABA Journal and Wall Street Journal

In a provocative new paper in the Emory Law Journal and a recently published book entitled the American Legal Profession in Crisis: Resistance and Responses to Change, Professor James Moliterno of Washington and Lee University School of Law argues for the inclusion of non-lawyers in leadership and policy positions in organizations such as the ABA and state bar associations. His premise is that, “In short, the legal profession is ponderous, backward looking, and self-preserving…I recommend a more forward-looking approach that welcomes the views, and even control, of non-lawyers and innovators in business and other enterprises.” Under his new vision, the legal profession would likely move to a more inclusive national law licensure system and would welcome more non-lawyer ownership of firms. Read the paper >

More in Attorney Regulation & Ethics:

Lawyer Criticizes Brooklyn Prosecutor over TV Show
New York Times

Legal Education

Non-Lawyers Enrolling in New Master's Programs, Filling Seats in Law Schools
Wall Street Journal and National Law Journal

Student enrollment in non-JD legal education programs is up 13% since 2010. While LLMs remain popular, many law schools now offer master’s programs in law that usually cost the same as one year of law school. These programs are targeted to midcareer professionals in heavily regulated fields who would benefit from a more in-depth understanding of the law. While the ABA does not track how many law schools have launched non-JD programs, anecdotal reports from ABA officials indicate a steep increase. Law schools that are losing revenue from decreased applications see these programs as alternative sources of revenue. These programs also fill a gap in the legal education market for those who want specialized training without the financial and time commitment of a traditional JD program. Many programs are geared toward highly specific practice areas, such as real estate law, education law, conflict and dispute resolution, energy law, and health law. In addition, many programs are offered online and allow for distance learning and more flexibility for students. Most programs follow a similar structure: students take one or two foundational law courses that cover the basic 1L curriculum broadly, followed by courses that match their specific interests. Master’s students attend classes alongside JD students, filling otherwise empty seats.

‘Brooklyn 2-3-4’ Allows Flexibility for Law Students
National Law Journal and PR Newswire

Brooklyn Law School’s board of trustees approved the “Brooklyn 2-3-4” program, effective in 2014. This JD program will allow students to graduate with more flexible time frames, offering 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, and 4 year options. For the two year program, students take classes in the winter and summer breaks.The University of Dayton School of Law, Northwestern University School of Law, and Southwestern Law School also offer accelerated options. The Brooklyn program will have a separate admissions process from the traditional JD program and will give priority to those with previous work experience. Dean Nick Allard feels the program “will be an attractive option for many different people, including MBAs, CPAs or people who are looking to start a second career.” While the credits required for the accelerated program remain the same as a traditional JD program, as does the tuition, one less year of living expenses as well as the ability to enter the workforce earlier will be attractive selling points for potential applicants. Students will begin classes during the summer, before traditional 1Ls arrive. Their second summer will consist of more coursework and externships.

More in Legal Education:

Law School To Launch New Deferred Admission Program for College Juniors
Harvard Crimson

Law Professor Hurls Hypocrisy Charge at Colleagues
Wall Street Journal Law Blog

A Case for Grade Inflation in Legal Education
Wall Street Journal Law Blog, ABA Journal, and Business Insider

New Report Suggests Ways to Fix Legal Education
US News and World Report

Innovation & New Models

‘One Day Divorce’ Speeds up the Process in Sacramento County
Sacramento Bee

The Sacramento Superior Court in California has developed a new “One Day Divorce” program to help couples finalize their uncontested divorce cases without a lawyer. About 72% of Sacramento County dissolution of marriage applicants are self-represented because they can’t afford or don’t feel they need an attorney. Unfortunately, even couples able to come to terms without the help of lawyers can sometimes spend years navigating the administrative processes and red tape involved in obtaining a final judgment. Judge James M. Mize recognized this problem, and created the program to help couples who aren’t dealing with contentious disagreements and don’t need a trial. In order to be eligible for the program, couples must have filed for divorce at least six months before applying for One Day Divorce, and must have already come to terms on an agreement. The program relies on two types volunteers: law students serve as “form assistants, ” helping the couple complete paperwork; and attorneys serve as judges pro tem, advising the form assistants and approving the settlements. At the end of the process, the couples are escorted to court where Judge Mize renders his decision. Law student and volunteer Stasia Salmon noted that people are happy with the program and, “it’s the only time I ever see people leaving the family court with smiles on their faces.”

More in Innovation & New Models:

How Lawyers are Mining the Information Mother Lode for Pricing, Practice Tips and Predictions
The ABA Journal


Challenges and Changes in the Profession: David Wilkins Keynote

In a recent keynote address to the National Association for Law Placement’s (NALP) annual education conference, Harvard Law School Professor David Wilkins, vice-dean of Global Initiatives on the Legal Profession and director of the Program on the Legal Profession, outlined a set of major challenges facing the legal profession, and considered the likely changes to come. Pertaining to the major challenges facing the profession, Wilkins noted three structural shifts that have altered the professional landscape for lawyers and big law firms: globalization and shifts in economic power; the rise of information technology; and the blurring of 19th century categories of knowledge organization. These core changes, Wilkins argues, have produced important changes that will impact how lawyers do their jobs for the coming decades. These changes include: a reduction in the asymmetry of legal knowledge between the buyers and sellers of legal services; a shift from reputation to value when it comes to purchasing decisions; and movement away from specific firm relationships to networks of relationships. Wilkins concluded his keynote by noting that given the challenges and changes the legal profession faces, the manner in which we adminsiter legal education must also adapt. Law schools must recognize the new professional landscape and adapt their own modes of teaching for practical workplace success.

