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Law People

Better Law Practice Through Better People Management

Reforming the Law School Business Model

Posted in Law Education, Recruitment, Retention, Uncategorized

The ABA House of Delegates approved final revisions to law school accreditation rules in August of this year. One of the most prominent changes to the standards is the “10 percent LSAT rule.” Law schools may now admit up to a tenth of their entering classes with students who did not take the test. Of course there’s no minimum LSAT score requirement for admissions to law schools anyway, but the acknowledgement that applicants don’t even need to take the test might appear to some to be radical. The new Interpretation 503-3 only allows applicants to forgo the LSAT if either (a) they’re undergraduates at the same institution to which they’re applying to law school, or (b) they’re seeking a dual degree at that institution.  And in both cases, there are requirements for scores on standardized tests and undergraduate performance. But the new rule is in response to growing requests for waivers of an LSAT requirement, which may also reflect the evidence that performance on LSATs does not correlate with the successful practice of law.

Other changes seem less substantive but aimed at reducing costs.  The recommendation to calculate full-time students to full-time faculty using a convoluted methodology has been eliminated.  It appeared to only demonstrate how much law schools have grown their payrolls, doubling the number of professors to students over the last four decades.  Law libraries were also liberated to allow “reliable access” to various sources, rather than their physical presence, allowing law schools to enter the 21st century of digital research.

Similarly, prior accreditation rules had mandated “an office for each full-time faculty member,” an outstanding example of the influence of law professors regardless of cost. The revised Standard 702(a)(4) merely requires “office space for full-time faculty members,” allowing for shared space rather than dedicated single offices.  The new rules also require law schools attached to parent universities to receive an annual “accounting and explanation for all charges and costs assessed against resources generated by the law school and for any use of resources generated by the law school to support nonlaw school activities and central university services.” While law schools have long been a cash cow for their parent universities, at least now where the law school funds go won’t be a university secret anymore.

But this is tinkering around the edges.  As Steven Harper recounts, the true crisis in the current law school model is not being addressed by ABA regulators or the law schools themselves. Only half of all those graduating from law school in 2012 found full-time long-term jobs requiring a J.D.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment report indicates that between December 2012 and December 2013, employment in the “all legal services” category actually declined by 1,000 people.  Yet as the profession was losing 1,000 jobs last year, law schools graduated a record number of new lawyers—46,000—with more large classes in the pipeline and the ABA has accredited the opening of additional law schools. Recently revised BLS estimates suggest an ongoing lawyer glut for years to come. On top of that, 85% of those graduating from law school–including the many not finding any legal jobs–are carrying six-figure law school debt, which is federally backed for the benefit of the law schools but nondischargeable by its students.

The market is somewhat unresponsive, and law school applications are down–the overall number of applicants to all law schools dropped dramatically from 87,500 in 2010 to 59,400 in 2013, but law schools’ acceptance rates have gone way up to compensate (see Matt Leichter’s Am Law Daily article) and law school tuition keeps increasing by leaps bearing no relation to inflation.

What’s to be done?  Educators continue to discuss whether the third year of law school is necessary. Many schools have two-year programs but they just cram the same work into a shorter time period. The really big reform—eliminating the third year altogether—isn’t happening because accreditation rules prevent it.  Harper points to the recently accredited Elon University School of Law as a prime example of the forces driving our current model.  Elon announced last month that it is offering a 7 -trimester law degree, which in its press release it calls a “groundbreaking new model” of legal education. But this ground-breaker comes at a higher price tag per term so that the law school makes out better (and the student worse) under the reduced time frame, as Harper has pointed out. True to form, Elon’s record-high first-year enrollment of 132 students in 2010 carried tuition of $30,750 a year, but enrollment in 2013 fell to 20% less students (with worse credentials) and tuition increased to almost $38,000 a year.  And the school plans to recover losses from their new shorter 7-trimester time frame by adding more students.

