Saturday, January 31, 2009

To Everything there is a Season

Obviously it has been a while since I have posted on this blog. Why is that? I suppose it is because I have accomplished much of what I wanted to with Law Career Blog as a solo blog. I felt I had important things to say on teaching and classroom etiquette; on law career decisions; on law firm practice; on mentoring, and more. And I have said many of them, so there you have it.

I am very pleased, though, that my posts continue to draw strong traffic month after month, year after year. What I have said here remains relevant, I think--but that does not mean I need to always rehash the same ground, all in the name of having new posts just for the sake of it.

So for now, my existing posts stand for what they are, and I am proud of them. Call me the Antiblogger, I suppose: I am blogging by not blogging.

In any event, the following is a list of posts that have generated the most interest from readers, some posts on subjects I think are particularly important, and some that are just fun. Enjoy!

Posts on Law School in General:

In a series of posts, I argued that if we want law schools to truly provide the academic and practical education that students (and employers) expect and demand, we should consider adding a fourth year to the law school curriculum. Not surprisingly, my proposal was universally condemned. Check out the comments.

See Is the Third Year of Law School a Waste of Time and Money? and Is Law School Itself a Waste of Time?

I think that too often, law students don't step back and think about law school and their future careers in a broader perspective. That's understandable given the workload in law school, but it's still unfortunate. My friend and colleague Gene Theroux visited Mississippi College School of Law once to speak to students about his storied career--he opened the first western law firm offices in China and the Soviet Union--and he had wonderful advice for them. Ostensibly the talk was about globalization, but the heart of his message was to follow your heart and practice law the right way and for the right reasons. Sometimes we need to put our cynicism aside and hear things like what he said that day.

See Theroux Part Deux

Posts on LL.M. Degrees:

This trilogy of posts is perhaps the most popular series of posts on this blog--which proves that good things really do come in threes. Lots of discussion in the comments. See The Pros and Cons of LL.M.s, LL.M. Redux and LL.M.s Part 3.

Posts on Law School Exams, Teaching, and Class Strategies

Bainbridge v. Bowman. I wrote a law review article entitled The Comparative and Absolute Advantages of Junior Law Faculty: Implications for Teaching and the Future of American Law Schools--a piece I am quite proud of. In it, I use traditional neoclassical trade theory to analyze the advantages of junior and senior law faculty and make some recommendations regarding law school teaching. Professor Stephen Bainbridge of UCLA saw it, and he absolutely hated it. This posts includes our dialogue.

How to Improve your Law School Exams Grades. This wasn't a terribly controversial post--or so I thought until I received scathing comments two years after I posted it. Some fun back and forth on that one. Maybe I should've retitled the post Bowman v. Someone Very Angry.

Law School Orientation Advice. Pretty self-explanatory. My own favorite piece of advice: Don't spill a plate of food on your law school dean at the welcome reception. I actually did that--but lucky for me, I still graduated.

Computer-Free Week and Computer-Free Week, Part 2. There is a good deal of concern in the legal academy about computer use in the classroom. Is it beneficial? Is it harmful or disruptive? So one time I asked students not to use computers for one week to see what would happen. The results were pretty interesting, and as a teacher I found the feedback via the comments very useful. Perhaps the most interesting result was that student comments revealed just how prevalent the consumer mentality is among students--namely, I paid my tuition, so I can do what I want in class.

The Dilbertic Method. I definitely like this post about parallels between Dilbert's boss and the Socratic method. If you want to see the Dilbert cartoon I am talking about, you have to click the link in the article and then enter in the cartoon's run date on the Dilbert site.

Posts on Law Firms:

Much of the attraction to, and frustration with, big law firms has to do with the money they pay their associates. So I wrote some pieces on that subject--something I have firsthand knowledge about.

See Of Law Firm Culture and Compensation Schemes, The Problem of Law Firm Salary Distributions, and Big Firm Economics 101.

In another post, I wrote about associate pay and stress levels. In light of the recent savage downturn in the employment market, this post is perhaps more relevant than ever. See Why Associates Have More Stress than Partners.

On Interview and Job Strategies and Techniques

Job Interview Do's and Don't's. The name of the post says it all.

What NOT to do as a Summer Associate. You'd be surprised what some people do. Don't be one of them.

Posts on Movies:

Finally, I have had some fun with movies on this blog, and for some reason they were always movies starring George Clooney. First, I blogged about Syriana--see Syriana Misrepresents International Lawyers.

Then I wrote a whole slew of posts on Michael Clayton--a movie that had a lot to say about what it is (and is not) like to be a lawyer. I was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune about the Michael Clayton series of posts. See the following (not too originally entitled) posts:

Clooney v. Clayton, which is my review of the movie

Clooney v. Clayton, Part 2, about hyperbole in legal dramas

Clooney v. Clayton, Part 3, on whether there is such a thing as a law firm "fixer"

Clooney v. Clayton, Part 4, on the perverse incentive/reward structure of law practice

Clooney v. Clayton, Part 5, on how law practice affects your family life

Clooney v. Clayton, Part 6, regarding legal ethics

Clooney v. Clayton--Again, regarding my Chicago Tribune Interview

* * * *
So for now, that is where things stand. I hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Most Important Day of Class

Last week was my first week of classes for the 2008-2009 academic year, and I was all ready to write a post called "The Most Important Day of Class." The whole premise was that the first day of class is the most important day of class for the whole term. But I didn't write that post, because I decided I was wrong.

