Friday, November 25, 2005

Learning About the Dark Side

Having practiced in Chicago and Washington, D.C., it was at least minor culture shock to move to Mississippi and start teaching. I don't mean culture shock in the sense of being a Yankee in the Deep South, although there have been those moments too. Rather, the structure of the legal market in Mississippi is something I have never encountered. There is a deep divide here between the plaintiff's bar and the defense bar. In other words, a lot of lawyers here either sue people or defend them. And from what I gather, there is not a lot of cross-over, and each side of the divide views the other as the "Dark Side."

This was a new one on me. Don't get me wrong; there are insurance defense lawyers at big firms in big cities, and there are plaintiff lawyers there too. It's just that the bar in larger cities and larger states is not divided down the middle, so to speak.

From a teaching point of view, what this says to me is that at regional schools, a law practice management course should be paramount, and the course materials should cover the basic structure of the relevant legal market. When I was 24 years old and in law school I of course knew everything, but I find a surprisingly large number of students today (at my school and others) pretty ill-informed about the nature of legal practice and the legal markets they are trying to break into. Not all legal markets are the same, and students need to understand that.

This approach might be more difficult at a national school--and yet it could be done there too, perhaps at a more abstract level, with comparisons between different types of regional markets and ramifications for legal practice. Come to think of it, that would be a good approach at regional schools too, even those whose graduates stick close by and don't migrate nationwide. We can't forego substantive courses, but practical training like this would help address the all-too-common complaint that law schools don't prepare students for the actual practice of law.

1 comment:

Jonathan Stein said...

Professor -

This is already being done at a top 100 school. Pacific McGeorge, my alma mater, offers a class called Law Office Management. It has been taught for a number of years by Tom Chase (, a well respected legal headhunter and former Executive Director for 4 major, national law firms. Tom is a great guy who knows not only the Sacramento legal community, but provides advice to students on working at large firms, mid-size firms, and alternative careers. He presents hiring partners at some of the biggest firms in the area, plus he provides information for students who want to open their own firm.

As for the plaintiff/defense divide, as a former insurance adjuster, former defense attorney, and now plaintiff's attorney, this is common. I handled claims in 13 states and it was the same everywhere. The tort reformers have just worsened the divide.