As Harper concludes, “Imagine the consequences if every law school that currently places fewer than one-third of its graduates in full-time long-term J.D.-required jobs were to increase enrollment by 20-30 percent…  For the profession, that would be like accelerating in reverse gear toward a brick wall.”



How Was Your Mental Health Day?

Posted in Assessments, Client Service, Coaching, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, Law Departments, Management, Mentoring, Productivity, Professional Development, Retention, Risk Management, Uncategorized, Wellness, Work Satisfaction, Work/Life Balance

World Mental Health Day was Friday, October 10th.  How did yours go?

Did your firm or department remind you not to work such long hours that you lose your critical thinking edge or alienate the personal ties that keep you grounded and productive?  Did you get a refresher on how to deal with stress and its back-breaking, mind-numbing effects? What about screening?  Did anyone offer to have a professional confidentially assess your mental load and review the strategies that can lessen it?

I didn’t think so.

Although it’s not such a far-fetched proposition.  There are legal cultures where just those things happen, even when it’s not World Mental Health Day. In the UK, for example, some law firms are evidently taking an interest in the mental health of their professionals.

Cited in an article last Friday in The Lawyer entitled “Firms look for ways to support lawyers’ mental health” is the stat that “a survey this week by insurance firm Friends Life revealed that 40% of those asked had concealed depression, anxiety or stress from their employer.” That’s forty percent of the general population that’s hiding their mental distress from their employers. When you consider all the data on the much higher incidence of mental distress among lawyers than any other profession, you’re starting to talk real numbers of hidden lawyer distress.

UK publication Lawyer 2B conducted a Stress in Law survey of UK lawyers this past summer which revealed that 55% said their firm had no policies to combat stress, while 17% said their firms did have such policies.  The survey also identified the chief causes of stress in these lawyers as the long-hours and the difficulties of achieving a work-life balance. “Too much work and too little time to do it in was the most cited cause of stress among lawyers across all levels,” with over 70% of non-partners citing this factor as a chief cause of stress, but fewer partners naming it. The next most common cause of stress is “difficult or unpleasant superiors,” with some 44% of young lawyers citing it, dropping to 30% of all non-partners, and only 10% of partners, in part, one must imagine, because there’s no “there there” above them to complain about.

How their work affects their personal life is a stressor for 34% of the youngest lawyers, climbing to 42%, then 61 % as you advance up the seniority ladder before dropping to 44% among partners. The pressure to meet billing targets and firm bureaucracy are both issues that gradually rise as causes of stress as lawyers move up the firm, culminating in 44% of partners citing meeting billing targets as a concern. While dealing with difficult or unpleasant peers is not a major cause of stress, overly demanding clients are, even at the youngest levels.

In response to these stats, The Lawyer sees evidence of firms trying harder to support lawyers’ mental health.  Clifford Chance, for example, piloted a stress-combating program for its trainees, or summer associates, and new associates which was so successful that it has been rolled out across the entire firm.

I’m betting they had a better World Mental Health Day than many of you did.

Law People Blog Entry Wins BigLaw’s Pick of the Week!

Posted in Announcements

Law People Blog’s most recent entry–“Competitors of the Future Arriving Now”–has just been named BigLaw’s Pick of the Week.  BigLaw is a free weekly email newsletter that provides helpful information for the world’s largest law firms and the corporate counsel who hire them.  The editors give this award to one article every week that they feel is a must-read for this audience. They send their congratulations to Law People Blog.


Competitors of the Future Arriving Now

Posted in Business Development, Compensation, Management, Profitability, Recruitment, Retention, Risk Management, Succession, Uncategorized

Maybe it’s just us, but the announcement of the departure from Fried Frank of a former managing partner and some of her department carries with it intimations of several current trends in the law business: the British are coming, the accounting firms are coming, and you’d better take a second look at both your profitability and your mandatory retirement policy.