The first day of class is not the most important day of class. The second day is.

Here's what I mean. The first day is important, because on that day the prof is likely to explain what the course is intended to be like. You're also likely to be treated to a lecture on why the course is the most important course you will ever take in law school, and perhaps your whole life. I'm exaggerating, but not overly so. This is called selling the course--and it happens not only in electives, but also in mandatory courses. I certainly do it. I think it helps students see where the course fits in the grand scheme of things, and it gives them a sense of what I think of the subject and why I am teaching it. And I do hope it generates a little excitement to get us all through the drier parts of the course. (And if you are in law school, you know some of it is dry.)

But that first class is often an anomoly. It's on the second day that students are more likely to get their first glimpse of a more average class--no calling of the roll, no grand views of the law. Instead, it's on to theory, doctrine, and the briefing of cases.

So for those of you in law school, pay close attention in those early days. And mark your calendars for class #2.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Benefits of Senior, Junior, and Adjunct Law Faculty

There was an interesting post on the Law Librarian Blog this week concerning the benefits of senior, junior, and adjunct faculty in the classroom. The post can be linked to here. This is a subject that interests me greatly, and readers will remember that I recently wrote a law review article (in the BYU Education and Law Journal) about junior faculty teaching. You can link to my full article here, and to my previous blog posts on the article here and here. The latter post includes an exchange with UCLA law professor Stephen Bainbridge.

The long and short of it is that this Law Librarian Blog post reviews some of the current scholarship on law faculty teaching by senior, junior, and adjunct professors and provides some interesting commentary on this scholarship. Most interesting, perhaps, is the blog's observation that there seems to be little academic literature on the benefits of senior faculty teaching. Personally, I think this is because the common wisdom in the legal academy is that senior faculty are better teachers all around, so why write about it? I disagree with this view, however--and if you are interested in seeing why, look at my BYU article.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Bainbridge v. Bowman

My law review article on junior law faculty, The Comparative and Absolute Advantages of Junior Law Faculty: Implications for Teaching and the Future of American Law Schools, 2008 BYU Educ. & L.J. 171, was commented on recently by Professor Stephen Bainbridge of UCLA School of Law. It's fair to say he did not like it--his post on the article can be linked to here and reads, in its entirety, as follows:

Via Paul Caron, I learned of Gregory Bowman’s article The Comparative and Absolute Advantages of Junior Law Faculty: Implications for Teaching and the Future of American Law Schools, 2008 BYU Educ. & L.J. 171, in which Bowman argues:

In the ongoing debate about how to improve law school teaching, there is a general consensus that law schools should do more to train junior faculty members how to teach. While this may be the case, this consensus inadvertently leads to an implicit assumption that is not true—that in all facets of law teaching, junior faculty are at a disadvantage compared to senior faculty. In fact, there are aspects of law teaching for which junior faculty can be better suited than their senior colleagues. This Article reviews scholarship concerning law teaching and identifies three teaching factors that generally favor junior law faculty: generational proximity to the law school student body; recency of law practice experience as junior practitioners; and lower susceptibility to the problem of conceptual condensation - extreme depth of subject matter knowledge that makes it difficult to see subjects from the students’ perspective.

This Article employs the economic concepts of (a) economies of scale or productive efficiency and (b) absolute and comparative advantage to suggest how these junior faculty advantages could be harnessed to improve law school teaching. With respect to productive efficiency, it is suggested that greater intra-faculty dialogue can increase a law faculty’s output of effective teaching. Currently, senior faculty members often provide assistance or advice to junior faculty in areas of senior faculty expertise or advantage—such as depth of knowledge in a course’s subject matter—but this is largely a one-way flow of information. However, if junior faculty were also to provide insight and advice to senior faculty regarding areas of junior faculty advantage, the quality of law school teaching might be significantly enhanced. Junior-senior faculty dialogue might be promoted through a variety of means, including faculty workshops and even perhaps teaching reviews of senior faculty by junior faculty.

With respect to the concepts of absolute and comparative advantage, this Article suggests that law school teaching could be improved through the specialization of teaching functions. Instead of professors individually teaching separate courses, professors might coordinate their teaching (that is, team-teach) across a number of courses in the law school curriculum, as a means to more effectively harness the respective strengths (and minimize the respective weaknesses) of junior and senior faculty in the classroom. Through the leveraging of junior faculty advantages, overall law school teaching might be significantly improved. This Article concludes by discussing the implications of these recommendations for law school culture in general and for the legal profession as a whole.

