A Message From ABA President Stephen Zack

Posted in Uncategorized on December 9th, 2010 by bl1y

One of my dear readers, hereinafter referred to as “Dear Reader,” sent an e-mail to ABA President Stephen Zack, voicing concerns about the legal profession.  Here’s the letter:

Dear Mr. Zack,

Congratulations on your new position as President of the American Bar Association. Now, get to work. Tens of thousands of attorneys have had their careers derailed and we needed a solution yesterday. The ABA’s response to the recession has been abysmal. Real leadership requires more than resolving that the economy is bad and creating a committee to say “Gee, it’d be great if things were better.” Talking about action is not action.

Think the ABA is taking real action to help all the unemployed attorneys out there? Hey, you guys made a Jobs Board, right? That’s something. Have you actually visited it? Here’s a link for your convenience: http://jobs.abanet.org/jobs

Okay, did you go? Did you look at the number of entry level positions listed? 1! That’s not very many. I mean, I might be wrong here, but I’m pretty sure a lot more than 1 person graduated from law school this May. After all, there are 200 law schools, so at least 200 people probably graduated. And what is that one job? Oh, it’s a part time position. Cripes! That means there’s actually less than one entry level job.

And it only requires a high school education! Oh my.

Here’s a link to a site that has more legal job opportunities than the ABA Jobs Board: http://craigslist.org/ That’s somewhat embarrassing, right?

So, what can you do to help all the unemployed lawyers and law students who are facing grim employment prospects? I mean, you can’t actually create jobs from thin air or make debt burdens disappear. Well, as an administrative partner at a major law firm, you probably can, but no one is really expecting you to do that. All we ask for is a genuine effort in improving the profession.

See, you have this thing called the bully pulpit. You know how you got to stand up and declare once and for all that Atticus Finch is really quite a stellar person and a nifty lawyer to boot? You can actually use that same pulpit to make more substantive decrees. Cool, right?

To help you get started, here are a few things you can declare that might help bring some positive change to the profession:

1. Fraud is bad. Law schools probably shouldn’t do it.

Here are some examples:

(a) Duke claims that its graduates have 100% employment. 100%. In a recession. How did they pull that off? They bribed organizations to give graduates temporary positions for meager wages ($3000 a month). Is the 100% figure technically accurate? Sure. But is claiming 100% employment when you have to pay people to take your grads until the 9 month mark intentionally misleading? Oh hell yes.

Of course, most law schools play a similar game. They publish rosy employment statistics while ignoring the fact that the data is based on self-reporting and unemployed or underemployed graduates are less likely to report. And, many schools publish their 9 months employment data without actually following up with students to see if they’re still employed. Instead, they only check in with those who were unemployed at graduation. What you don’t know can’t hurt, right?

(b) Pittsburgh Law recently posted a welcome letter to its new students. In that letter Dean Crossley mentions some of the new classes being offered, among them Corporate Finance. But, if you look at the school’s course catalog you might find a strange anomaly. Corporate Finance isn’t being offered this year. In fact, it’s only offered once every other year. The incoming students to whom the letter was addressed will only have a chance to take this class during their 2L year, and if you know anything about how lotteries and 3L priority work, you’ll know that if there’s much demand for this class there’s a good chance the incoming 1Ls won’t ever have the opportunity to take it.

In fact, many schools routinely claim “opportunities” to take a wide variety of classes, but given how rarely they are offered, small class sizes and possible scheduling conflicts, many students won’t actually get to take the classes they want. Yeup, $20,000 a semester and you don’t get a real choice in what classes you take. Bet they don’t tell you that on an admitted students weekend.

(c) On the page for its Lawyering Program, NYU says “carefully structured peer review enhances motivation, for students work with the knowledge that their efforts will be thoughtfully scrutinized, both by faculty and by peers.” What they don’t tell you is “Not only will you not be evaluated in your performance on the largest project of the year, but your professor won’t even be there to see your oral argument! LOL!” Seriously, they make no effort to evaluate your performance on the largest project of the year. I guess “thoughtful scrutiny” means “thought about scrutinizing, decided not to.”

That’s just the stuff I came up with off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s a lot more going on. Wouldn’t it be swell if like…I don’t know…you asked law schools to stop? You don’t even have to put together a commission or hold meetings. You can, today, just ask law schools not to commit fraud any more. They might continue, but it would at least be a nice start to just remind them that what they’re doing is bad and hurts their students.

2. Ethics are good. Get more of them.

What are some ways law students and law schools engage in unethical behavior?

