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?

Tags: , , ,