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« Enhancing Law School Education: Making A Case For The Possible | Main | What Federal Loans Do for Law Students and Law Schools »

11/02/2011

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BH

This sounds like a worthwhile idea. It is true that there are many communities and people who need lawyers and don't have them. The only problem is that this has always been true. Even before law school became so expensive, when debt was manageable, the communities you are talking about were underserved because lawyers preferred more lucrative career options. On the scam blogs, people refer to the kinds of jobs you are talking about as "shit law"--anything that is not Big Law is that. That is the attitude. We can talk about the need to bring down law school costs to enable lawyers to work for others besides the wealthy. But that is what most people going to law school have always wanted to do. Lowering tuition will not spread legal services to all who need it.

BL1Y

BH: That's not what shitlaw refers to.

Shitlaw refers to low end plaintiffs work, divorce, SSI benefits, DUI defense, and the like. Areas where the work isn't interesting, the clients are awful, and the pay doesn't make up for it. It's the equivalent of going to culinary school to work at a greasy spoon.

Shitty work + shitty clients + shitty pay = Shit law.

Shitty work + shitty clients + great pay = Big law

Shitty work + great clients + shitty pay = Nonprofit, public interest

Great work + shitty clients + shitty pay = Not really sure, maybe public defense?

BH

No, you are wrong. I have seen "shit law" described more capaciously than you are allowing. What makes clients "shitty" and the work done for them "shitty", but that in a society that worships money, the pay clients in those economic categories can offer is low and, thus, "shitty? I doubt of most people who disparage some lawyers; work as "shit law" and dreamed of working in firms, would accept your drawing an equivalence between "shitty clients" in so-called shit law and clients in big law. But you have to do that to make your chart "work".

Jon

One reason it's harder to shift recent graduates to underserved populations is the credentialing requirement. For example, a law student who wants to set up shop in a North Dakota oil boomtown will need to wait to get barred in ND. During that time, aside from studying for the ND bar, he will need to have an income sufficient to support him, pay down his loans, and provide a sufficient nest egg to support his future practice while it gets off the ground. That's really hard to do with an oversupply of entry level lawyers driving down salaries everywhere else.

I prefer the term "people law" to shitlaw. People law refers to the practice of law as 95% of people in this country are personally familiar with. People lawyers are the guys you see on TV, in the yellow pages, who you go to for a will, divorce, or DUI.

To practice people law, you need to have a legal education that is client-centric. This type of education emphasizes how to get clients, how to keep them, how to identify what legal needs are being unmet and how to develop a practice to meet those needs, cover your expenses, and realize a decent living. Law school courses are "work-centric." They focus on the ideas and content of the law. For big law firms and government/top public interest organizations, where the junior lawyer only needs to do good work because he is being handed a set of discrete assignments devoid of context, this instruction provides these organizations with a sorting mechanism for legal IQ. But for people law, where the work is not that complex and is something that can be learned quickly by experience, the young lawyer needs to know how to get clients. Tenured professors, in my experience, are not very well suited to advising students on this aspect of practice because they come from "work-centric," not "client-centric" backgrounds- clerkships, big law, government, or impact litigation public interest. I contrast them with adjunct and clinical professors who work in small firms or direct services organizations. These people are much more astute about the market for legal services.

If law school cannot recalibrate to be more client centric, it will need to offer small local practitioners graduates who will add value to those firms. Then they can observe how these more experienced lawyers maintain their practices. I've spoken to people lawyers who say they couldn't hire recent graduates because the learning curve is too great- they need to teach them how to practice law and it's simply cheaper for them to do the work themselves.

Kyle McEntee

Jon, if you can persuade one of those people lawyers to write something for this forum, it will truly enhance the discussion.

BH

I hate the term "shit law", too. It devalues the work that most lawyers do in practice.

Jon, I'm a little confused by one aspect of your argument. You describe people work as " work [that] is not that complex" and as "something that can be learned quickly by experience" and then you say that people lawyers say they can't "hie recent graduates because the learning curve is too great" and they have to spend too much time teaching them. How can people law be both easy to learn and yet have a learning curve that is too great?

Deborah J Merritt

I love the sustainability concept. In addition to the ideas you suggest, I think we need to consider a less costly law degree that meets some types of legal needs. In medicine, nurse practitioners treat some types of illnesses and write prescriptions for many drugs. These practitioners have at least a master's degree in nursing, but not an MD. Our family has received terrific care from nurse practitioners--both for routine illnesses and as adjunct practitioners for very complex illnesses treated by specialists. We need to explore more options like this in law.