(a) 45% of law students self report that they’ve cheated while in law school. (http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aw7s9m0BmcBo) 45% is a lot, especially when you consider that most law schools grade on a curve. And, given how important grades are to securing employment, this is a pretty serious problem. What have law schools done to address this problem? Pretty much nothing.

(b) Seriously, they’re doing pretty much nothing. In fact, when students are caught plagiarizing papers and professors want to punish their students, law school administrations have been adopting a policy of “look the other way.” (http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/law_prof_says_more_students_are_plagiarizing_paper/)

(c) Professors assign their own textbooks. Or, as Quinn Emanuel partner Bill Urquhart might put it: CHECK YOU CONFLICT OF INTEREST. Really, the law of property hasn’t changed that much in the past three years. You don’t need to issue a new edition of your text book, but thanks for destroying the used book market and driving up the debt load of your students. Also, professors really should give their students free copies of any course supplement they write. I think if you’re paying $20,000 a semester you should get the whole course and not have to shell out another $50 for all the good stuff that’s going to be on the exam. Only one bite at the apple, please.

3. Law school is very expensive. It should be less of that.

Here are two ways to dramatically lower the costs:

(a) Make law school a two year program. What is the justification for requiring me to go for three years if I can fill up my second and third year with classes like The Magic Mountain Reading Group (http://www.law.harvard.edu/academics/courses/2009-10/?id=7020) or The Past and Future of the Left (http://www.law.harvard.edu/academics/courses/2009-10/?id=7003)? Let students who take a course load of substantive law classes graduate in 2 years. You’ll cut the costs of attendance by more than a third (one less year accumulating interest on your loans, and the third year is the most expensive due to tuition increases), and give students one year less of opportunity costs. Just imagine how many more people would take public interest jobs if they could actually afford to!

(b) Ask deans and professors to take a pay cut until their students are back to being employed in reasonable numbers (and pass the savings on to current students and recent grads). The average dean salary is about $330,000, and full professors average around $200,000, not to mention any extra money they make from text book sales or moonlighting as a consultant. (http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2007/02/more_on_judge_a.html) It’s pretty distasteful to increase tuition at your school during a recession when your graduates are unemployed or facing pay cuts.

Not that professors should have to live like their students, but if you have an apartment that costs over $5 million (http://abovethelaw.com/2007/09/lawyerly-lairs-back-to-school/) and your grads are forced to move back in with their parents, maybe it’s time to give the kids a break.

I know you want your administration to focus on the four goals you mentioned in your speech on Monday, preservation of the justice system, civic education, protecting human rights, and preparing for disaster, but let me remind you that as a profession disaster is already upon us, and if you’ll check the ABA Mission Statement (http://www.abanet.org/about/goals.html?gnav=global_about_mission) you should note what Goals #1 and #2 are: Serve Our Members and Improve Our Profession.

Tens of thousands of unemployed or underemployed attorneys are out there and the ABA is only able to locate 1 entry level position and 29 lawyer jobs. Maybe, at a minimum, at least try to double this number. Okay? Thanks.

Sincerely,

[Dear Reader]

Think some, or maybe even all of this letter sounds familiar?  It is.  This is the same e-mail I sent to Mr. Zack on August 11th.  Don’t worry, there’s nothing creepy going on here.  After not getting a response, I posted the letter on this blog, and invited readers, such as Dear Reader, to send it to Mr. Zack.  Thanks for doing so, Dear Reader!

Why am I so thankful?  Because Mr. Zack wrote back!  Not to me, though.

Dear [Dear Reader]:

Thank you for your email of October 24. We appreciate your taking the time to share your concerns about the plight of young lawyers in light of the severe economic downturn. The ABA is well aware that this is a time of great need for members of our profession — especially newer members — and we are working to address many of the issues you highlighted in your correspondence:

Law School Transparency: The ABA is troubled by the lack of transparency regarding the steep cost of a law school education and the chances of finding adequate legal employment after graduation. At my request, the ABA Young Lawyers Division (YLD) has developed a “Truth in Law School Education” initiative, which is focusing on ensuring that aspiring lawyers enter law school fully informed about the realities of financing a law school education and post-graduation employment prospects given the current economic environment. The YLD is working on a resolution to be considered by the ABA House of Delegates calling for more transparency from law schools with regard to these issues. In addition, our Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is examining what additional salary and employment questions should be included on the annual questionnaire that law schools must complete and how that information should be made public. You might be interested in the Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools, both for the data (including employment statistics) it provides from every law school and also the introductory chapters on financing a legal education and finding a job. You can find the Guide at officialguide.lsac.org/. The National Association of Law Placement (NALP) also publishes information on job placement and opportunities. On another transparency initiative, a subcommittee of the group reviewing the ABA’s law school accreditation standards has been instructed to add new transparency provisions to Standard 509, which covers the consumer information that law schools must collect and disclose.

