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


Women Continue to Exit the Profession

According to September 2012 American Bar Association statistics, women comprised 33% of the legal profession, however only 20% were at the partner level and only 15% were at the equity-partner level. In comparison, women were awarded 47% of law degrees that year, implicitly raising the question of where all of the women lawyers are going. On one hand, 57% of all lawyers leave private firms before their fifth year of law practice; on the other hand, there are also a number of factors contributing to a mismatch between the number of trained women lawyers and the number actively engaged in the profession. Because private practice lawyers bill for every minute of work, there is an incentive to spend as much time as possible at work—a factor that disrupts work/life balance. According to a report by the Women Lawyers of Utah, in 2010, 37% of women said that they experienced verbal or physical behavior that created an offensive work environment. For these reasons, Suzanna Goldberg, a professor at Columbia Law school and director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, makes a case that law firms—often despite best intentions—do not end up always being female friendly.

UK Barrister Reacts to “Boys’ Club Justice”
The Lawyer

In an op-ed piece in the Lawyer, Emma Dixon, a barrister in the UK, argues that the lack of female representation on the Supreme Court impedes the ability of the court to be impartial and objective in the deliberation of cases that involve diversity. She writes that, “just as we need diversity in those who make our laws and those who enforce them, so too we need diversity in those charged with interpreting and applying the law. It is a question of improving the legitimacy of judicial decision making.” Historically, only men have been appointed as Lord Chief Justice, and the recent missed opportunity to appoint a qualified woman, Lady Justice Hallet, “would have sent a signal to the legal profession that women can aspire to the highest positions and encourage more female applicants.” She concludes that the judicial appointment process in the UK is flawed and is in need of an overhaul.

More in Diversity

Public Interest Lawyering

Innovative Study Surveys Access to Justice in Brooklyn Family Court
National Law Journal (see related NLJ article)

This summer, Yeshiva University’s National Center for Access to Justice, housed at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is taking the first steps in a major pro-bono project aiming to improve the quality of legal assistance for indigent clients. The study, called the Brooklyn Family Court Child Support Study, assigns summer associates to sit in on hearings at the Brooklyn Family Court and interview participants to quantify the type of legal assistance they were able to access, how well they understood the process, and whether the magistrates can do more to expedite cases or improve participants’ satisfaction. This study, ambitious in its own right, is part of a larger effort to establish the Access to Justice Index – a tool designed to evaluate which state courts best meet the needs of the public.

Clearing the Backlog in Bronx Courts
New York Times

In a follow-up to an earlier series of articles about the extreme delays and systemic problems in the Bronx courts, the New York Times reported on the work of State Supreme Court Justice Patricia DiMango, who has been moved from her regular appointment in Brooklyn to a temporary post at the Bronx County Hall of Justice. Justice DiMango is charged with clearing a massive backlog of felony cases, and has cleared more than 500 long-delayed cases since January. Her approach to running the fast-paced “blockbuster court” involves working with prosecutors and defense attorneys to bring about plea deals in order to move the cases along. If a deal cannot be reached, the case goes immediately to trial. The method has been effective, but has drawn some criticism from those who say the deals are too lenient. Justice DiMango disagrees, saying, “[I] strongly evaluate the case, listen to both sides, try to figure out what I think really might have happened, or the motivation for what might have happened, and then present it to the defendant in a way I think they’ll understand it, and will help them make a decision as to whether or not they should exercise their right to go to trial or accept a plea.” Though the backlog is gradually being reduced, the efforts of Justice DiMango and her colleagues who preside over the trials do little to address the long-term systemic issues in the Bronx. Steven Banks, citywide attorney in chief of the Legal Aid Society, likens the continuing delays to a boat that’s taking on water, noting, “as quickly as the water is bailed out, even more water is rushing in.”


Merger Results in Billion Dollar Global Firm
Wall Street Journal Law Blog, Bloomberg News, The Lawyer, Legal Week and Reuters.

The Chinese-Australian firm King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) will merge with UK firm SJ Berwin, creating the world’s first billion dollar global law firm. Effective in November, the combined firm will have over 2,700 lawyers, with more than 550 partners in 30 locations. This merger is indicative of the changes facing the global legal profession, and highlights the way law practice is evolving in established economies and emerging economies like China, Australia, India, Brazil and South Africa. This can be seen in the arrangements made for office and lawyer locations; SJ Berwin will move into KWM’s offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai, while London-based KWM lawyers will relocate to SJ Berwin's Queen Street Place headquarters in London. Strategically, this will give KWM a boost in European markets, allowing them to compete with the majority of other large Australian firms; furthermore, it will make way for expansion into additional markets in Asia, such as Singapore.