The trouble is that I don’t buy any of the alleged advantages Bowman says junior teachers possess. As for “generational proximity to the law school student body,” it often translates into difficulty for the young teacher to gain respect from the students. Anyway, it seems more relevant to dating than teaching. As for “recency of law practice experience as junior practitioners,” most law professors (at elite schools, anyway) come into practice with only a few years of practice experience. Being bottom man on a deal or litigation team fora couple of years doesn’t translate into meaningful knowledge. At best, it gives you a few war stories. Personally, I’ve learned a lot more that I use in the classroom from consulting than I ever did in practice. Since sniors likely have more consulting opportunities than juniors, this is at best a wash. Finally, as for “lower susceptibility to the problem of conceptual condensation - extreme depth of subject matter knowledge that makes it difficult to see subjects from the students’ perspective,” I’d rather know too much then too little. When I was just starting out, I lived in dread of the student question for which I had no answer. Today, it almost never happens.

* * * *

Needless to say, I disagree with his critique, and I commented on his post as follows:

Thanks very much for the post about my BYU article. I appreciate your comments, and I have some thoughts in response.

First, with respect to generational proximity, you note that this “often translates into difficulty for the young teacher to gain respect from the students.” I agree with you. But this does not mean that understanding student mindsets better—due to generational proximity—is not an advantage. We accept the notion of generation gaps in our society, so why would this not have an effect in the classroom? As law professors, we are trying to reach an adult population of students who at times are disinclined to accept our views and the large workloads we impose in class. If junior professors understand student mindsets better, won’t that help counter that? I am not at all suggesting that more senior professors cannot do this just as well; rather, what I am saying is that as professors become more generationally distant from their students, it may take more active effort for them to stay closely tuned to student mindsets. And that is a comparative disadvantage—more input needed for the same output. In the article I discuss how this particular junior faculty advantage might be leveraged to improve law school teaching.

Your second criticism concerns the value of junior professors’ recent law practice experience. You point out, rightly, that “most law professors (at elite schools, anyway) come into [teaching] with only a few years of practice experience.” But I disagree with your judgment that that “being bottom man on a deal or litigation team doesn’t translate into meaningful knowledge.” For one thing, I learned a lot in my first two years as a corporate lawyer. For another, what will all of our students be when they get out of law school? Junior lawyers of one sort or another. So can’t junior practitioner experience help professors contextualize class material in a way that is relevant and accessible to students? And if a junior professor has done that very type of work within the past 5 years, rather than 20 or 30 years ago, won’t that resonate more with students? Again, this is not to ignore the many benefits of seniority or experience, and it is not to say that more senior faculty can’t work to keep their fingers on the pulse of modern junior associate practice. But they will have to work at it, and not come to it more naturally, as junior faculty often will do.

Third, regarding conceptual condensation, you simply note that you’d “rather know too much than too little.” I absolutely agree. Touting professorial ignorance as a virtue would be flat out dangerous, and I expressly disavow that in my article. But my point is not what we know as professors—the point is how effectively we convey that knowledge to our students. Knowing the answers to all student questions is a very different thing from being able to see issues from the level of student neophytes. I think many students have had professors in law school who were clearly brilliant but were hard to follow in class. And that was not because the students were all stupid. It was in many cases because professors were talking on a higher plane of knowledge than their students. Again, I am in no way saying that senior professors, with more depth of knowledge, cannot communicate effectively in the classroom. But I am saying that they are more likely than junior professors to take mental shortcuts that are clear to them but not to their students, and that they therefore will have to put more effort into guarding against that than junior faculty.

My article is, of necessity, dealing with generalities. But the one-way flow of information and feedback from senior faculty to junior faculty is a widespread characteristic of American law schools, and there is a casual dismissiveness of what junior faculty may have to offer in the classroom. If junior faculty as a whole bring particular teaching skills or strengths to the table—and I think they do—then we do ourselves and our students a grave disservice by ignoring this.

Thanks very much again for your post and your feedback.

* * * *

You be the judge--what do you, the reader, think?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Revenge of the Temps

In February 2008, I wrote a post about temps entitled Attorneys Suitable for Everyday Use. It was one of the posts I was particularly pleased with at the time--and I was pleased to receive a very interesting comment on that post earlier this week. The full comment is as follows. My comments are interposed in brackets.

Begin Comment:

I quit my associate job a few years ago and have been temping ever since.

I love it and hope the pattern continues.

I work 3-4 months out of the year and then spend the rest of the time out of the US (where the local wage is much lower -- preferably by a factor of 3 or 4 times cheaper) doing what I want to do (e.g., ski instructor, language study, intensive yoga retreats in India, or hanging out on a beach enjoying life. [I had a number of friends in Europe who lived like this and loved it. Their philosophy was, "why work like a dog to retire early in your 50s and live on the beach, when you can do it right now? You might be dead before 50 for all you know.] In effect, legal temping has allowed me to do now what the average associate is planning to do when they retire at 40 or 50. [News flash: No one retires from law practice at 40. You may change careers, but you don't retire. And virtually no one retires at 50--and certainly no one I know.]

Moreover, every time I come back the temp salaries are higher and the market becomes more specialized. This is great for me, now I can make more money in a shorter period of time. [Law temping is certainly more lucrative than the teaching and table-waiting jobs my Eurofriends did in between their stints leaving in cheaper locales.] Additionally, the firms generally offer full time positions (litigation assistants) to temp attorneys who perform well. So, when I decide to go back to a career, I can get a job as a litigation assistant and then after a year or so, get an associate position at a mid-sized firm. Or, if I decide to go [and] open a law firm with a partner, temping allows one of the partners to work and fund the firm while the other one takes care of the clients. [The only downside with this approach to going back to a firm is that it is harder to get into blue-chip law firms from temping positions--although I have in fact seen it done. But if you don't want to do that to begin with, that's not really a downside, is it?]