Valerie Ford Jacob, the head of the capital markets group at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, and until very recently the head of the firm, has left with two partners to join Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in New York.  After a poor showing in 2012, Fried Frank increased profitability in 2013 by 3.3% and profits per equity partner by a whopping 24.3 %.  The question is whether those recent financial improvements will stop the exodus of major partners, with 17 having decamped just so far this year. Shades of Dewey & LeBoeuf and other high-profile implosions are starting to haunt visions of the firm’s future.

On the other hand, Freshfields is succeeding in adding high-powered US lawyers in a strong expansion from across the pond, with now more than 180 lawyers in the US. Prior to the Fried Frank announcement, several high-profile laterals were successfully brought in to Freshfields’ US fold, including from Skadden, Arps,  Wachtell, Lipton, and Shearman & Sterling. While competing with US compensation has been a challenge for UK firms in the past, the potential impact of alternative business structures (ABSs) that UK law firms and other service professionals, like accounting firms, now have access to is starting to rebalance and even tip the playing field for future growth in favor of the Brits. And Freshfields has “flexed” its lock-step compensation several times when courting US partners, so that Fried Frank’s recent average profits per equity partner of $1.6 million may not be much of an obstacle any more. Similarly, Fried Frank has a mandatory retirement age of 65.  The number of US law firm mandated retirement programs have declined precipitously over the last ten years, helped along by age discrimination lawsuits, as baby boomers rail against them. Those firms who retain them risk their high-performers moving on to fill their recession-depleted coffers elsewhere before going out into that dark night.

One of Fried Frank’s losses last month was tax partner Kevin Keyes, who left for KPMG.  When Sarbanes Oxley prohibited accounting firms from offering legal services to audit clients, most accounting firms stopped offering legal advice in the UK and the US, while some continued to offer it in Russia and some European countries. Now that accounting firms can use the UK’s ABS structure to give legal advice, they are standing in line to join the legal fray.

PricewaterhouseCoopers successfully applied for an ABS license in February, and acquired a boutique Canadian law firm the following month.  Its law firm arm, PwC Legal, currently employs over 2,000 lawyers in 80 countries and intends to double its global legal revenues to $1 billion over the next five years, which would place it in last year’s American Lawyer’s Global top 30. It recently hired two partners from King & Wood Mallesons, the Australian firm that has put international law firm expansion on the map with Australia’s own version of ABSs, to launch an Australian legal services arm and has opened offices offering legal services in

Both Ernst & Young and KPMG are also considering either acquiring law firms in an ABS subsidiary or converting the entire organization to an ABS.  EY, as it is now known, hired 250 lawyers in 2013—including partners from top international law firms, and one specializing in international transactions from Freshfields–increasing its total attorney head count by almost 30 percent, to 1,100. Last year it launched legal services in 29 countries, more than doubling its coverage from 23 to 52 international jurisdictions, with a longer term aim to be in more than 80 jurisdictions by 2020. Deloitte established a Chinese legal arm in early 2013 with hires from several domestic firms.  Several partners at the Qin Li Law Firm are simultaneously partners at Deloitte China and Deloitte Legal.

As one reporter points out: “For midmarket law firms and even international giants such as Baker & McKenzie and DLA Piper, the Big Four accounting firms make daunting competitors. They have global networks comprising hundreds of offices; global brands that are far stronger than those of any top law firm; much greater sophistication in technology, training and business support; and client lists that dwarf even those of the largest law firms.  The Big Four are simply in a different league when it comes to scale. Baker & McKenzie, the world’s largest law firm by head count, has just over 4,000 attorneys worldwide. Deloitte has almost that many staffers in South Africa alone.”




Delay in Delivering Blog Entries Resolved

Posted in Announcements

Gentle Readers, there has been a glitch recently in the delivery software program of this and other blogs serviced by LexBlog.  Apparently as of today that issue has been resolved. We at LawPeopleBlog apologize for not being able to get our regular blog entries to you over the last while but promise that they will now be forthcoming.  Our best wishes for a profitable fall!

