ReInvent Law Laboratory at Michigan State: You've heard that in Detroit they build things? They do the same in East Lansing. Some smart people have your law profession up on the lift, and they've got some bad news.

You’ve heard that in Detroit they build things? They do the same in East Lansing. Some smart people have your law profession up on the lift, and they’ve got some bad news.

Sometimes—especially on Twitter—uttering a great witticism can prove irresistible. Tossing out a touch of snark may even be appreciated. But it may also miss a bigger picture.

Three days after I posted a heartfelt and humorous (I think) tweet, I’ve come to reassess it.

A Funny But Misleading Tweet

Here’s the sitch: I had just arrived at the ABA Bar Leadership Institute on Thursday. I landed at Chicago Midway and took the subway in (oh how I miss reliable mass-transit—the Orange Line to Roosevelt, change to the Red Line, walk three blocks from the Grand station, 25 minutes total!). But that meant I strolled into a session about halfway through.

The speakers’ subject was “Opportunities for Innovation in a Changing Legal Landscape.” And the style was unique: Each of the seven speakers got about 8 to 10 minutes, TED-talk-style.

Arriving late, I got to see about two and a half of the presentations. But that meant I did get to see the amazing Will Hornsby, of the ABA, as his presentation closed out the session.

Will is a smart and talented man. In fact, I had met him when I had been in the editor job for only about five months. Back in 2001, I decided to host a roundtable on lawyer advertising. Much to my pleasure, Will agreed to travel from Chicago to Phoenix to participate (yes, it was in February; what are you getting at?). You can read the result here.

Personally effusive and digitally adept, Will and his humorously delivered insights carried the audience along on a very engaging stream. And so I tweeted:

Great innovative ideas at #BLI14. Someone call the police, cuz @willhornsby is stealing the show! http://t.co/PUU1zRM8i6 #closer

— Tim Eigo (@azatty) March 13, 2014

Was I wrong? No, for Will spoke eloquently on that changing legal landscape we’ve heard so much about.

Rethinking Engagement (and Law)

But then I got to thinking—maybe the tweet wasn’t entirely fair. I mean, you can’t review a movie if you walk in halfway though. So this weekend I started looking at the handouts of others in that session.

R. Amani Smathers, Innovation Counsel at the ReInvent Law Laboratory.

R. Amani Smathers, Innovation Counsel at the ReInvent Law Laboratory.

That takes me (and you, finally) to the work of a lawyer named R. Amani Smathers. Though I stand by my assessment of Will as a primo closer, I am very impressed by the vision and approach of Amani. Here is a video of one of her presentations (similar to the one she delivered in Chicago, which I missed).

That video drew me in and made me interested in the work of the ReInvent Law Laboratory, where she has the job title “Innovation Counsel” (yes, I’m jealous). I had heard about ReInvent Law, but it took her video to make me explore further.

What is unique about this effort, sponsored by the Michigan State University College of Law? Well, let’s start with the website, which is designed with curious legal innovators in mind, rather than law-journal-loving traditionalists. So from the get-go, they are signaling a new day.

Building a New Legal Profession

Others may have their own favorites, but among the Lab’s action words is my number-one evocative verb “Build.” Here’s what the organization says about build:

“Law firms should have research and development departments, but they don’t. ReInvent Law fills the R&D gap for law firms, in-house legal departments, and other legal service providers. We conduct experiments. We beta test new products. We engage in market research. We take risks. We question. We explore. … Learning by doing, learning by building is what we do. Talk is cheap. We build.”

A little in your face, right? Well, what part of “everything in the profession is changing” did you not understand?

What To Do, Who To Follow

Here’s how I can spot a compelling vision for our shared legal future: When I see another of their verbs is “Join Us,” I want to. But short of an offer to take an energetic work sabbatical in East Lansing (which would be pretty cool), I have opted to sign up for their email updates—which is what you should do, as well.

And if you want more news from the Lab, follow them on Twitter here. You should do the same with Amani Smathers here, and for good measure, take a look at her own site, which explains more about her “search of what it means to be a 21st-century lawyer.”

So in my defense: Will did steal the show, at least the part I saw. But more shows are a’comin’, folks, and I look forward to seeing how Amani and her colleagues bring the legal house down.