Also, even though the salaries are lower than what an associate would make, you have to figure the associate is paying huge amount of taxes. By temping 3-4 months out of the year, I pay a lot less in taxes. [This point actually does not make much sense to me--you're still keeping more of the money, right? But I suppose the point is valid from a Laffer Curve perspective.]

I'm very happy as a temp attorney and hope the legal temping trend will continue. [I love happy endings, especially when they concern legal careers. Too often we end up griping about law careers--me included. It's nice to hear a happy story from a satisfied and fulfilled attorney. Thanks for sharing your story.]

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A House Divided

The timeworn saying is that "Truth is stranger than fiction." That's certainly true in the case of this house, which I drive past every day on my (wonderfully short) commute from my house to Mississippi College School of Law, where I teach. There it is, a house divided: one side painted blue, the other side painted red. What a wonderful image! It represents our national state of affairs quite nicely. I wonder what Abe Lincoln would think of it.

It gets better, too. The house is not painted just any shade of blue and red. It sports a very untraditional (shall we say liberal?) shade of electric blue, and a rather staid and conservative shade of brick red.

And, of course, the red side of the house is on the right.

I absolutely love this house. I keep waiting for someone to figure all of this out and paint the whole duplex some bland shade of brown. I sure hope that never happens.

And it gets even better: the cars in the carports match the house. Not in color, but rather in make and model. In the blue/left/liberal carport (which you can see in the picture), a Mercedes sedan is parked. In the red/right/conservative carport (which is obscured by the tree trunk), a Ford Escort is parked. I am not kidding or making this up. The cars are there every day.

So this little duplex is our nation in a nutshell. Which makes me wonder: if we did paint the house the same color, or at least colors that coordinate better than electric blue and brick red, would we get along better as a nation? It would be nice to think so--and as much as I love this house, I'd paint it in a heartbeat for a little more political conciliation and cooperation between Democrats and Republicans, and between red states and blue states.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

More on the College Cost Reduction and Access Act

So after a very busy April and de facto blog holiday (blogiday?), I'm back to posting. Among other things, I will be taking a group of law students to Seoul, Korea to study this summer. That will be a lot of fun and the source of posts over the summer. But today's topic is something I have posted on in the past: law school debt and the College.

In September 2007 I blogged about the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRA), which has been hailed in many quarters as "the single largest investment in higher education since the GI Bill." There's been a lot written about it; a good place to start, I suppose, is my September post, which gives a summary and links to some other very useful information online.

And then there's the recent post on the CCRA by nonprofit lawyer and blogger Fannie, who runs the blog Fannie's Room. Her comments on the CCRA are great (and more than a little frustrating. Anyone interested in the CCRA and student debt loads definitely needs to check it out.

More posts soon.

Monday, March 31, 2008

2009 U.S. News Law School Rankings--Peer Reputational Rankings

Yesterday I posted about the 2009 U.S. News & World Report rankings for law schools. Paul Caron at TaxProf Blog has posted a complete list of schools ranked only by their academic peer reputation. The results--located here--are extremely interesting, since rankings by peer reputation vary (sometimes significantly) from overall rankings. Remember that peer reputation is one of the most heavily weighted factors in the U.S. News rankings, so this particular variable matters a great deal.

In particular, check out the comments to Caron's post. A difference of one-tenth of a point can mean a huge move up or down with respect to ranking within this variable.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

2009 U.S. News Law School Rankings

U.S. News & World Report has published its annual rankings of law schools, but the ABA Journal reports that bloggers (again) beat U.S. News to the punch with leaked rankings. The U.S. News rankings can be linked to here; an ABA Journal article on the rankings (and links to the leakers) is online here.

Much is made annually of the rankings. Many observers are critical, and some say they do not matter. But for better or worse, they do, since many current and potential students, current and potential faculty members, and current and potential donors pay attention to them.

My view is that the rankings can matter far less at the top than they do at the bottom. Harvard is not #1. Does that deter people from going to Harvard? No. NYU and Columbia traded places this year. So what? They are in the top of the top. A slip from the top 10 to the top 30 can be a crisis, but that happens not too often, I think. And as Theodore Seto has pointed out in his article Understanding the U.S. News Law School Rankings (available on SSRN here--I highly recommend it), much of what affects a law school's rankings is outside that school's control.

I also think that what matters more than year-to-year shifts are mid- or long-term trends. A school may misreport and fall from tier 2 to tier 3, or may have a temporary spike due to a new building, or some such thing that has a short-term impact for good or ill. But what really matters is a school's position over a period of years. It's like global warming in that sense. What matters is not the weather in any given year. What matters is climate change over a period of years. "Climate" can be defined as the "average of weather." Perhaps a law school's "real" ranking for U.S. News purposes can be defined as its average ranking over a period of years. So that in any given year, a school like George Mason's rise in the rankings might not mean much--but its climb in the rankings over the past decade and more is decidedly significant.