Muir Moderates Panel at Women Leaders in Life Sciences Law Conference

Posted in Announcements

On July 28 and 29, Women Leaders in Life Sciences Law held their first annual conference in Boston.  Billed as “Promoting Diversity and Increasing the Prominence of Women in the Life Sciences Legal Community through Substantive Legal Discussion, Professional Development, and Woman-to-Woman Networking,” this group was packed with outstanding credentials and life stories on the value and impact of diversity in all aspects of their practices.

Muir co-moderated a workshop panel of impressive representatives from law firms and corporate legal departments that addressed “Combating Gender Stereotypes in the Life Sciences Legal Community: Open Forum and Working Group on Overcoming Implicit Bias.” See one of our recent posts on implicit bias for a flavor of some of the discussion.

The panel will be issuing a set of recommendations gleaned from the group on how law firms and law departments can realize the benefits of diversity.  Stay tuned!

Challenged by Ethics

Posted in Client Service, Coaching, Culture, Ethics, Leadership, Management, Mentoring, Professional Development, Risk Management, Teamwork, Uncategorized

Stephen Glass, the infamous journalist whose writing career collapsed under an avalanche of lies, is not being allowed to practice law in California. The California Supreme Court concluded early this year that Glass, then a law clerk for a Beverly Hills plaintiffs firm, had failed to meet ”his heavy burden of demonstrating rehabilitation.” Glass admitted to fabricating parts of more than 40 articles published in the late 1990s, including for The New Republic and other journals that touched on hot-button topics such as race and politics and won him worldwide recognition.

“The ruling today vindicates the idea that honesty is of paramount importance in the practice of law in California,” State Bar President Luis Rodriguez said in a prepared statement, in that a “significant deceit sustained unremittingly for a period of years” cannot be excused.

In the UK, an ex-Paul Hastings partner was disbarred this year instead of being given a 3-year suspension over an embellished résumé with a slew of phony accomplishments. Dennis Thomas O’Riordan, a former Cadwalader Wichersham and Taft regulatory partner, claimed to have been admitted to the bar in New York, earned two bachelor’s degrees and a doctorate from Oxford University and a master’s degree from Harvard University, and received the designation of an Eldon Scholar at Oxford Law, all of which he did not dispute were false.

Sara Down, head of professional conduct at the UK’s Bar Standards Board, said in a statement that “the BSB felt strongly that the sentence of suspension did not go far enough and that allowing Mr. O’Riordan to return to [practice] would, given the extent of his dishonesty, have diminished public confidence in the profession and discredited the bar.”

Perhaps you’ve heard in the news lately the tale of Ajai Mathew Mariamdani Thomas, who was born in Michigan, raised in Florida, and graduated from Duke University in 1995 with a degree in biomedicine, ethics and public policy.  Note “ethics.” After graduating from college he worked at the National Human Genome’s Office of Genome Ethics in Bethseda, where he wrote three papers on the topic of medical ethics. Ethics again.

Mr. Thomas entered Harvard Law School in 1997 where he was a semifinalist in the annual moot court competition, was an editor of the Journal of Law and Technology, and cofounded the school’s Society of Law and Ethics. Yes, ethics.

Although Thomas received “excellent grades” while attending Harvard, he allegedly created a phony transcript giving himself some As in place of some Bs and B+s, and used that transcript to apply for a federal appellate court clerkship. After his transcript was determined to be touched up, Thomas fabricated a forensic report in support of his appeal to the Harvard disciplinary panel.  The Harvard Law School faculty voted to expel him on September 17, 1999.