Cost of Law School Education: The escalating cost of legal education over the past 20 years has profound implications for the legal profession. The high cost of obtaining a law degree is driving the selection of legal careers and has the potential for hindering efforts to diversify the profession and provide affordable legal services. The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is working in partnership with the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) and the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) to commission an empirical study on the cost of legal education.

Student Loan Debt: The ABA is advocating multiple proposals for student loan reform, both with Congress and the Executive Branch, during the current economic downturn. The ABA will continue to work to achieve helpful educational loan reform for law students and law school graduates through proposals such as increased Stafford loan limits, retroactive borrowing under federal loan programs to pay off private loans, increased flexibility and benefits of federal loans, and continued appropriations funding for loan forgiveness programs. (http://www.abanet.org/poladv/priorities/student_loan/)

ABA Job Board. The ABA Job Board, and the entire Career Center, are fundamental pillars of our new website strategy. As such, we are continuing to work to promote the Job Board to legal employers to make it a more valuable resource for the many members of our profession who are seeking employment.

Please know that as I travel around the country, I will continue to speak out on these important issues. Thanks again for sharing your concerns and we hope you will give some thought to joining the ABA, www.abanet.org/members, so that you can work with us to address the many challenges facing the profession today.

Regards,

Stephen N. Zack

Sound like a big bowl of steaming horseshit to you?  It certainly does to me.

The ABA’s answer to the law school transparency issue is to ask the Young Lawyers Division to come up with a resolution?  Now, it might seem appropriate, since young lawyers are the ones most feeling the sting of poor employment prospects.  But, they’re also the ones least able to take away from work (if they have any) to focus on this.  You can’t turn down an assignment as a junior associate because you have to work on a toothless resolution.  So, when the YLD fails to do anything effective, the older folks at the ABA get to say it’s the fault of young lawyers. And, as a YLD subcommittee vice chair, I’m pretty certain we’re not going to do anything to fix the problem. Not because we don’t want to, but because the YLD is just an ineffective, disorganized mess. This would be like putting airport security into the hands of the DMV.

Their response to the soaring cost of legal education is to commission a study to gather empirical data about the cost of legal education.  Can’t you just pick up the most recent US News law school rankings and compare the costs listed there to an older issue?  We all know it’s going up, faster than salaries, faster than the cost of living, and faster than inflation.  Notice the commission isn’t empowered to do anything about it.  All it can do is gather data.  Yet another instance of a large bumbling bureaucracy confusing talking about action with actually taking action.

On the issue of student loans, maybe they might actually accomplish something through lobbying Congress to let student refinance their private loans under a federal loan program, which would then be subject to income based repayment (IBR) and other humane repayment policies.  Of course, anything that involves working with Congress is going to take a long time .  If you can get a big enough line of credit, use credit cards and other loans to pay off your student debt, and then discharge those loans through bankruptcy (be sure to check how long you have to wait to make sure your little maneuver isn’t unwound by the bankruptcy court; six months should do it).  Then it’s what, 7 years until your bankruptcy is off your record?  Faster than repaying loans, and definitely faster than Congress doing anything.

And finally we come to the real insult of the whole thing, the ABA Jobs board:

The ABA Job Board, and the entire Career Center, are fundamental pillars of our new website strategy.

Since the postings on the jobs board of course change from time to time, I will go right this very moment and see how it’s doing, almost 4 months after I sent my letter to Mr. Zack.

Two!  Two entry level positions available.

The first is for a bankruptcy associate and requires either 1-2 years experience in bankruptcy work, or 1-2 years clerking for a bankruptcy judge.  So…not really entry level, simply junior level.

As for the second…wait, this posting actually says it has two positions available.  Yes!  That means there’s three entry level jobs on the ABA Jobs Board!  Oh, wait, since the first one wasn’t entry level, we’re back down to two…  Wait…damnit, this one also requires at least 1 year of experience in litigation.

Cripes!  That means there are zero entry level positions listed.

Zero.