What's coming in the legal profession? We'd all like to know.

What’s coming in the legal profession? We’d all like to know.

Earlier this month, I said I would highlight a few industry predictions for 2014 from pros in various segments. Today, consider the insights of Dave Canfield, of UnitedLex.

Describing itself as a “global provider of legal and data solutions,” the company put together a list of some of the major trends that are currently influencing the legal industry.

Those trends include the following areas:

  • Legal outsourcing
  • Law firm innovation and the cloud
  • Law school innovation and consolidation
  • General counsel priorities and return on investment

Dave’s article is here. It’s worth reading and saving. And you can reach him directly at dave.canfield@unitedlex.com.

One other topic examined previously by the firm but unmentioned in this article is that of cybersecurity and the legal industry. Among the challenges will be internal and external attacks on law firm networks, and managing the increased desire for staff to participate in the BYOD (“bring your own device”) movement.

The legal industry is facing a landscape that is unlike any it’s confronted in a generation. How has your law office been affected by the altered economy? Have any new practices areas saved your bacon? Have new technologies or methods provided increased profitability in unexpected ways?

Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org. We may help tell your story in Arizona Attorney.

law schoolHow old is too old to attend law school? What limits should be created to maintain law school classes at an ideal young age?

If those questions strike you as odd—or offensive—you may not be engaged in the legal profession in India. On that subcontinent, arguments are brewing over whether age limits on law school applicants are appropriate or misguided.

I had read an article about possible age limits a few years ago, and the idea seemed far-fetched to my American sensibilities.

older studentThe multiple-year dialogue about the issue was answered this past month when at least one bar association in India kept in place age limits on law school admission. That decision has been met with anger and derision by some. But the article about the rule provides quite a view into divergent expectations about a profession and whom should be provided the ripest of life’s opportunities.

Is there an ideal age for law school enrollment? The fact that even asking the question raises hackles is pretty telling.

(Meanwhile, I wrote last year about a young woman who became the youngest-ever barrister after graduating from university.)

(And for contrast, go back and read my post about Gregory Dean Hague, the 61-year-old honored by the State Bar in 2010 for being the high-scorer on the bar exam. Pretty cool.)

Gregory Dean Hague

Gregory Dean Hague

As the American legal education system continues in its cycle of contraction and innovation, we occasionally spot ideas that are truly new. Other times, ideas seem tailored for marketing purposes, merely aimed to draw in students and tuition dollars. But gazing across the oceans—even toward ideas that may offend our sensibilities—may jar us into looking anew at the educational creation of professionals.

A hat tip to the generous Dan Kittay of Kittay New Media, who pointed me toward this month’s news story.

I also recommend a great post by The Careerist that addresses the question “Too Old for Law School?”

Have a great—and non-age-restricted—weekend.

Professor Kingsfield may not be viewed as today's "model" law professor.

Professor Kingsfield may not be viewed as today’s “model” law professor.

In the category of “you never know where a good idea may come from,” I point you toward the review of a book on what makes a great law professor.

The review was pointed out to me by a very wise person, and she thought I’d be intrigued by the concept. She was right, just as I am intrigued by the location of the review: In the Teachers College Record, “a journal of research, analysis, and commentary in the field of education. It has been published continuously since 1900 by Teachers College, Columbia University.”

At TCR, they concern themselves with all kinds of teaching, even that dispensed at law schools. So always keep your eye peeled.

(And if you missed my recent coverage of a great article about law school, head over here to read it.)

what-the-best-law-teachers-do book cover

The new book is aptly titled What the Best Law Teachers Do, and the review is written by Marjorie Heins, “a former ACLU lawyer, the founding director of the Free Expression Policy Project, and the author, most recently, of Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge (NYU Press, 2013). She has been a visiting professor at both the law school and undergraduate levels. She currently teaches ‘Censorship in American Culture and Law’ at New York University.”

Here is how she opens her review:

“In popular imagination, the typical law teacher is the notorious Professor Charles Kingsfield, immortalized in the novel, The Paper Chase. Imperious, tyrannical, and a master practitioner of the Socratic method in its most rigorous form, Kingsfield aims to intimidate if not terrorize. But in one famous scene, the old codger turns out to be human: he shows approval, if not respect, to a student who has the temerity to talk back to him.”