Harish Salve to Join London’s Blackstone Chambers
Legally India

One of India’s best-known senior advocates, Harish Salve, has fast-tracked his application to become an English barrister and announced he will join London’s Blackstone Chambers. Salve, who will continue to be based in New Delhi, will also have a London office, where he is already engaged in arbitration and other work. Salve spoke critically of India’s ban on the entry of foreign lawyers, citing the relative ease with which he can become a barrister in England and Wales and the need for lawyers to be able to assist clients wherever they might be doing business. He argued that the Indian bar has been misinformed about the actual consequences of liberalizing entry of foreign law firms into India, and that their presence would improve the quality of legal services without cutting into the work of most Indian lawyers.

Attorney Regulation & Ethics

Mental Illness and the Bar
New York Times Op-Ed

In a recent New York Times op-ed, lawyer Melody Moezzi reflected on the issue of mental illness and attorneys, a subject not often discussed in the legal profession. Many states require that bar applicants disclose whether they have been diagnosed for treatment within five years of admission for “bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, paranoia or any other psychotic disorder.” Failure to respond truthfully could result in the denial of admission as could disclosure of prior mental illness. Moezzi argues that individuals diagnosed with a mental illness are no more likely to commit a violent crime, engage in unethical behavior or fail to represent their clients competently than the general population. The boards of bar examiners have a regulatory duty to protect the integrity of the profession, but that obligation must be balanced against the individual’s right of privacy.

Irish Government Moves Legal Regulatory Authority to Greater Independence
The Irish Times

The Irish Minister of Justice has agreed to shore up the independence of the proposed new regulator for Irish legal services after initial plans were criticized for giving the government too much power. Under the new plan the six laypersons appointed by the government to the eleven person Legal Services Regulatory Authority would no longer be chosen by the Minister of Justice, but by various agencies, including the Irish Citizens Information Board and the Human Rights Commission. Ireland is following the lead of several countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia, that have set up new regulators for legal services, which are largely independent of the profession. The EU and IMF, who have pushed for a new regulator for legal services in Ireland, have criticized the slow pace of reforms.

More in Attorney Regulation & Ethics

Legal Education

Law School Faculty Face Layoffs; ABA Moves to Ease Tenure Requirements
Wall Street Journal, Wall Street Journal Law Blog, & New York Times DealB%k Blog

Law schools from across the country are facing drastic drops in their application and enrollment numbers. According to the Law School Admissions Council, applications for the entering class of 2013 were down 36% compared to 2010. In 2012, law schools nationwide saw enrollments failing 8.5%. Brian Tamanahan, a professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, notes that this downward trend is particularly problematic as law schools without large endowments are highly dependent on tuition for revenue. This has, as one might expect, created serious problems for law school balance sheets. And that in turn has often lead non-elite law schools to begin targeting their largest expense for constriction: the faculty. Professor Tamanaha notes, “cutting faculty is just a necessary adjustment of the loss in enrolment and the tuition. You can’t cover million dollar deficits just by trimming.” Seton Hall University recently put its untenured faculty on legal notice that their contracts may not be renewed at the end of this academic year. This form of budgetary restraint is not without controversy, however. Seton Hall Professor Victor Fleisher notes in the New York Times DealB%k blog that the decision to cut untenured, but nonetheless tenure-track professors, should be made based solely on academic merit, not budgetary needs. He writes, “Seton Hall’s decision to allow budget considerations to affect tenure outcomes sets a bad precedent…If universities tie tenure decisions to department budgets, deans will be tempted to think about pleasing alumni in determining whom to tenure and who to let go.” In response to these developments, the American Bar Association is moving to change its policies requiring law schools to grant tenure to certain faculty members as a part of the accreditation process. As part of the new policies, law schools would no longer have to offer tenure to receive accreditation, but they would be required to offer more-limited job security packages to full-time faculty.

Faculty and Commentators Offer Ideas to Improve Legal Education
New Republic

Responding to rumors of the demise of the legal profession, the New Republic set out to ask professors, writers and practitioners for thoughts on how to improve law school. The results are a mix of new and not-so-new ideas. Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz suggested that law school should be reduced to two academic years, with a third year being dedicated to the student’s career choice. Mike Kinsley, editor-at-large of the New Republic, called for law school schools to discontinue use of the Socratic Method, believing it to be an inefficient way to convey information. University of Colorado Law School Professor Paul Campos questioned the widespread availability of massive student loans in a terrible job market as “extraordinarily irresponsible.” Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent at Slate suggested limiting the number of people who go to law school. David Lat, founder and managing editor of Above the Law, advocated for a gap year between college and law school. Finally Mark Chandler, general counsel at Cisco Systems, suggested letting students intern for money and credit.