I looked on the Craig’s List legal jobs for New York and found one posted today (link). That’s the entry level attorney jobs posted in 1 city on 1 day (I didn’t even both looking at jobs posted earlier than today).

So how about this, get whoever is sitting on their duff managing the jobs board to search craigslist every single day, and contact everyone posting legal jobs there and ask if you can reprint the listing on the ABA site.  Who would say no to that?

There are 36 full time positions listed, only 19 attorney jobs, and 18 full time attorney jobs.

Oh, wait, there’s more.  I mean, less.  Scanning through these positions, some of them are not attorney jobs.  A labor relations manager might deal with legal issues, but is not an attorney.  Neither is the job at Commercial Multifamily Real Estate (if you can get the job with an MBA instead of a JD, it’s not an attorney position).  Mayo Clinic Government Relations Division chair, also not an attorney.

Granted, some of these look like good jobs, it’s sad that a jobs board with only 37 total listings can’t get them in to the right categories.  Of the 18 listings found under full time + attorney, 8 of them were for non-attorney jobs.

If this is a fundamental pillar of your strategy for dealing with attorney unemployment, I expect the ceiling to cave any moment now.

Oh, wait, that’s not what you said.  It’s a fundamental pillar in your website strategy.  Whew!  So the website might cave.  Okay, cool, I can deal with that.  But, it still leaves one very important question:

What’s your plan for helping unemployed attorneys find jobs?

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ABA Wakes Up, Reported as Saying “Just 5 More Minutes,” Hits Snooze

Posted in Uncategorized on October 22nd, 2010 by bl1y

With all the buzz going around about the ABA maybe kinda considering thinking about doing something about law schools presenting would-be students with misleading material information about job prospects and salaries in order to induce these students into enrolling and spending over a hundred thousand dollars each in tuition (or in the common parlance, “fraud”), I decided to repost this e-mail I sent to ABA President Zachary Chesser Stephen Zack back on August 11th.

Also, I’m way behind on editing this week’s Blind Drunk Justice and wanted to give you something to hold you over.

Dear Mr. Zack,

Congratulations on your new position as President of the American Bar Association.  Now, get to work.  Tens of thousands of attorneys have had their careers derailed and we needed a solution yesterday.  The ABA’s response to the recession has been abysmal.  Real leadership requires more than resolving that the economy is bad and creating a committee to say “Gee, it’d be great if things were better.”  Talking about action is not action.

Think the ABA is taking real action to help all the unemployed attorneys out there?  Hey, you guys made a Jobs Board, right?  That’s something.  Have you actually visited it?  Here’s a link for your convenience: http://jobs.abanet.org/jobs

Okay, did you go?  Did you look at the number of entry level positions listed?  1!  That’s not very many.  I mean, I might be wrong here, but I’m pretty sure a lot more than 1 person graduated from law school this May.  After all, there are 200 law schools, so at least 200 people probably graduated.  And what is that one job?  Oh, it’s a part time position.  Cripes!  That means there’s actually less than one entry level job.

And it only requires a high school education!  Oh my.

Here’s a link to a site that has more legal job opportunities than the ABA Jobs Board: http://craigslist.org/ That’s somewhat embarrassing, right?

So, what can you do to help all the unemployed lawyers and law students who are facing grim employment prospects?  I mean, you can’t actually create jobs from thin air or make debt burdens disappear.  Well, as an administrative partner at a major law firm, you probably can, but no one is really expecting you to do that.  All we ask for is a genuine effort in improving the profession.

See, you have this thing called the bully pulpit. You know how you got to stand up and declare once and for all that Atticus Finch is really quite a stellar person and a nifty lawyer to boot?  You can actually use that same pulpit to make more substantive decrees.  Cool, right?

To help you get started, here are a few things you can declare that might help bring some positive change to the profession:

1.  Fraud is bad.  Law schools probably shouldn’t do it.

Here are some examples:

(a) Duke claims that its graduates have 100% employment.  100%.  In a recession.  How did they pull that off?  They bribed organizations to give graduates temporary positions for meager wages ($3000 a month).  Is the 100% figure technically accurate?  Sure.  But is claiming 100% employment when you have to pay people to take your grads until the 9 month mark intentionally misleading? Oh hell yes.

Of course, most law schools play a similar game.  They publish rosy employment statistics while ignoring the fact that the data is based on self-reporting and unemployed or underemployed graduates are less likely to report.  And, many schools publish their 9 months employment data without actually following up with students to see if they’re still employed.  Instead, they only check in with those who were unemployed at graduation.  What you don’t know can’t hurt, right?