Marjorie Heins

Marjorie Heins

“Well, we can say goodbye to the era of Kingsfield and to the joys of combat in the law school classroom. As the stories told and teachers celebrated in What the Best Law Teachers Do make plain, today’s model law professor is a nurturer, not a tyrant: loved, lovable, and passionately devoted to helping every student not only to understand the material but to enjoy it, to become a better person, and to embark on a future as a dedicated servant of the law.”

“The 26 law teachers highlighted in this book are indeed paragons. If I am sounding just a bit cynical, it is not because I don’t respect the amazing talents and commitment that these 26 evidently possess, or the impressive results they achieve: students uniformly rising to the challenge, inspired by affection and respect to work hard so as not to disappoint their charismatic teachers’ expectations. Instead, I remain skeptical because I suspect that there might still be room in the academy, if not exactly for pedagogues of the Kingsfield variety, then at least for professors who are not particularly student-friendly, are not interested in inviting them to lunch or hearing about their personal troubles, but are simply brilliant lecturers, inspiring scholars, or, indeed, skilled practitioners of the dread Socratic method.”

Read the complete review here.

Is your own favorite law professor described in the new volume? (or at least someone who shares the same sensibilities?) You may have to get your hands on the book to find out.

Do you agree with the description of what makes an ideal law professor? Does that match your own experience?

Richard Posner and his cat: Is law school the way it is because of this man? (But not because of his cat, we believe.)

Richard Posner and his cat: Is law school the way it is because of this man? (But not because of his cat, we believe.)

This is a short (and therefore busy) week, so it may be unwise for me to point you toward a long article. But I suspect it will reward your time investment.

It is titled The real reason law schools are raking in cash,” and I thank the New Hampshire Bar Association for pointing me toward it.

Pressed for time? The story’s deck provides a hint of the theme: “The profession’s in crisis, but the schools don’t care. They’re steeped in a toxic, hyper-capitalist worldview.”

No, this ain’t take-to-the-ramparts class warfare, but it is a very nuanced examination of the process of changing minds that we have called “law school.” And anyone who has been through the lawyer-manufacturing process may recognize the steps that author Benjamin Winterhalter dissects.

After explaining the odd economic dynamics of today’s legal profession—student employment is down, their debt is up, and school coffers remain full—he offers his analysis about what he calls an “obvious question about the discrepancy—the gulf between the continuing financial success of American law schools and the grim financial realities of their graduates—that no one seems to be asking.”

“That question, the one that is so obvious that even thinking about it is deeply painful, is this: Why aren’t law schools ashamed of themselves? Where is their sense of pity, of remorse, of human decency? After all, aren’t the very ideals that law schools purport to teach about—justice, fairness, equality—fundamentally and exactly opposed to this sort of naked capitalist exploitation? In the standard liberal vision of a functioning democracy, isn’t the rule of law supposed to be our salvation from the savagery of the free market?”

That is a substantial shot across the bow of American law schools, one that requires some hefty evidence to support. If we require a prime mover of this alleged discrepancy, the author is prepared to offer one:

“[L]aw school’s indifference to student suffering results not from an inexplicable love of torturous methods of instruction, nor from the inevitability of natural human selfishness, but from a profound ideological commitment to a particular version of neoliberal capitalism.”

Who is in the vanguard of that “ideological commitment”? Winterhalter points to former professor now judge Richard Posner as an undisputed leader. He is the most well-known proponent of the law and economics philosophy, which urges us to understand that the law’s primary question and concern should be whether “the rules” promote economic efficiency. That belief system, Winterhalter claims, “is now so deeply ingrained in the teaching at U.S. law schools that it is regarded as dogma.”

The outcome of that hegemonic thinking, he argues, is significant. It affects not just the quality of the law and policy that results. But it also affects the way law school graduates view themselves.