There's one other thing about these U.S. News rankings that is extremely interesting compared to years past: the online version can be used to rank schools in ALL tiers. In years past the 3rd and 4th tiers were listed alphabetically only. But now, schools in the lower tiers apparently can be ranked. And in my opinion that is where the rankings can really matter, and perhaps be the difference between life and death of a school, or good fundraising versus tuition-dependence, or strong recruiting versus weak recruiting (of both faculty and students). If you are #1, or #3, or #9, yes, that matters. But it matters much more, I think, whether your school is in the 3rd or 4th tier--and where in that tier. If you are in the 4th tier, you'd much, much prefer to be at the top than at the bottom. At the top, you can claim to be "on the cusp" of a move up. But at the bottom, or in the middle, that's a much harder argument to make.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Mississippi Secunda and the Lateral Market of Doom

My friend and soon-to-be ex-Mississippian Paul Secunda has written an excellent article on negotiating the vagaries (treacheries?) of the law school lateral hiring market. The article is available on SSRN here. I highly recommend it as general reading for pretty much anyone interested in how law schools work--students, professor wannabees, current profs, and so on.

As Paul points out in the article, there has been a good deal of commentary on the entry-level hiring market for law faculty, but there is a paucity of literature on the lateral hiring market (the market for law profs who move from one school to another). So Paul, who is in the process of moving from the University of Mississippi School of Law to Marquette University Law School, has bravely set out to rectify that.

Personally, I think the article is great for a number of reasons. First, as already stated, it is a great resource. Second, it is an easy and fun read--not a common characteristic of scholarly writing. Third, while the advice is focused specifically on the law school lateral hiring market, some of the advice translates well to any interviewing scenario. Especially helpful, I think, is Paul's point that many of the variables in the hiring process are beyond the interviewee's control. Understand that, accept it, and focus instead on the factors you can control. That likely will increase your chances of success, and it certainly will reduce your stress level a good bit.

And finally, the article is a perfect example of how blogging can directly promote scholarship: parts of the article appeared as a series of blog posts by Paul on Concurring Opinions (see his first of eleven posts here). After all, novels by Dickens first appeared in serialized form, so why not law review articles? Dickens might even have been a blogger were he alive today--although perhaps not a law prof.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Law is Cool

I've added a new student blog to my blog roll. Law is Cool features a whole slew of law students from law schools in Canada, and it has a nice, eclectic blend of posts. Check out the March 8, 2008 post called Virtual Genocide in the U.S. No, it's not a political screed--just funny.

Most interesting to me are the podcasts. Check out Podcast Episode #7. It features Law is Cool bloggers commiserating about their workload, stress, and general level of exhaustion. Which I find very heartening. If these folks were having an easier time of it in Canada, I think U.S. law schools might be in trouble--there might be a mass transfer of U.S. law students to Canadian schools. (Actually, I'll bet many Americans would like the U.S. to export thousands of future lawyers to Canada.) I know that when I was a law student, I would've been tempted by the lure of kinder, gentler law schools in the Great White North. But fortunately--I mean, alas--that is not the case.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

New NALP Interview Guidelines

The New York Lawyer has a report about revisions NALP has made to its "Principles and Standards for Law Placement and Recruitment Activities." The guidelines, while not binding, are followed by most firms. One big change is that instead of listing a deadline by which students must accept or decline summer offers (formerly October 15), the revised guidelines now give students 45 days to accept or decline an offer. Driving the change was the fact that many firms (and schools) were starting their interview processes earlier--with the result that offers were being held open up to four months. That's a long time. The article can be accessed here (you may need to register with the New York Lawyer to read the article, but registration is free). NALP's revised guidelines are posted online here. Both are worth reading.

The New York Lawyer article is (as usual) a piece of very good reporting. But I do take issue with the first sentence: "Starting next fall, law students will need to think fast when choosing which offer to accept for a summer associate job, due to a change in timing guidelines." 45 days? Think fast? Hmmm. Hardly my definition of an "exploding offer." I' ve received exploding offers before, and they were nothing like 45 days in length. That's 6 1/2 weeks! Good sensationalism, though. Draws you in and makes you read. Worked on me.

And it is an interesting--and needed--change to hiring practices. This will make it easier for firms to know how many slots they have left for summer hiring, since they won't need to hold slots open for a bunch of "maybe" candidates who are sitting on offers for a long time. That actually should help other students, since firms will know, on a rolling basis, who is accepting and who is declining, and spots will open up more quickly. So it seems like a good balance between giving students sufficient time to make up their minds--more than sufficient, really--and allowing firms to have some sense of definiteness regarding the size of their summer classes.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Interviewing Techniques Talk

I recently gave a talk at Mississippi College School of Law on interviewing techniques. The video is available online here. It's been broken into chapters for ease of viewing; it also can be viewed in its entirety if you prefer. I've used these techniques myself on the legal job market, and I really do believe they make a big difference.

Previously I posted similar advice on this blog in written form. That post, Job Interview Do's and Don't's, can be found here.

