Saturday, November 22, 2014

The problem with continuing legal education (and how to fix it)

I recently attended a day-long continuing legal education (CLE) program as part of my 30 CLE hours that are required every two-year reporting period. It may have been the "longest" eight hours I've experienced since becoming a lawyer — although one speaker’s informative, dynamic, and even inspiring presentation on defending domestic violence cases salvaged the day from complete and utter disaster. Many of the remaining presentations, however, fell into one of the following categories:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The lawyer job market (revisited)

I recently wrote about an advertisement for a Racine County advocate counsel position.  Essentially, the job would require the victim newly hired attorney to handle as many as 80 case appointments, including the defense of serious felonies, for $25,000 per year without benefits or even expense reimbursement.  I suppose that I knew this was outrageous, or I wouldn’t have written about it in the first place.  But as a criminal defense lawyer for the last twelve years, I’ve kind of become immune to governmental and bureaucratic outrageousness, so I didn’t expect that the post would garner such national attention. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The lawyer job market

The scam blog and law school transparency movements have exposed the JD as a flat-out bad decision for many (if not most) would-be law students.  That is, many graduates won’t find lawyer jobs, and those who do might not be able to pay back the debt they had to incur to graduate.  That will lead many new law grads to consider hanging out their own shingle, i.e., self-employment.  And most of these new solo practitioners will have to take whatever work that comes through the door, which typically includes criminal defense, juvenile, and traffic cases.  (Sorry, new solos: maritime law, sports law, space law, and international law will be nothing more than fond law school memories.)  But how lucrative is this bread-and-butter type of work?  To answer that question, I will quote an email I recently received advertising an “advocate counsel” position in Racine County, Wisconsin (located between Milwaukee and Chicago and just north of where I practice).  Here’s the scoop:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Improving law school without changing it (too much)

Knightly reads his case law
With very few lawyer jobs available for their armies of graduates, many law schools are trying to “innovate” and make their curriculum “practice ready” to give their new grads a leg up in the job market. Aside from whether today’s law schools are capable of such genuine curriculum redesign, one prof recently wrote that law schools should simply stop such efforts, and instead “change the conversation.” This prof argues that attempts to innovate are essentially admissions that the traditional law school approach — reading case law — is no longer valuable. Instead, he argues, law schools should market / sell / discuss what they’re good at: “teaching students how to read cases with the requisite degree of care.” Now, while I suspect that many of today’s practice-ready reform efforts are just marketing campaigns designed to compete for a shrinking number of law school applicants, the prof’s defense of the status quo also has some flaws — though they could easily be corrected.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Giles was right

One day in the fall of 1997 during my first semester of law school, I was standing in my parents’ kitchen while taking a break from reading casebooks. I was channel surfing on a small television that my mom kept in the cabinet above the refrigerator, and stumbled upon the show that Entertainment Weekly would soon label the best on television: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (DVDs available here.) Back in 1997, the internet was just coming into its own, and the episode’s subtext was a debate between the stuffy, stuck-in-his-ways school librarian Mr. Giles, and the hip, sexy computer science teacher Ms. Calendar. Ms. Calendar was trying to convince Giles that books were a thing of the distant past and that information shouldn’t be bound-up, but instead should be virtual. Giles disagreed. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

“The law professor priss factor”

A few years ago I interviewed for a law professor job at a Chicago law school.  During the interview, the panel brought up my “unique background.”  Typically, law professors graduated from one of only three schools (my alma mater is not among them), clerked for a federal judge for a year (I didn’t do that), and then practiced law in a rarefied setting for no more than two years (I had practiced on my own for a decade and had nearly thirty jury trials under my belt).  To make matters worse, the ideal (rather than typical) candidate for a law professor gig actually skipped the one to two years of legal practice altogether, and instead earned a Ph.D. in economics (I hadn’t done that, either).  I assured the hiring committee, however, that my actual trial experience would not be a drawback, and could even be a plus when it came to teaching law.  I also addressed the other elephant in the room:  although I did not go to a “top US News-ranked school” — I intentionally used that phrase instead of “Ivy League school” in order to avoid offending any Stanford grads that might be on the panel — I assured them that I made up for it with a lengthy and high-quality publication record.  Big mistake.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Legal education and sloppy thinking

For the first few years of my law practice, I was amazed at how emotional prosecutors and judges could be.  That’s not to say that these two groups yell and scream in court — well, they often do, but that’s not my point.  Rather, what I mean is that they decide ahead of time what they want, and then will offend logic and reason, and even ignore basic facts and law, in reaching their predetermined outcome.  When the prosecutor does this, it’s just bad argument from an overzealous advocate hell-bent on winning at all costs; when the judge does this — well, I don’t know what you’d call it, but it’s even more offensive.  In any case, I’ve often said that the willingness and ability to function this way flows naturally from law school — the place where, in most classes, there is never a wrong answer and every point of view, no matter how absurd, is treated as equally valid.  And I just love it when law school deans say things that prove my point.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Law school puffery and the last minute grab for students

If memory serves, first-year contract law teaches that specific, factual misrepresentations are bad and legally actionable, whereas mere “puffery” (e.g., “We are the world’s best; hurry and come to us before it’s too late!”) is just bad.  I even remember one law school professor wryly telling the class that daytime television ads by personal injury lawyers were “quite unsettling.”  Yet, despite this anti-puffery attitude inside the classroom, law schools are among the biggest puffers when it comes to selling their own services.

