Law School


law school

Is there any better morning than Monday’s to start an argument?

That’s why I wonder if you read an op-ed piece in last week’s New York Times. There, in “Too Many Law Students, Too Few Legal Jobs,” attorney Steven J. Harper assesses what he sees as the continued sorry state of the economics underlying legal education.

NYT Harper essay on law schools illustration by Kevin Lucbert 08-25-15

Illustration by Kevin Lucbert in New York Times

Where do you stand on legal education? Is it still on a troubling path? Or has it located useful solutions? (If you don’t think there was a problem in the first place, well, I don’t know what to say to you.)

He opens with predictably dire statistics regarding the employment picture of law grads. Given all that, and a national wellspring of hand-wringing, the profession must have developed strategies to right the ship. Right?

Not quite, says Harper. Quite the opposite, in fact:

“Amazingly (and perversely), law schools have been able to continue to raise tuition while producing nearly twice as many graduates as the job market has been able to absorb. How is this possible? Why hasn’t the market corrected itself? The answer is that, for a given school, the availability of federal loans for law students has no connection to their poor post-graduation employment outcomes.”

He goes on to spread his critiques liberally. He has little good to say about an ABA task force charged with examining the pr­­oblem. At the end of the day, he says, the task force “dodged the issues that should have been the focus of its work.” And he draws a line between the task force’s mild-mannered assessment of the industry and the man who headed the committee: former ABA President Dennis Archer, “the former mayor of Detroit, who is also head of the national policy board of Infilaw, a private equity-owned consortium of three for-profit law schools—Arizona Summit, Charlotte and Florida Coastal. These schools are examples of the larger problem.”

OK, he’s called out one of the three Arizona law schools, so I imagine I’ll hear some grumbling now.

Before writing me in anger or joy, read Harper’s complete piece here. And tell me what you think.

nnaba National Native American Bar Association logo

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure to meet with Mary Smith, lawyer and Immediate Past President of the National Native American Bar Association.

The specific reason we met was to tape a CLE Snippet, “a unique opportunity to hear directly from the author of an article in the upcoming Arizona Attorney Magazine.”

The topic of our conversation: a recent groundbreaking survey of Native American lawyers, available here.

Last April, I attended the annual Indian Law Conference of the Federal Bar Association, held in Scottsdale. There were some terrific panels, but I was particularly interested in a report about the first-ever survey of Native attorneys.

Panelists for April 9, 2015, “Strength in Numbers: Native Attorneys from Pre-Law to Practice,” L to R: Helen B. Padilla, Director, American Indian Law Center, Inc.; Mary L. Smith, Special Counsel and Estate Trust Officer, Office of the Special Deputy Receiver, and then-President, National Native American Bar Association; Dr. Arin Reeves, CEO, President, Nextions; Makalika Naholowaa, Attorney, Microsoft Corporation; and Francine M. Jaramillo, Staff Attorney, American Indian Law Center, Inc. (Photo by Federal Bar Association)

Panelists for April 9, 2015, “Strength in Numbers: Native Attorneys from Pre-Law to Practice,” L to R: Helen B. Padilla, Director, American Indian Law Center, Inc.; Mary L. Smith, Special Counsel and Estate Trust Officer, Office of the Special Deputy Receiver, and then-President, National Native American Bar Association; Dr. Arin Reeves, CEO, President, Nextions; Makalika Naholowaa, Attorney, Microsoft Corporation; and Francine M. Jaramillo, Staff Attorney, American Indian Law Center, Inc. (Photo by Federal Bar Association)

Mary presented on the survey along with a great panel. The early reports about the survey were that it explored subjects that previously have been shared openly too little. The ultimate survey results more than bore that out. At the conference and afterward, I spoke with Mary about sharing a summary of the results in Arizona Attorney. She kindly agreed, and her article is in the September magazine.

When we met, Mary was kind enough to indulge our tradition of a photo:

Attorney Mary Smith and Arizona Attorney Editor Tim Eigo, August 25, 2015.

Attorney Mary Smith and Arizona Attorney Editor Tim Eigo, August 25, 2015.

In my videotaped dialogue with Mary Smith, I mentioned how impressed I was with the survey. Not only was the survey smart and the responses candid; the report also folded in numerous personal stories and compelling sidebars. I recommend the survey to anyone interested in improving the legal profession or in launching and reporting on survey results.

The videotape will be available here after September 1. I hope a few of you get to watch it, as well as the article on the topic in the September Arizona Attorney Magazine.

We may not all mean the same thing when we discuss workplace ethics. I'd like to hear your ideas, and stories too.

We may not all mean the same thing when we discuss workplace ethics. I’d like to hear your ideas, and stories too.

What are we talking about when we talk about ethics in the workplace? Like most important topics, it may be more difficult to define than we typically imagine.

At the end of this month, I have the opportunity to present on the topic of the ethical workplace. The audience will be organization leaders at the National Association of Bar Executives annual meeting, so my focus will go beyond “Please don’t steal the Post-Its” (though they shouldn’t). Instead, I’m aiming to discuss the ethical decision-points that leaders face daily—hidden as they may be among the workaday grind.