As always, I appreciate any comments, suggestions, and/or war stories from your interviewing experiences that you may have, and I am sure other readers will too.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Second (Life) Opinions Revisited

In November, I posted about UK law firm Simpson Millar, which has set up shop in the online gaming world "Second Life." I just received an interesting comment on that post--and since some time has passed since then, and since it's an interesting issue, I thought it was worth pointing out again. You can link to my earlier post here.

The subtext of all this is that Simpson Millar is working multiple PR angles in creative ways. Second Life, yes, but also podcasts and blogs. SM is not the only law firm doing that, of course--but that perhaps makes the point an even stronger one. With more and more ways to raise your firm's profile and attract and serve clients, modern law firm practice is a brave new (virtual) world.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Partner Pay

In my last post, Attorneys Suitable for Everyday Use, I wrote about the growing prevalence of contract attorneys at U.S. law firms. It's my position that the use of such temp workers is part of a larger trend at major U.S. firms. That is, it appears to me that law firm employment at all levels--including equity partner, non-equity partner/of counsel, and associate positions--is becoming less financially lucrative than it has been for the past two decades.

An article in the February 5, 2008, ABA Journal backs this view up. The article reports that at the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, equity partner compensation is being frozen for the time being. In one sense, this is nothing new: as part owners of the firm, equity partners reap the rewards of huge profits when they occur, but they bear the risk of shortfalls. On the other hand, the fact that clients are increasingly conscious of legal costs means firms are increasingly constrained in terms of raising billing rates or billing their clients for more hours. The fact that mid-sized regional firms can increasingly compete with national firms in many areas of practice (e.g., corporate M&A, major projects, litigation, even international trade law) puts further downward pressure on fees. And as I said in my previous post, one way to reduce costs (and thus maintain profit margins) is to use cheaper lawyers. Enter the contract attorney.

This ABA Journal article is just one piece of evidence, and it can be dangerous to reason from the specific (Greenberg Traurig's decision) to the general (the legal market at large). But this piece of evidence does support my view that the times they are a-changing. And it is my belief that similar decisions are being made at other U.S. law firms--they're just not making headlines.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Attorneys Suitable for Everyday Use

Over at JDWired, blogger Joe Miller has a post about a contract attorney survey he recently conducted via his blog. For the uninitiated, a contract attorney is not a lawyer who practices contract law. Rather, it's someone who is hired on a temporary basis to help with a particular project. Synonyms include "document review attorney" and "temp(orary) attorney." Contract attorney work is not all that glamorous, it pays less, and there is (by definition) not a lot of job security involved. But it's work, and in a tight job market that's something. I previously blogged about contract attorney work here.

The findings of Miller's survey are interesting. Here's the gist of his post and his findings.

(1) 44% of contract attorneys (responding to the survey) were minorities. By contrast, only 16.72% of the associates and 5.01% of the partners at the firms these contract attorneys were working at were minorities. That's disturbing.

(2) Almost all said that their staffing (temp) agencies provide no access to professional development programs. Not so good for the attorneys, and potentially bad for the agencies as well.

(3) About half said they had worked as contract attorneys for more than one year after graduating from law school, and that the work was their "primary source of income."

(4) Staffing agencies typically do not provide health care. And since contract attorneys are temps, they generally won't get healthcare through the firms they work for either.

Miller concludes that "[c]ontract attorneys are an untapped resource both for improving diversity and reducing skyrocketing client costs." He then notes that "[t]he ABA’s 1992 MacCrate Report urges the legal profession to invest in all lawyers. So far, we are not seeing that."

In a sense, what Miller's survey points out--to me anyway--is that the phenomenon of the contract attorney is part of a larger restructuring of the U.S. legal job market. That is:

(1) Partnership is becoming ever harder to get, with billable targets being raised. At the same time, it is perhaps getting less lucrative. So fewer people seem to be going that route--either by choice, or because they are denied full partnership.

(2) Non-equity partnership positions (and Of Counsel positions, which are much the same thing) are becoming more attractive long-term positions. They are attractive both for people who want to avoid the equity partner rat race as well as (by default) those do not win it. But many of these positions are also getting less lucrative, as firms restructure their non-equity partner/Of Counsel contracts.

(3) Associates at big law firms make scads of money, but the positions can be hard to get in this tight job market. There's ever-increasing pressure to bill more hours, and there are reduced chances at partnership (see above), so people tend to rotate out of associate jobs after a few years.

(4) All of the above mean that contract attorneys may have a larger role to play in contemporary law firms. Contract attorneys are of course cheaper than any of the above. Firms can lower their bottom line by hiring contract attorneys to do the "lower end" legal work that needs to be done. (For insight into such work, see this post on My Attorney Blog.) And as Miller points out, not only can firms lower their own wage costs (read: increase their profits), but they also can bill these contract attorney out at lower rates--which will help keep these firms price-competitive vis à vis the competition. With an economy teetering on recession and legal work being not only outsourced but even offshored, this is no small consideration.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Recipe for a Blogroll

I have added a few more student blogs to my blogroll. They are as follows:

Transnational Law Blog ( This blog features various students, recent grads and others blogging about transnational issues. The blog has a nice look and wonderfully diverse viewpoints.