Friday, August 8, 2014

California State Bar Serves Up Delicious Irony

"This is delicious!"
Lawyer ethics rules — particularly those regarding confidentiality — are supposed to protect clients.  But sometimes the bureaucrats are so obsessed with giving the impression that they are protecting the public that they actually lose sight of that goal.  For example, when doing research for a new law review article, I came across several articles discussing the California Bar’s “Formal Opinion 1986-87.”  This opinion is now quite old, but it is so absurd that it is still being discussed and debated in legal publications as recently as 2013.  In short, the opinion deals with California’s version of the bizarre ethics rule that prohibits an attorney from revealing any information relating to the representation of a client.  And the word “information” includes not only confidential client communications and other secrets, but all information, including information that is widely and publicly available.  (If you are a Wisconsin lawyer and think this is ridiculous, you might be surprised to learn that we, along with most states, have similarly absurd rules in the form of SCRs 1.6 and 1.9.)

Monday, August 4, 2014

“You’re not killing me properly” and other legal news

I’ve often criticized government officials for completely botching nearly every aspect of the criminal justice system.  (Until my recent spate of legal education-related posts, government-bashing is pretty much what this blog has been about since I took to the keyboard with the inaugural post on judicial incompetence in 2010.)  If fact, the negligence, complete ineptitude, and even intentional wrongdoing of many police, prosecutors, and judges makes for a compelling argument against the death penalty.  But now there is a better argument: government officials aren’t even capable of killing someone properly.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer hiatus (and good links)

Knightly and I are on summer break, where we're alternating naps and research for a new law review article.  In the meantime, checkout these blog posts for some interesting goings on.  First, and most significantly, there is good news for practicing lawyers: law school enrollments will be down yet again this fall.  If these declines continue, eventually the huge backlog of unemployed lawyers (and the massive numbers of underemployed lawyers) might be able to find suitable work -- though we are a long way off from that utopia.

This graph nicely illustrates the dipping  plummeting applications over the past decade.  This post at Third Tier Reality (a great blog, but not for the law professor or the overly sensitive) discusses how this fall's entering class of law students will likely be the smallest since 1974, even though we now have dozens more law schools than when Steely Dan was making magic.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Bad Business

TV viewing with Knight
Some marketing campaigns are so bad or so embarrassing that you wonder how they ever got off the ground.  One ad that makes me flat-out angry every time I see it is the Time Warner Cable series, where former football coach Bill Cowher walks into a family’s home and just starts talking to them about TWC’s services.  In one commercial, the marketing geniuses behind the ad actually have the nerve to make Cowher read this line: “You shouldn’t have to buy what you don’t want.”  This from the company that makes me buy an entire package of cable channels just so I can get ESPN and FX.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Big Ten conference to dissolve, Rose Bowl to terminate, sky to fall

"Really, Jim?"
A group of college football players at Northwestern recently won the right to unionize and negotiate for better working conditions, health insurance, scholarship terms, and other forms of pay and benefits.  Essentially, the athletes were deemed to be “employees.” This makes sense, of course, as they are under the university’s control, provide a service to the university, produce millions of dollars in revenue for the university, and receive benefits, including tuition and books, in return.  (The fact that they’re paid in goods and services, instead of cash, shouldn’t turn them into non-employees.)  According to this ESPN report, however, the Big Ten’s Jim Delany says that if the schools actually have to pay their athletes, the conference will dissolve and it will also bring an end to the traditional Rose Bowl matchup between the Big Ten and Pac Twelve champions.  Really, Jim?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Work experience: Northwestern Law School’s double standard?

I recently read an interview of Northwestern Law School’s Daniel Rodriguez.  In it, he said that Northwestern Law has taken a page from the business schools and requires—or, more accurately, strongly prefers—that its incoming law students have two years of work experience before reentering academia’s bubble.  A double check on the school’s website confirms this: ninety percent of the incoming students have worked at least one year, and more than seventy percent have worked at least two years.  Fair enough.  But then I wondered: does Northwestern Law School impose a comparable, two-year legal work experience preference on its law professors?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Collapsing Constitution

For my latest rant, check out my essay "The Collapsing Constitution" in the new issue of the Hofstra Law Review, available here. (All of my articles are available here.) On a related note, for a discussion of my second book "Tried and Convicted" check out The Irreverent Lawyer, here, where he ties-in the book's theme with the recent judicial misconduct in Florida. The Dog's readers have probably seen the video by now, but if you haven't, it's included in the irreverent one's post. Hopefully the defense lawyer has a civil suit against the judge. It would be great if some of the judge's huge salary and benefits could be transferred to the lawyer in the form of compensatory and punitive damages. But it would be interesting to see how far the doctrine of judicial immunity could be stretched. I think that threatening the lawyer, challenging him to a fight, and then leaving the bench to go outside might be a bit outside the scope of "his honor's" judicial duties.