(b) Pittsburgh Law recently posted a welcome letter to its new students.  In that letter Dean Crossley mentions some of the new classes being offered, among them Corporate Finance.  But, if you look at the school’s course catalog you might find a strange anomaly.  Corporate Finance isn’t being offered this year.  In fact, it’s only offered once every other year.  The incoming students to whom the letter was addressed will only have a chance to take this class during their 2L year, and if you know anything about how lotteries and 3L priority work, you’ll know that if there’s much demand for this class there’s a good chance the incoming 1Ls won’t ever have the opportunity to take it.

In fact, many schools routinely claim “opportunities” to take a wide variety of classes, but given how rarely they are offered, small class sizes and possible scheduling conflicts, many students won’t actually get to take the classes they want.  Yeup, $20,000 a semester and you don’t get a real choice in what classes you take.  Bet they don’t tell you that on an admitted students weekend.

(c) On the page for its Lawyering Program, NYU says “carefully structured peer review enhances motivation, for students work with the knowledge that their efforts will be thoughtfully scrutinized, both by faculty and by peers.”  What they don’t tell you is “Not only will you not be evaluated in your performance on the largest project of the year, but your professor won’t even be there to see your oral argument! LOL!”  Seriously, they make no effort to evaluate your performance on the largest project of the year.  I guess “thoughtful scrutiny” means “thought about scrutinizing, decided not to.”

That’s just the stuff I came up with off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s a lot more going on.  Wouldn’t it be swell if like…I don’t know…you asked law schools to stop?  You don’t even have to put together a commission or hold meetings.  You can, today, just ask law schools not to commit fraud any more.  They might continue, but it would at least be a nice start to just remind them that what they’re doing is bad and hurts their students.

2.  Ethics are good.  Get more of them.

What are some ways law students and law schools engage in unethical behavior?

(a) 45% of law students self report that they’ve cheated while in law school.  (http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aw7s9m0BmcBo)  45% is a lot, especially when you consider that most law schools grade on a curve.  And, given how important grades are to securing employment, this is a pretty serious problem.  What have law schools done to address this problem?  Pretty much nothing.

(b) Seriously, they’re doing pretty much nothing.  In fact, when students are caught plagiarizing papers and professors want to punish their students, law school administrations have been adopting a policy of “look the other way.”  (http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/law_prof_says_more_students_are_plagiarizing_paper/)

(c) Professors assign their own textbooks.  Or, as Quinn Emanuel partner Bill Urquhart might put it: CHECK YOU CONFLICT OF INTEREST.  Really, the law of property hasn’t changed that much in the past three years.  You don’t need to issue a new edition of your text book, but thanks for destroying the used book market and driving up the debt load of your students.  Also, professors really should give their students free copies of any course supplement they write.  I think if you’re paying $20,000 a semester you should get the whole course and not have to shell out another $50 for all the good stuff that’s going to be on the exam.  Only one bite at the apple, please.

3.  Law school is very expensive.  It should be less of that.

Here are two ways to dramatically lower the costs:

(a) Make law school a two year program.  What is the justification for requiring me to go for three years if I can fill up my second and third year with classes like The Magic Mountain Reading Group (http://www.law.harvard.edu/academics/courses/2009-10/?id=7020) or The Past and Future of the Left (http://www.law.harvard.edu/academics/courses/2009-10/?id=7003)?  Let students who take a course load of substantive law classes graduate in 2 years.  You’ll cut the costs of attendance by more than a third (one less year accumulating interest on your loans, and the third year is the most expensive due to tuition increases), and give students one year less of opportunity costs.  Just imagine how many more people would take public interest jobs if they could actually afford to!

(b) Ask deans and professors to take a pay cut until their students are back to being employed in reasonable numbers (and pass the savings on to current students and recent grads).  The average dean salary is about $330,000, and full professors average around $200,000, not to mention any extra money they make from text book sales or moonlighting as a consultant.  (http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2007/02/more_on_judge_a.html)  It’s pretty distasteful to increase tuition at your school during a recession when your graduates are unemployed or facing pay cuts.

Not that professors should have to live like their students, but if you have an apartment that costs over $5 million (http://abovethelaw.com/2007/09/lawyerly-lairs-back-to-school/) and your grads are forced to move back in with their parents, maybe it’s time to give the kids a break.