In 2003, Thomas received an MBA from Stanford Business School and went to work first for a Boston hedge fund and then SAC Capital. Along the way, Thomas changed his name to Mathew Martoma, which you may recognize as the name in the news. According to The New York TimesMartoma received a $9.4 million bonus in January 2009 as a reward for his performance the prior year in SAC’s health care group.  But having lost money for SAC in 2009 and 2010, he was fired in September 2010.

Over the last few months Martoma has been on trial for his role in what prosecutors have called “the most lucrative insider trading scheme ever charged,” culminating in over $275 million in profits and avoided losses, over 4 times the amount of insider trading gains that Raj Rajaratnam was sent to prison a record 11 years for.  He is set for sentencing later this month, and the prosecutor is recommending 8 years.

These and other instances of questionable to absent ethics may seem a little over the top in so far as their relevance to your practice. You haven’t, after all, altered your CV, or changed your name to obscure problematic details about your past, or absconded with millions of ill-gotten gain. But there are plenty of examples out there of questionable ethics that may hit closer to home.

Early this year, The Legal Intelligencer reported that, after the assertion of 17 separate defenses in a 298-page brief and a mediation procedure, K&L Gates agreed to settle for $24 million a $500 million malpractice suit.  Beverage manufacturer Le-Nature’s bankruptcy trustee Marc S. Kirschner alleged that K&L Gates and managing partner Sanford Ferguson were hired in 2003 to conduct an internal investigation of possible insider fraud and failed to detect any. Kirschner claimed that failure allowed the company to sink deeper into debt for the next three years until a massive insider fraud came to light, the company went bankrupt and its former CEO Gregory Podlucky was sent to prison for 20 years.

According to other news reports, “Kirschner ripped the firm’s former management committee chair Sanford Ferguson… calling him a corporate attorney who had not been actively practicing law for a number of years before helming the investigation. Kirschner pointed to Ferguson’s time both chairing the management committee and subsequently working directly for a software company and a resort company before returning to the firm and heading the investigation as evidence that he was unprepared for the task. Kirschner also said that Ferguson violated Pennsylvania’s rules of professional conduct by failing to bring a lawyer with experience in complex fraud investigations into the inquiry.

“Instead, according to Kirschner, Ferguson left the bulk of the day-to-day work in the investigation to the firm’s associate Paul Berks, who lacked key experience in corporate fraud issues. Kirschner said that Ferguson frequently left interviews, or did not participate at all, leaving Berks fully responsible.”

We can be assured and maybe even proud that regulatory boards here and across the pond have standards about ethics that they aren’t afraid to enforce, at least in some cases.  But are we doing enough when it comes to dealing with and even preventing the less glaring, less obviously optic instances of ethical lapses?

A  report commissioned by the UK legal profession’s three main watchdogs – the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Bar Standards Board and the Institute of Legal Executives’ Professional Standards–was delivered June 25, 2013 after two years of preparation.  In part, it calls for students to be taught an enhanced sense of ethics and professionalism so they have a better understanding of “the relationship between morality and law, the values underpinning the legal system and the role of lawyers in relation to those values.”

We could start by requiring that sort of dialogue in all law schools and then by including questions about subtle ethical dilemmas on all bar exams.  But ultimately this is a firm-by-firm, lawyer-by-lawyer issue that strikes at the heart of your and your firm’s integrity and reputation and that determines the extent of your clients’ loyalty.

There are steps to take to minimize the risk of ethical lapses.  Are you taking them?


The Intersection of Law and Psychology

Posted in Client Service, Coaching, Communication, Conflict, Culture, Decision-Making, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Management, Mentoring, Productivity, Professional Development, Profitability, Recruitment, Retention, Risk Management, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Wellness, Work Satisfaction, Work/Life Balance

On February 21-22 of this year, the Boyd School of Law and Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas held a very interesting conference on Psychology and Lawyering.  Attendance and enthusiasm were high and organizers anticipate future conferences well-fueled with the expanding research on these related areas.