More in Legal Education

Law Firms & Practice Management

Large Law Firms See Increase in Revenues; Not so for Smaller Firms
The National Law Journal

The Survey of Law Firm Economics is a joint project of the National Law Journal and ALM Legal Intelligence that examines law firms ranging from one to more than 150 lawyers to better understand their management, financials, hourly rates, billable hours, compensation and personnel ratios. Some of the most compelling results of the study show that revenues are up 8.5% from last year in those firms with 150 lawyers or more. Overall compensation, billing hours, average hourly rates and profits per lawyer were all up from the year before. Law firms on the other end of the spectrum—those with one to nine attorneys—experienced a 8.1% decline in revenues, resulting less favorable overall figures for 2012 versus 2011. Much of this is attributed to alternative management styles and business models that have helped to fine-tune these larger firms and keep them as lean as they need to be in order to be more profitable.

New Republic: The Last Days of Big Law
New Republic (Responses in American Lawyer, Slate, & Washington Monthly)

In a much discussed New Republic article, Noam Scheiber argues that Big Law’s heyday is over and the sector will shrink from 150–250 such firms in the United States to 20–25 within the next decade. He writes that the economic downturn, structural shifts in the legal services market, and fierce competition amongst partners has led to the end of what was previously a dignified, stable, and plush career trajectory. Scheiber’s thesis has generated much debate and push back. Mark Obbie in Slate recounts how Big Law’s demise has been foretold (incorrectly) many times before and that although the profession has become more crass and competitive it is unclear how genial it ever was. Robin Sparkman at the American Lawyer notes that despite the great recession the top 100 American law firms have continued to see robust, albeit reduced, growth and profitability. Daniel Luzer at Washington Monthly points out that most lawyers do not work at prestigious firms and so any shifts that Scheiber identifies are only impacting a small number of lawyers.

More in Law Firms & Practice Management

Innovation & New Models

Firms Respond to Needs of Tech Clients with Interactive Online Offerings
Investors Business Daily

Younger clients, specifically those in the technology industry, are pushing law firms and legal services companies to develop online platforms where attorneys and clients can work together on legal matters. These particular clients are used to operating in virtual environments in their professional and personal lives, so managing legal needs online is natural. More interactive and functional than the average law firm website, these platforms include a variety of services such as access to forms, uploading and downloading documents, group calendars, and progress reports. Perhaps the most important aspect of the various online systems is real-time electronic billing, allowing clients to manage their budgets and make more accurate predictions about the total costs for any particular matter. Michael Stovsky, head of the innovations, information technology and intellectual property group at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Arnoff says, “We embrace technology and using technology to enhance our relationships with our clients.” Though the legal services industry has been slow to enter the online arena, competition and client needs are bringing about an increase in the types of services offered via the web.

Small Firm Turns to Innovative Mobile Solutions to Remain Competitive
Biz Tech Magazine

To survive in the legal services market, many small firms look for innovative new ways to streamline their operations and increase efficiency to stay competitive with larger firms. At Golden & Waters, the use of innovative technology has been their way of increasing efficiency since they opened in 1999. They are currently putting the finishing touches on a standardized suite of mobile products, including smartphones and tablet computers, that let each member of the 22 lawyer team work wherever they are—on the road, in court, or in the office. By collaborating with their technology partner, CDW, Golden & Waters was able to customize the mobile devices they use to ensure maximum functionality and security, essential factors for attorneys and the sensitive data they handle daily.

More in Innovation & New Models

Lawyer Profiles

Program Notes

Program on the Legal Profession Hosts Sen. Richard Blumenthal at HLS: Bring more Accountability to the FISA Court (video)

Just hours after news outlets reported additional revelations Thursday morning concerning the scope of information gathered by the National Security Agency, US Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) delivered an address at Harvard Law School on proposed legislation to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. On August 8, the senior senator from Connecticut called the court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act a “black box” that had remained secret both to the public at large and even to most members of Congress. Blumenthal said that although he serves on the Senate’s Committee on Armed Services, the revelation on Thursday that the NSA was searching the content of Americans’ e-mails and texts sent to or received from foreign countries was news to him as well. Read more and watch video >

The event was presented in cooperation with:

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

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