I know you want your administration to focus on the four goals you mentioned in your speech on Monday, preservation of the justice system, civic education, protecting human rights, and preparing for disaster, but let me remind you that as a profession disaster is already upon us, and if you’ll check the ABA Mission Statement (http://www.abanet.org/about/goals.html?gnav=global_about_mission) you should note what Goals #1 and #2 are: Serve Our Members and Improve Our Profession.

Tens of thousands of unemployed or underemployed attorneys are out there and the ABA is only able to locate 1 entry level position and 29 lawyer jobs.  Maybe, at a minimum, at least try to double this number.  Okay?  Thanks.

Sincerely,

[BL1Y]

Mr. Zack did not reply.  Feel free to copy this letter yourself and send it to abapresident@abanet.org

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What They Don’t Teach You in Law School

Posted in Uncategorized on October 19th, 2010 by bl1y

Yesterday I received an e-mail from LPM Publications, which is the Law Practice Management Section of the American Bar Association.  It was an advertisement for a new book Introduction to Law Firm Practice, which covers topics such as what on earth non-equity partners and of counsel are, law firm profit structures, and how to not just bring in new clients, but actually handle engagement letters, conflicts, and the like.

Sounds like something that would actually be useful for young attorneys so they can understand the business that they’re getting in to.  Even though they won’t be meeting with their big corporate clients any time soon, it is good to have a better understanding of the relationship between the client and the firm so that you can avoid making some dumb rookie mistakes.

And, unless you leave legal practice, this is something every lawyer will eventually need to know, unlike civil procedure, which only litigators will need, or the RAP and fee tail, which it turns out no one will ever need to know.

Now, remember that this is published by the same organization that sets law school accreditation standards, including what classes law schools must offer.  Repeat after me:

Conflict of interests.

Could the conflict here be any more clear?  This is information virtually every graduate will need, but very few law schools offer classes on law firm management.  It seems like precisely the type of thing law schools should then be required to teach.  But, why require schools to give basic information to students when you can give it to them for $79.95 a pop?

Just in case you think there’s a doubt as to whether a conflict really exists, here’s the title of the e-mail I got:

What They Don’t Teach You in Law School

You choose what they teach us in law school! You choose what they teach us in law school! You choose what they fucking teach us in fucking law fucking school!!!

Surely someone over there at the ABA has taken a class on professional responsibility and ethics, right?  I mean, that is a required class (as it should be), and I’m pretty sure the people running the ABA have been to law school, so they must have learned about conflicts of interests and seen this one a mile away.

But wait.  While the ABA requires law schools to not only offer professional responsibility, but to make it a required class, they don’t actually regulate the content of these classes.  The ABA merely requires that you have a class with the right words in the name, and which causes the registrar to check a certain box in your file.  Actually teaching professional responsibility and ethics is not required, as there is no monitoring or enforcement.

That’s okay though, the ABA publishes seven books on ethics and professional responsibility.

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Carolyn Lamm Does Not Speak For Me

Posted in Uncategorized on July 2nd, 2010 by bl1y

Few topics are as likely to inspire heated debate in the United States right now as the new Arizona immigration law.  Arizona and the BP oil spill vie for position as number one, with Koman Coulibaly and the other World Cup embarrassments trailing in a distant third.  Elana Kagan doesn’t even make it onto the controversy radar.

It’s no surprise that lawyers, what with their legal interpretive skills and all, would have strong opinions on the matter.  Unfortunately, the legal profession hasn’t put its best foot forward in the debate.  Professor David Crump (University of Houston Law Center) has written an article for the Houston Chronicle in favor of the law, and the board of trustees of the Law and Society Association issued a resolution calling for a boycott of Arizona.  Writing on the PrawfsBlawg, Professor Jack Chin (Arizona Law) called out both groups for their failures in basic reading comprehension.  Not a shining moment for lawyers.

Now, a bigger legal dog is getting in the fight, the American Bar Association.  ABA President Carolyn Lamm, along with President-Elect Stephen Zack (and some other assorted knuckleheads), filed an amicus brief in opposition of the Arizona law.

While reasonable minds can disagree on which way the case should go (or maybe they can’t, I don’t really know, the issue isn’t particularly interesting to me, so I’m not too familiar the details and won’t make an uninformed opinion like the LSA and Professor Crump), it’s not the worst idea to have learned legal professionals weigh in on the matter.