My presentation is nearly done, but I’d like to include some other examples of noteworthy leader ethics, so I invite you to write me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org. The anecdote may come from your own organization or from one you’ve heard about. And it can be for attribution or entirely anonymous. In fact, feel free to cast your story to me as a hypothetical. That works just fine.

To help you cogitate on this, here is my presentation description:

“Ethical Decision-Making: The Courage to Say No. Leadership requires making decisions that affect people and resources. This session’s speaker prompts us to consider how we make those important decisions, how to sustain an ethical workplace, and how to deal with the many pressures to do all things and be all things for our members and the public.”

Thank you for sharing your ideas and stories; I look forward to connecting with you!

George Bisharat is Big Harp George, and he's a presenter at the 2015 #azbarcon

George Bisharat is Big Harp George, and he’s a presenter at the 2015 #azbarcon

Last week, I wrote about an #azbarcon panel discussion on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. I’ll be there when it starts at 2:00 today.

But in the meantime, you should take a moment to hear from one of the panelists, Professor George Bisharat. (I disclosed before that he was my law school crim-law professor.) Today, he’ll be giving insight on the Palestinian side of the dialogue. But more pertinent for your lunchtime listening? He is Big Harp George, an accomplished harmonica player.

He’s released a CD (maybe more), but here is one of his songs.

Here is news that he was nominated for Best New Artist Album at the Blues Music Awards.

And here is his website and Facebook page.

Here’s hoping you have some chromatic blues in your day!

Should all law-school graduates be this confident? (Reuters/Jim Bourg)

Should all law-school graduates be this confident? (Reuters/Jim Bourg)

How bullish are you on the practice of law? Are things getting rosier by the month, or is it too early to tell?

I ask because, well, it’s kind of my job to ask. But I also came across two recent articles that suggest the legal profession is in a watershed moment—not entirely great, but cautiously optimistic.

The first article (sent my way by the great communications pro Katie Mayer) examines the starting salaries of new associates, and it offers a more nuanced gaze than you might expect. Yes, the author admits, those salaries are marginally higher. But that may be due to the fact that more large firms are providing data. And even in those big firms, new lawyers are seeing lower salaries than in the heyday of law. Why? As big firms gobble up regional ones, those “new” lawyers in the smaller cities are not being paid close to the $160,000 that their big-city colleagues get.

As Max Nisen writes, “According to NALP, … many large firms have been buying up smaller, more regional firms outside major urban centers where pay is higher. Those smaller firms often don’t pay their associates $160,000, which lowers the percentage of large law firm salaries that start at that rate.”

See? Nuanced.

The second article, in the ABA Journal, explores the job market for new law grads. But its author honestly admits that while prospects may be up, that may be due to having fewer graduates in the marketplace. As fewer people opt to enter the law, those who remain may see marginally better opportunities.

Mark Hansen writes:

“Nearly 60 percent of all 2014 law school graduates were employed in full-time, long-term legal jobs, requiring bar passage, as of March 15, according to data released Wednesday [on April 29] by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.”

That is up nearly three percent from last year, Hansen say. You can see that data yourself here.

If this all is the new normal, at least it’s a slightly better version of normal.

Do the two articles reflect your experience? Are you cautiously optimistic too?

DRI defense research institute logoLaw students who seek substantial scholarships should consider a great opportunity, but get on it fast: The application for the DRI Law Student Diversity Scholarship is due next Monday, March 30.

So if you are a law student or if you know one who could be a great fit for this award, please pass the news on.

Besides the application, an essay and recommendations are required. (Ask your law professors now and have them work through the weekend on your behalf! Turnabout is fair play.)

The ultimate prizes are two scholarships in the amount of $10,000 each. (Yes; ten thousand.)

And what kinds of students does the Defense Research Institute want to reward? Those who best meet the following criteria:

  • Demonstrated academic excellence
  • Service to the profession
  • Service to the community
  • Service to the cause of diversity

The essay question is one of the more intriguing I have come across. I’m guessing that talented law students could have a good and creative time with their answers.

More information and the application are here.

Prison Education conference 2015-page0001

It’s beginning to look like my Friday morning will be corrections-focused.

Yesterday, I mentioned a school-to-prison pipeline symposium focused on that topic. But on the same day—Friday, March 27—an ASU student group addresses the issue of what we do with individuals once they are incarcerated. Specifically, they are focused on prison education.

(I wrote before about this annual conference on prison education.)

This Friday’s event marks the fourth annual Prison Education Conference and will be held in the Turquoise room of the Memorial Union at ASU from 10am to 4pm (with complimentary lunch included).

ASU Prison Education Awareness Club logo-page0001Below is some detail about Friday’s free conference. You can register here.

“The Prison Education Awareness Club (PEAC) presents the 4th Annual Prison Education Conference, featuring Kyes Stevens from the Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project and Judith Tannenbaum, teaching artist and author of Disguised as a Poem: My Years Teaching Poetry at San Quentin and By Heart: Poetry, Prison, and Two Lives. Alongside them, representatives from the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rio Salado Distance Learning Program, and ASU prison teaching will speak.”

I spoke with Jess Fletcher, who heads up ASU’s Prison Education Awareness Club. She indicated that given the large attendance at last year’s event, this week’s conference will be in a larger space (in the ASU Memorial Union). There are still some spots left, so RSVP here soon.

You also can follow (and Like) them on Facebook and Twitter.

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