I want to stress, though, that even nurse practitioners have considerable academic training: They fully understand the diseases they are treating (and often take more time to explain the underlying processes to patients). The same should be true for less costly degree paths in law. We can train students to be thoughtful professionals--at a variety of levels--for less expense.

Bill Henderson

Love the sentiment. More access to justice?

--Direct service work for low pay is the work for Mother Teresa. Technology is a better hope that lower priced law schools. Law schools can't create Mother Teresas, but technology can scale her mission. Law schools need to learn more about the MBAs poised to make a lot of money from opportunities like Mother Teresa, Esq.

--Cost of access to justice is a function of the cost of the justice system. Why take the courts as a given? Law school professors can conceive of better systems and lobby cash-strapped legislatures to adopt them. Write fewer articles; use tenure to build coalitions. We've got a huge design problem. We need more justice faster, thus requiring less lawyer time per problem. ADR/mediation is this outcome on a crude scale.

Jon

Perhaps I misspoke when I used the word complex to describe the discrete tasks performed by entry-level lawyers, since one would hardly call large firm junior associate work "complex," although the hours make it mentally exhausting. The legal issues a first-year associate is asked to research at Paul, Weiss may be more complex than those at Paul Brown's Main Street firm, and so they might want to hire only from the top students at the best schools. But the big difference is that Paul Weiss's clients are willing to pay more, a lot more, for the knowledge that the Paul Weiss associate attended Yale or Harvard. Paul Brown's client couldn't care less.

Second, it would be much easier to handle an individual client matter from start to finish at the small firm than it would be at the large firm stage because there are simply less things to do, although I wouldn't expect a young lawyer to know how to do either very well the first time around. The problem for the young lawyer is finding clients and surviving until he builds his practice. Whereas the big firm attorney needs to survive many years in the practice before he is ready to take on a case (but could handle smaller pro bono matters on his own which is how they get experience during those first few years).

What the small firm attorneys I've spoken to intimated is that the market is so saturated with unemployed attorneys that it makes no sense to hire a recent graduate when you can hire one who is three years out. Unfortunately those employers make up a majority of legal employers and entry-levels are missing out on a lot of good apprenticeship opportunities. That's why I would advise current law students to take jobs with local small firms during the school year. Hopefully they can demonstrate their value by working hard and get hired on after graduation. Of course, the ABA has rules against law students working more than 20 hours a week and this work does cut into class time. There is also a problem with attorneys using law students for their free Westlaw/Lexis accounts which is against the terms of agreement.

Concerned Reader

Shitlaw is a snobbish term created by those HYS grads for whom DLA Piper is a failure, because they wanted Skadden or DPW.

The reality is that shitlaw jobs - meaning full time attorney jobs paying $50,000 - are hard to get because schools pump out two lawyers for every job opening.

BH

It is not at all probable that HYS grads coined this term.

Isabelle

Yeah, ok. What group of people is cotsnantly making every topic about race? Liberals.Health Care, race.Stimulus Bill, race.Immigration Law, race.Distribution of wealth, race.Education, race.Fighting terrorism, race.Even Obama opened his mouth too soon and used race when that idiot Harvard professor was in the wrong, while police officers were just trying to do their job. When an officer shows up to investigate a reported break in you don't start calling him a racist and talking about his mamma.It's the left that is obsessed with race and they put that above right and wrong.

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About the Blog

  • Rising tuition. Misleading employment statistics. Inadequate skills training. Law schools have faced plenty of criticism for their role in the struggles of young lawyers today. The National Law Journal has assembled a panel of legal educators and law graduates to discuss whether law schools are facing a crisis, and how they should respond to their mounting problems.

Law School Review Contributors

  • Brian Tamanaha
    A professor at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law who writes about law schools on the blog Balkinization
  • Erwin Chemerinsky
    Founding dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law
  • John F. O’Brien
    Dean of the New England Law, Boston and chairman of the Council of the American Bar Association’s Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar
  • Kyle McEntee
    A 2011 graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School and the executive director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit group advocating for legal education reform
  • Lucille Jewel
    Professor at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School who has written about the problems faced by recent law school graduates
  • Michael A. Olivas
    A professor at the University of Houston Law Center and the current president of the Association of American Law Schools
  • William Henderson
    Professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law—Bloomington who studies the legal profession

Law School Review: Further Reading