Mississippi College International Law Society Blog ( Yes, this is a plug for my law school's International Law Society. The ILS was started last year by students at the school, and I love the fact that they are blogging about various transnational matters.

Wish I Would Have Known ( This is a group blog that provides "advice from law students on how they would do things over." If only Al Gore had invented the Internet before I went to law school, I could have benefited from their solid advice.

( This blog is by an anonymous 2L/mother. It has a nice tone to it. Fun to read, with a hint of poignancy.

So these are four nice blogs. How, exactly, do I choose students blogs for my blogroll? Not very scientifically--I either like a blog or I don't. These four blogs, I like.

Of course, there are other law student blogs out there, but often they disqualify themselves from consideration. This is Law Career Blog after all, not Bar Crawl Blog (although that certainly would be an interesting blog). Or Crude Humor Blog (although to everything there is a season). No, the student blogs I add to my blogroll have to do at least one of several things.

First, they have to relate information about the law school experience that is meaningful. Insights, suggestions, gripes, whatever.

Second, they have to have good writing and be at least somewhat reflective. I think that if you are going to read something like a law student blog, it should add to and enhance your knowledge of law school in some way. Maybe it's just me, but "Wow, that party was awesome" does not tell me a lot, other than that the party was awesome.

Third, it has to get a PG-13 rating or better. You don't make partner by being enormously crass (well, maybe you do at some firms, but not the imaginary one where I'm Managing Partner). So über-crass student blogs get nixed. And there are a lot of über-crass student blogs. Some of them are very smart, and more than a few are very funny. But one of the most successful partners I ever worked for never, ever uttered a dirty word, not even h___ or d___. Seriously. Never. He was a very busy man, and he never crossed the G rating threshold with his vocabulary. And it was not because he was a prude or sanctimonious. He actually had quite the wicked sense of humor. The impression he gave--the implicit message I got from him, anyway--was that it was far more clever, and funny, and intelligent, to be creative and eloquent with your speech and humor than it was to be gutter-crude. That's not a bad message: crassness can never help you in your career, but it can certainly hurt you. So crass blogs are out, and clever/witty/thoughtful blogs are in.

Finally, I must of course disclaim any responsibility for future content on these blogs. Who knows? One or more of these bloggers might someday curse me to oblivion in a crass, obscenity-laden post. Although based on their blogs' content so far, I kind of doubt it.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Michael Clayton--Again

Recently, I wrote a series of posts on the movie Michael Clayton. Six posts, to be exact. I thought the movie highlighted a number of important themes regarding the practice of law, and the posts were fun to write. They were:

Clooney v. Clayton--a review of the movie
Clooney v. Clayton, Part 2--about hyperbole in legal dramas
Clooney v. Clayton, Part 3--on whether there is such a thing as a law firm "fixer"
Clooney v. Clayton, Part 4--about the perverse incentive/reward structure of law practice
Clooney v. Clayton, Part 5--on how law practice affects your family life
Clooney v. Clayton, Part 6--regarding legal ethics

After the movie was nominated for seven academy awards recently, I was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune regarding post #3. The question posed was this: Is there such a thing as a law firm fixer? Answer: No, I don't think so. The Trib article can be linked to here.

Interestingly, an argument can be made that law firm fixers are economically justified in some cases. (For a good argument along these lines, see one of the comments made to post #3 above.) But I still think that the opportunity costs of having such a fixer are much greater than the benefits. Having another lawyer billing lots of money on big projects for years and years is far more profitable than having that person sit around waiting on calls to bail out clients.

But who knows. Maybe some day a fixer will show up at my door to tell me I am wrong. Until then, though, getting quoted in the Trib was a lot of fun.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sinking and Swimming

There is a good deal of discussion these days about the “death of mentoring” in law practice. I have blogged about this subject previously (see here and here). Discussions about mentoring generally assume that while there used to be mentoring, there there’s not much anymore—with the effect being that associates are left to sink or swim on their own in practice.

That would be bad enough. But a recent article in the NY Lawyer points out that not only are associates often thrown into the deep end of the law practice pool, without any real mentoring or assistance, but that sometimes mentors actively try to try to sink associate careers. (Note: You need to register in order to view NY Lawyer articles, but registration is free.)

This sort of sacrificial phenomenon is not new. It is human nature for people to take credit and pass blame. To analogize to economic wage theory, one might say that in the employment context, credit is sticky downward (in that it tends not to flow down the chain of command from supervisors to underlings), while blame is sticky upward.

So if all of this is nothing new, why was this article written, and why does it resonate with readers? A cynical answer is that news topics, like history, tend to repeat. And in fact the NY Lawyer article itself is a reprint from Texas Lawyer and is also reprinted in the ABA Journal.) A more satisfactory explain, however, is that the economics of modern law firms—especially large ones—tend to mask this age-old problem. Perhaps we implicitly assume that since associates can make partners a lot of money, they are less likely to be sabotaged. And maybe that assumption is flawed. So this is a topic worth exploring more.

Law Firm Economics 101

I have blogged about the economics of modern law firms before (see for example here, here and here). There is a lot of money to be made in the modern practice of law, at least at large law firms. At the right firm, in the right market, in the right practice area, lawyers can become very, very rich by working very, very hard. And we more or less have bought into the notion of the “sweat shop” law firm. (By “bought in” I certainly do not mean “approve of”; rather, I mean that this conception of the large law firm is generally accepted as a standard one by many observers.)