Here are some excerpts of the rationale for such a pairing:

“The field of psychology has a tremendous amount to offer practicing attorneys. In this two day conference leading academics and practitioners from both law and psychology will discuss how insights drawn from multiple fields of  psychology, as well as from neuroscience, can improve specific lawyering practices.  Panels will focus on client relations and perceptions of fairness, applications of psychology to lawyer decisionmaking, legal persuasion, the courtroom, legal ethics, and lawyer wellbeing.  A special luncheon session will highlight how law professors can teach relational competencies and emotional intelligence.  Tom Tyler, the Macklin Fleming Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School, will give the keynote address entitled ‘Legitimacy and the Exercise of Legal Authority.’

“The conference is an effort to coalesce academics and practitioners from a variety of fields who together are increasingly recognizing the broad relevance of psychology to lawyering.  Traditionally, those who connected law and psychology focused primarily on juries, trials, and criminals’ states of mind. But today, researchers from various sub-disciplines of both law and psychology are broadening their focus to examine the additional ways in which psychology can be of use to a wide variety of common lawyering practices in both civil and criminal settings.”

A review of the topics discussed at the conference illustrates the dimensions of the research that overlaps these two subjects. Panel topics included Lawyer Decision Making, the Psychology of Client Relations, Client Perceptions of Process and Fairness, the Psychology of Courtrooms: Lawyer Performance and Judging, Witness Testimony, Teaching Relational Competencies, the Psychology of Persuasion, Lawyer Well Being, and the Psychology of Legal Ethics.  Material presented included power points on subjects like “From Lemurs to Lawyers: The Role of Evolution in the Psychology of Lawyering,” “Using Principles From Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Nervousness in Trials, Oral Arguments, and Other Court Appearances,” and “Resilient Lawyering: Lessons for Lawyers from the Science of Positive Psychology to Boost Performance and Work Satisfaction.”  There is even a power point on “The Zombie Lawyer Apocalypse.”

The era of industries that do not account for the human element effecting performance, dynamics and satisfaction is fast fading.  Economics is the most recently visible convert, evidenced by Nobel Prize winning Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and perhaps the legal industry is not that far behind…


Telling it Straight

Posted in Culture, Diversity, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Management, Productivity, Professional Development, Profitability, Retention, Risk Management, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Wellness, Work Satisfaction

Jennifer Alvey “is a recovering lawyer who was once one of the 20% of Feelers in law firms.”  Now she coaches other lawyers in the Nashville area, many of whom are miserable practicing law. In her post “Why Are There So Many Asshole Lawyers?”, she tells it straight about her and her clients’ experiences in “dysfunctional” law firms, citing aspects of Muir’s work at Law People Management on lawyer personalities as a way to understand some of the dysfunction.  BigLaw firm Kirkland & Ellis comes in for particular scrutiny.

This post illustrates the narrow personal style profile that dominates the practice of law, a topic that Muir spoke on at the Center For Legal Inclusiveness Summit earlier this month, and that can make those outside that profile unhappy in their practice.

For those looking for strategies to enhance both firm culture and function and personal performance and satisfaction, a good place to start is by examining personal style. Let us at Law People Management help you achieve a higher functioning firm and individual practice.

Diversity in Personal Style

Posted in Announcements, Conflict, Diversity, Emotional Intelligence, Ethics, Leadership, Management, Productivity, Professional Development, Profitability, Recruitment, Retention, Risk Management, Teamwork, Work Satisfaction, Work/Life Balance

Muir spoke at the Center for Legal Inclusiveness Summit  in Denver, Colorado on Monday, May 12, a well-run event drawing people from all directions, despite a spring snowstorm.  Muir’s topic was “Achieving the Advantages of Diversity in Personal Style,” a review of the narrow personal style profile that prevails in many legal organizations, the hazards that narrow perspective presents and the advantages of broadening our personal style profiles.  Kudos to Karen Hester, the new Executive Director, her second in command, Michael Barajas, and the others who made the event so interesting and successful.