But, what has many members of the ABA up in arms is that Ms. Lamm’s brief was filed on behalf of the ABA:

The ABA will not expand upon the Plaintiffs’ constitutional arguments, including preemption, but rather will limit this brief to a discussion of the impact that S.B. 1070, if implemented, will have on four issues that are of deep concern to the ABA: (A) the increased use of racial profiling in law enforcement; (B) the mandatory detention of citizens and noncitizens; (C) the increased burden and new obligations on Arizona’s indigent defense system, as well as its courts and prosecutors; and (D) the attempted usurpation of exclusive federal authority to manage and supervise immigration law enforcement matters.

Were you aware that these things were deep concerns of the ABA?  I’m sure I didn’t get that memo.  I know I haven’t been in the organization very long, but I always kind of figured it was a professional organization, not a social policy group.

I was in law school when the Supreme Court heard FAIR v. Rumsfeld, the case about whether law schools could deny military recruiters access to career services resources as part of a policy to not open career services up to employers that engage in discriminatory hiring (and keep their federal funding while denying access to the military).  While there was a lot of disagreement with how the case should come down (law professors thought the schools should win, SCOTUS disagreed 8-0), few people would argue that it was improper for law schools to have a position on the matter, even if they disagreed with that position.  As a body that has a great deal of influence on schools, it would have been proper for the ABA to give its opinion to the court.

But, the Arizona immigration law?  While the debate may be interesting to members of the ABA, it is not of interest to them as ABA members.  For those of you that only understand lawyer-speak, they’re interested lawyers-qua-people, not lawyers-qua-lawyers.  While Ms. Lamm is perfectly free to file an amicus brief, she should not do so as the voice of the ABA.

The ABA respectfully suggests that its views, which represent the perspectives of a broad range of practitioners and others involved with immigration and criminal justice issues, may be of value to the Court in its consideration of the questions now before it.

No!  While lawyers tend to be a bit left of center, there is hardly a consensus within the legal community about the Arizona law.  It is entirely inaccurate to describe the opinions in the amicus brief as the views of the ABA at large.  They are the views of Ms. Lamm, and some members of the ABA, not the views of “The ABA.”

Further, this is not a matter on which the ABA should even have an official opinion.  As a professional organization, the ABA’s primary job should be supporting its members, a job it has fallen asleep at the wheel on.  An ABA which thinks it can influence the immigration debate, but is powerless in stopping the creation of fourth tier diploma mills is an ABA that has its head so far up its own ass that it can watch its lunch being digested.

20,000 lawyers have been “downsized,” not to mention those who have had their job offers deferred, and firms that have simply reduced their hiring, but this is what the ABA concerns itself with?  The only resource the ABA Career Center offers for alternative careers for lawyers is a single article from 2005 that suggests such practical, realistic pursuits as Major League Baseball Manager and Ghandi.  If there are other resources available online, the ABA needs to hire a better web administrator.  Maybe one of the many web savvy recently unemployed lawyers could help out.

It is a complete failure of leadership for Ms. Lamm to focus the ABA’s energies more on the welfare of undocumented day laborers than unemployed juris doctors.  Surely those affected by this bill are deserving of zealous advocacy, but the ABA is not the proper organization to advance their interests.  Is this what you think your ABA dues are paying for?  The immigration bar, maybe (though they might appreciate the surge in business), or the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, but the ABA?  No.

As if the recession didn’t give the ABA enough reason to do anything other than step in on the Arizona immigration debate, the brief highlights just how improper its existence is.  Ms. Lamm has picked a very unusual time to express the collective voice of the ABA:

While the ABA typically files amicus briefs only in the highest federal or state court that will consider a matter, the ABA believes the issues before this Court are of such significance to the American people and the practice of law that they must be addressed at this stage of the proceedings.

Does the timing of this brief have anything to do with the fact that it would likely only reach the appellate level only after Ms. Lamm’s role as ABA president would have expired, and she wouldn’t get to put her name at the top of the brief if it were filed at the appropriate time?  It’s up to you to decide.  (Hint: the answer is probably “yes.”)

A number of lawyers have expressed their intention to end their membership with the ABA over this debacle, but I suggest a different course of action.  First, I would like to see Ms. Lamm ask the court for leave to amend the brief, and re-file it only on behalf of the authors.  But more importantly, I hope that this will encourage people to become more active in the ABA and push for policy that focuses on supporting lawyers and advancing substantive educational and professional reform, rather than on racking up prestige points for the ABA leadership.

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Reason Not to Go to Law School #8

Posted in Reasons Not to Go to Law School on January 11th, 2010 by bl1y

There’s too many God damn law students.