More in Globalization:

Wigged Out: Hong Kong's Lawyers Bristle Over Horsehair Headpieces
Wall Street Journal

Hong Kong Ranks Third Most Popular Destination with Expat Lawyers
Legal Week

Nigeria: Legal Profession in Danger in Northern Nigeria

Professional Development

Law Schools Offering Leadership and Management Training for Practicing Lawyers
National Law Journal

Inspired by the resounding call for law graduates to be better equipped as leaders and managers, law schools are creating programs to capitalize on this need. In 2007, then-Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan and Professor David Wilkins brought on board an established HBS professor, Ashish Nanda, to start such a program. With courses available for new associates, law firm leaders and corporate counsel, Harvard Law School's executive education program is a direct response to the observation that law firm management has evolved into a more business-like approach. Georgetown University Law Center has followed suit with its own executive education program. Days are gone where managing partners need not manage; in order to be competitive in this globalized profession, lawyers much possess more than just legal knowledge.

More in Professional Development:

Leaning Into the Legal Profession
Law.com (op-ed)


Cravath's First Woman Partner Recalls Her Experiences
ABA Journal

Christine Beshar is now a senior counsel at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, but the 1953 Smith College graduate started out her legal career with a short stint as a switchboard operator at a small law firm. She was soon offered a position as an assistant librarian at Davis Polk. Inspired by her parents who ran a farm together in Germany, Beshar envisioned for herself a similar professional partnership with her lawyer husband, Bob. She worked for four years as her husband’s assistant, and eventually read the law and passed the New York State bar exam without attending law school. In the early 1960s she was hired by Cravath and was elected as its first woman partner in 1971. As a working mother, Beshar was motivated by her own experience with a childcare emergency to urge Samuel Butler, Cravath’s managing partner at the time, to establish a children’s center so that all employees at the firm could bring their children to work when circumstances required it. In a related video, Beshar describes the feeling of panic, knowing that she had important meetings on a day when the babysitter did not show up—she now revels in the continuing usage of Cravath’s children’s center which has evolved to allow parents to drop children off any time, not just in case of emergency.

Women General Counsels In Demand; Other Executive Positions Remain Elusive
Crain’s New York Business

In the past decade there has been a growing trend of women ascending to the role of general counsel in major American companies. There are currently 108 female GCs, more than double the number there were in 2001. Since the 1990’s a growing pipeline of talent and increased focus on diversity has led to the growth of women in the GC role. That position, however, is the only management role seeing increases in women, as female CEOs and CFOs remain a rarity, raising concerns that the role of GC is seen as a “C-Suite diversity slot.” While progress has been slow in getting women into top management positions, there will continue to be a steady flow of up and coming talent, since women occupy an increasing percentage of JD and MBA degree recipients.

More in Diversity:

Racial Diversity Efforts Ebb for Elite Careers, Analysis Finds
New York Times

‘U.S. News’ Top Law Schools Fall Short on Diversity
National Law Journal

Justices Are a More Diverse Group than the Lawyers who Argue at the Supreme Court
The Washington Post

Greater Diversity Needed in Judiciary
New Zealand Herald

Program Notes

New Case: Three Vignettes on Pricing of Professional Services

Three Vignettes on Pricing of Professional Services highlights the choices both consumers and providers of professional services have with pricing structures. “Vignette One: The Franklins’ Dream Home” is told from the perspective of a client who is embarking on a major home renovation and faces a choice among different price structures for construction. “Vignette Two: Robert Bluitt” puts readers in the shoes of a law firm partner who receives a request for a steep discount from a significant long-term client. In “Vignette Three: Kimberley Anniston,” partner Kimberley Anniston and the firm’s managing partner look for ways to adapt to client requests for alternative fee arrangements. Together, the vignettes encourage participants to reflect on the pros and cons of different pricing structures for professional services, from the point of view of both the client and the service provider. Purchase the case >

New Case Series: Hewlett Packard and Mark Hurd

Hewlett Packard and Mark Hurd (A)-(D) examines the rise of HP CEO Mark Hurd and the events following the 2010 accusations that Hurd sexually harassed a former HP contractor. The case series follows the general counsel’s and the HP board’s decision-making process as they coped with the scandal. Participants are encouraged to discuss how the board and the general counsel can address a crisis that engulfs the CEO of a corporation. Faced with a potential scandal, what facts and possible consequences should the board and the GC take into account? How can they best address events and possibilities proactively? Visit the Case Studies Blog to read more about this case series. Purchase the case >

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

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