The idea is that there is a pyramid structure to most law firms, with multiple associates for each partner. En route to partnership many associates will be weeded out, either through self-selection or by the firm, so that at the top of the pyramid we generally find a small number of partners who reap the benefits of a large number of toiling associates. If you do the math, it becomes apparent that partners at the top of the heap can do quite well compensation-wise. And with a steady stream of newly-minted law school graduates coming into practice, new lawyers can be worked very hard until they burn out, and then be replaced. This is neither a pretty nor happy model, but from the perspective of senior partners it works well financially.

The Phenomenon of "De-Mentoring"

So we can complain about this system, and we can bemoan the lack of mentoring at law firms. But why on earth would a law firm partner actively work to skewer a junior associate? Why would the partner steal the junior associate’s business, or pass blame, or take credit for the junior associate’s work? Don't partners make more money if associates are left alone to work hard, instead of actively impeded? Doesn’t it behoove partners to let some of the associates win the game? After all, if there is no chance of upward mobility, there is little incentive for associates to buy into the system.

There are many answers to these questions, and the answers will vary somewhat from firm to firm. But I have two general observation about such “de-mentoring.”

First, law firm partnership is not Shangri-La(w). The perception of some associates is that once you achieve partnership, your new address is “123 Easy Street.” Not so. One former colleague of mine described making partner as a twelve year-long pie-eating contest in which the prize for winning is a lifetime supply of pie. That’s a very apt description. Partners in big law firms work very, very hard, and they typically are expected to bill and bring in a lot of new business even after making partner. Those who do not are at the very least politically marginalized in their firms, and at most are forced to retire or resign.

So what if you are a senior partner who cannot keep up with the workload, for whatever reason? You do whatever is needed. The law firm may benefit more from rewarding hardy survivalist associates—but you benefit from surviving yourself, even at the expense of the firm and some associates. And since modern law firms, with their revolving door of junior associates, tend to discourage long-term working relationships and encourage (by default) an “us versus them” mentality amongst colleagues, too often there is little to prevent such behavior.

Second, how do you winnow the wheat from the chaff when there is no chaff? Large, blue chip firms attract an enormous number of highly talented and ambitious young associates. A process of natural selection, via survival of the fittest, is not a good way to weed out associates when all of them are fit. (Figuratively fit, of course—who has time to go to the gym when practicing law?)

So while there are surely instances of overt backstabbing or betrayal (see above), I think a more common event is the use of a minor mistake—or even ordinary performance (instead of extraordinary performance)—as a pretext for distinguishing between two equally qualified and deserving associates who are working pretty much equally as hard. In some cases, partners might even create artificial distinctions between associates—such as by talking down one associate’s work—in order to justify such an artificial choice.

These factors go to show that the interests of partners and associates often diverge, and that this can have an effect in the mentoring context. In fact, the labor-versus-management dynamic and the endless hours worked by associates suggest very strongly that the Marxist critique of capitalism is quite relevant in this context. (For excellent discussions of this very topic, see posts by David Luban at Balkanization and by Paul Secunda at Workplace Prof Blog.) For now though, it is simply important to bear in mind that when you are a junior associate, the worst your mentor can do is not just to ignore you. Rather, the worst is that your mentor might actively de-mentor you.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Law Exam Mistakes and Interviewing Mistakes

Yesterday I gave a talk on interview techniques to the 1L class at my law school. Hopefully I soon will be able to post a podcast of the event on this blog. In any event, I've discussed the points I covered in that talk in a previous post on this blog. I've interviewed in some very tough job markets over the years, and my advice has served me well.

As I was giving the talk yesterday, it struck me that some of my interviewing advice is relevant to the subject of law school exams and grades. Specifically, law students often internalize their exam performance and equate exam performance with self-worth, at least to an extent. Or they equate exam performance with their potential as lawyers. Those are mistakes, of course, but I see them happen all the time. And having been through the law school experience myself, I understand that saying "don't do that" is much easier said than done.

The point I want to make here, though, is that grades are final (except for clerical errors, which are pretty uncommon). And that point gets me back to the subject of interviewing. Much of my advice about the interviewing process rests on the premise that you should focus on the elements of the interview process that you can control, not those you can't. That may seem obvious, but I see far too many people expend a lot of time and energy worrying about whether they are going to get a particular offer. Yet interviewees never have actual control over whether they get offers! Instead, what they do have control over is how they approach the process, and how they interview. Focusing on what you can control means you are more likely to improve your interviewing performance, and also are more likely to reduce stress and obsessive attention paid to aspects of the interview process that are outside your control.

In the exam context, then, let those grades you just received go--good, bad, or otherwise. You can't change them. Focus now on what you can control: what you can learn from what you did right and wrong on those exams, and how you can improve your performance in the future. And next semester, worry about what you can do to improve your exam performance--which you can control--and not about what grade the professors give you, which you cannot. In other words, worrying about the process, and not about the end result, is a way to improve both your law school grades and your interviewing skills.