“For most students, the ideological training “takes”—like a plant in new soil. So when they find themselves enduring tough economic times, they assume that, other than grab hold of their bootstraps, there is nothing they can do. As they learned so many times in law school, the market wants what it wants, and it seems—at least at the present moment—not to want them. Since the market, the organ of social judgment, the grumbling gut of a hungry nation, has spoken, there is nothing for them to do but listen. To try, in other words, to make the best of it, all while sensing—if the plant has truly put down roots—the unavoidable conclusion of the law-and-econ doctrines: they deserve their fates.”

That is a powerful indictment. Read his whole essay here.

This may be one of the most unique examinations I’ve read of the truism that law school gets us to think like lawyers. It’s often remarked upon wryly, as if that thinking then does some disservice to those who must live and work amongst attorneys. Winterhalter says it does that, but it harms law graduates, as well.

What do you think of this analysis? Is Winterhalter on to something when it comes to law schools?

Why so down in the mouth, legal profession? For an answer, let's look to the field of dentistry.

Why so down in the mouth, legal profession? For an answer, let’s look to the field of dentistry.

If you are seeking a more concise examination of the state of the legal profession, I’ve got that for you too. Head over to the Wall Street Journal, where an author suggests that legal education is about where dental education was three decades ago: oversubscribed and underemployed. As the author says, “In the 1980s, dozens of dental schools were forced to shrink their class sizes and several shut down.”

There’s even a fun quiz. Find it here.

law-schoolLet’s start our week off with a fight, shall we?

Well, more like a debate. But when attorneys get chatting about whether law school should be three years long, or two (or some hybrid), things can get a little heated.

This fire was rekindled this month when President Barack Obama mentioned that he believed two years of law school may be adequate. I guess he was practicing for a controversial dialogue about Syria.

That led law school professor Bruce Ackerman to rise up to defend the status quo.

Well, whattayaknow, someone didn’t agree with that.

Well, quite a few, probably. But here is one lawyer–commentator who left no stone unturned in his dissection of Ackerman’s argument.

What do you think?

Is two years enough for a law degree?

And even if you think we should stick with three years, is the handwriting on the wall? Are we headed to a two-year J.D.?

law-schoolWhat is your law school’s bar-passage rate?

If you’ve been out of school more than a few years, you probably don’t track that kind of data. But what would you guess? 75 percent? 80 percent? Even better?

What if you discovered your school’s bar failure rate was 93 percent?

I know; my jaw dropped too.

You may have seen this story via the ABA Journal, which reported on a lawsuit in which the Southern California Institute of Law (its real name) sued over the California Bar’s requirement that the school divulge its bar-passage rate for the past 10 exams (required of all California-accredited schools).

(Sidebar: On its website, the school says that Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski was its 2013 commencement speaker. Can anyone report what he said in his address?)

I had to smirk when I read about the school’s attempt to claim a First Amendment violation:

“The school claims it is being forced to publish a government message with which it disagrees, violating its free speech rights. The school says it disagrees with the ‘ideological belief that a law school should be judged by the passage rates of its graduates.’”

Very high-minded of them.

I think any lawyer who has ever practiced for even a day may agree that there is not a direct correlation between law school classes and successful practice, or even (necessarily) between the bar exam and practice (except, of course, that you need to pass the exam to practice).

But in an age of law school transparency efforts (like this one), prospective law students (read consumers) deserve as much information as possible. As alumni from even highly performing schools graduate and face bleak job prospects, a school’s impish insistence on its own free-speech rights is almost insulting.

And no, despite questions some folks have raised, the school’s lawyer is not one of its own graduates (which could have been problematic on UPL grounds). But I was pleased to see that George Shohet offices right in Venice Beach, where I recently visited; I should have stopped in to visit the Loyola Law School grad, who was admitted in California the same year I was. (I pointed out here how cool a Venice law office could be.)

Thanks to Above the Law for providing a link directly to the judge’s order denying the relief the school sought. You can read what ATL calls a judicial “smackdown” here. (And you’ve got to love the caption, which ends with the names of the defendant Bar examiners: “Southern California Institute of Law v. Archie ‘Joe’ Biggers et al.”)

Where do you come down on the issue? It may be a no-brainer that a school cannot hide this information. But when it comes down to it, what data really mean something to you when you consider a lawyer’s credentials?

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