The New York Times has reported that since The Economy Happened there has been a 20% increase in LSAT takers. Naturally, this is leading to an increase in students applying to law school (some schools have reported more than a 50% increase in applications).

On the other end, law schools are not rapidly expanding their lecture halls and hiring new professors. Nope, the available seats in good law schools is going to remain pretty much the same. So, getting into a decent law school is going to be a lot harder, and you can expect your future class mates to be even more competitive and douchebaggy.

Just to make things worse, third and fourth tier diploma mills have been cropping up all over the place thanks to the ABA practically endorsing degrees not worth the Kinkos paper they’re printed on. And unlike the good schools, they will be more than happy to widen their doors to take in more suckers. So, if you go to a mid-ranked school, when you graduate you’re going to have a huge number of kids from crappy schools competing for the same jobs.

Now, you might be thinking students at shit schools won’t hurt your job prospects, but some 30,000 students graduate from TTTs every year, and the numbers are going up. A 20% increase in those students, means another 6000 hungry lawyers in the job market. If you only have to compete with the top 5-10% from those schools (and you probably will), that’s 300-600 fewer job opportunities for you.

If you happen to be one of those TTT students…I’d feel sorry for you, but I don’t feel sorry for dumbasses who should have known better than to go to such a shitty school in the first place. However, I will offer you a gratuitous hottie as a consolation prize.

And look, she’s upside down! It’s practically a metaphor for how the rest of your life will turn out if you decide to go to law school.

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Reason Not to Go to Law School #3

Posted in Reasons Not to Go to Law School on January 8th, 2010 by bl1y

You don’t learn anything.

Most law students figure out pretty early on that they won’t actually be learning the law in law school. But, not everyone still in the application process is aware, so I’ll make the point as clear as possible:

You will not learn law in law school.

If you really are interested in learning black letter law, go pick up three things: law school text books (aka: case books), law school study guides (aka: horn books), and bar exam study guides (aka: the law). Read them on your own. You’ll maybe miss a thing or two by not having a professor explaining it. If so, just buy another study guide and get a different person’s explanations. You can get the same, if not better, education than someone going to law school, and for not more than 1% of the cost.

A lot of people are okay with law school not teaching law because they think law school teaches this other skill known as “thinking like a lawyer.” It’s some combination of critical analysis and being an asshole. You don’t learn it in law school. If you really want to hone your analytical skills, get a degree in analytical philosophy. Seriously, you will learn how to break arguments down into their component parts, put them back together, and figure out what’s missing or where things go wrong. Make sure to take a class in deductive/symbolic logic. Law school won’t teach you this stuff. For real. DeMorgan’s Law was absolutely essential to understanding one of my legal research and writing assignments, but we never had a lesson on distributing negations. A lot of people screwed up their statutory interpretations because of this. The professor didn’t know how to explain it.

You also will not learn how to write like a lawyer. Your legal writing class will be taught by a third year student who has no more than ten weeks of actual lawyering experience. If you’re lucky, there will be a real life law professor for the class too, but don’t expect her to do anything. She is just a diversity hire used to pad the school’s numbers. Mine was a lesbian and a Native American. Double the diversity points!

If you have poor reasoning skills or poor writing skills, law school will not help you. If you’re good in these departments, law school might actually make you worse.

If you think I’m just cynical, consider this: The ABA limits the number of lawyers who can teach at law schools as well as the number of credits you can take from lawyers. The vast majority of law professors cannot be practitioners (aka: lawyers), they must be academics (aka: worthless). So, you’re taking classes from people who have probably never practiced law. Good luck learning how to be a lawyer from them, or even learning how to think like a lawyer. They’ve never thought as a lawyer, so they can’t teach you how to think like one. If you get a professor who used to practice, they’ve probably been out of the game for so long that their experience will be useless to you. They won’t have done the type of electronic research and document review that will dominate your practice.

Here is a complete list of things I learned in law school:

Law students are incapable of basic math functions like adding two numbers, or simply taking one number, leaving it alone, and having it remain the same value by not doing anything to it.

Law students are really bad at learning the Erie Doctrine. (If your explanation does not involve the Supreme Court ruling on whether a law written by the Supreme Court is constitutional, you’ve missed something.)

All packages contain explosives.

How to create a zipper in Desktop Tower Defense 1.5.

Emma Watson reached the age of consent (about two years ago, varies by state).

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_g_aSy_FGX70/Sx_iDltIK_I/AAAAAAAABc8/OhcEqPqVJYo/s640/Emma+Watson.jpg
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