Law School: A Key Area for Change Being Overlooked

September 25, 2009

This subject keeps popping in conversations, and usually under the “reform” umbrella. Most of the focus on billing, virtual assistants, outsourcing – ways to streamline the practice in order to survive the recession. Few argue the legal profession is overdue for a change; but a key area for change is being overlooked. Stephen Fairley points out this area, commonly referred to as “law school,” in a post to his Rainmaker Blog: Why Law Schools are Failing Attorneys and the Legal Industry. His point is that law schools do not teach the “business” side of law, and thus produce lawyer illequipped to start a solo practice, or bring in new business (legal cases) at small, medium or even large firms.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, it comes as little surprise that I agree with Mr. Fairley. In fact, I have commented on more than one occasion that law schools are very much like assembly lines, spitting out identical products year after year that are gobbled up by law firms, year after year. The recession has thrown a wrench into the status quo, and law firms are suddenly realizing that identical products are not working. People point to a variety of factors, but if you want to get to the root of the problem, look to law schools.

In fact, I’d venture a step further and say look at the American Bar Association (ABA), the accrediting institution for law schools. It has list of standards that must be met before a school can be approved, and a rather lengthy approval process. You’ll notice a “Foreign Study Criteria” section that covers summer programs, studying at foreign institutions and semester abroad programs. This makes perfect sense as the world continues to shrink and borders, as we have come to know and understand them, disappear. Law bleeds into itself these days, especially with Internet.

So, then, why is there not such criteria for the business of law? Is not the business side of law as important as the law itself and “foreign study”?

Clearly the answer is no, the business side of law is not as important, perhaps not important at all. And, undoubtedly, someone will point to the various companies and services that A) teach you the business side or B) take care of it for you. After all, as a lawyer, you want to practice law, not deal with all the details of a “business.”

My counter to that is: how do you know the “business” people are being honest, truthful, straight-forward, if you don’t know anything about the “business” side? You open yourself up to a whole host of problems if you don’t have at least a basic understanding, no?

Also, please note that I’m not advocating full-fledged MBA-type courses. And indeed, there are a number of law schools that offer joint JD/MBA degrees, and if you want to spend that money and time getting both, more power to you. Such schools may be jumping out ahead of the ABA, though I think making joint JD/MBA degrees an accreditation requirement is going overboard.

Something needs to be done, however. And if law firms, law students, professors…anyone with a stake in the future of law, are serious about change, it’s time to take your case to the ABA, and your alma mater.

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Really the Death of the Billable Hour?

September 1, 2009

Perhaps this concept of “reform” is best understood once you take a step back, or remove yourself from the situation. The economy has certainly forced law firms to rethink (again) the concept of the “billable” hour, especially as cash-strapped clients demand fee-based services lest a law firm lose the business. There is much talk about the billable hour striking 12, but living in a house full of chiming clocks, I wonder if the billable hour is on the 1st, or 11th chime.

Most point to the economy as the catalyst for pushing the “death of the billable hour” to the forefront, and forcing small and large firms alike to rethink their billing models. But once the economy turns around, will the fee-based services stick around? Or perhaps a better question: will the economy turn around before fee-based services, or other alternative billing arrangements, take hold?


“Wasteful” Conferences v. Political “Stumping”

April 5, 2009

This is at the suggestion of @nancymyrland after we exchanged a few tweets on conferences and how you can’t replace face-to-face meetings at things like ABA Tech and LMA. I commented on how Obama called conferences “wasteful” when it was made public that financial institutions that had received bail out funds were sponsoring the American Securitization Conference (ASF) being held in Las Vegas.

I posted a Note in Facebook about it. Here is what I said:

There has been much negative chatter about the American Securitization Conference (ASF) being held in Las Vegas. Wells Fargo and Fannie Mae are among the conference sponsors, and since they accepted government funds, there is the perception that the money was used to sponsor the conference. There is also the perception that attending such conference is a waste of money, tax payer money if attendees are financial institutions receiving bailout money.

That perception is wrong.

Planning for a conference starts the day after it ends. So when the ASF conference ended last year, planning started immediately for this year. Part of that planning is finding sponsors. No doubt many of the sponsors from last year sponsored this year, but there are also new comers who have something to offer. Sponsoring some part of a conference is a good way to get noticed.

These sponsorships are secured well in advance of the actual conference. Money is already committed. Money that is not related to bailout money. Saying the money is bailout money shows shortsightedness and a complete lack of understanding of the conference market. It also will make business think twice about attending a conference. Why? Perception.

Just as the perception of automakers filing for bankruptcy made people even more fearful of buying cars, and those who already own them fearful that warranties will be useless, so to does the perception of conferences as “wasteful” make businesses fearful of attending them. No one wants to be perceived as wasteful in this economy.

However, if businesses do not attend conferences, then all the businesses that make conferences work will take a hit. They will be forced to lay off employees, cut benefits or close up all together. Hotels, conference centers, caterers, linen rental, companies that make promotional items like pens, bags, shirts, etc. The start-ups and small businesses that have the opportunity to generate business from conferences. All these businesses, and many others, will take a hit. The cities that host conferences will take a hit as revenue from conferences is now non-existent.

President Obama opted to spread panic and loss of confidence to the conference sector, and the ripple effect will add to the economic problems this country is trying to rectify.

After attending ABA Tech, I still agree with my original statement that the perception of conferences as “wasteful” is wrong, and I find it interesting that no one calls Obama’s “stumping” “wasteful.” He hit the campaign trail, touting his big stimulus bill, garnering support. No one called that “wasteful.” But if you stop to think for a second, it was quite wasteful. Why? Because it didn’t create any jobs and did little to help the economy. He came in, made a big speech, and left. The place was the same as when he left, perhaps worse once the thrill of having the President speak subsided.

For conferences, it is just the opposite. Yes, conferences come and go, but the effects are felt long after the conference has passed. Small businesses and start-ups use conferences as a way to generate quality leads. Quality leads that turn into new customers. New customers means additional revenue and additional work. Additional revenue means the ability to hire more people to help tackle the new work.

Quality leads. New customers. Additional Revenue. Additional work. New hires. Those sound like actionable steps towards change we can believe in, and those actionable steps take place at “wasteful” conferences.

What actionable steps towards change we can believe in occurs when Obama goes “stumping” for the economic stimulus, or to stay “in touch” with the general public?


Digression – Advice for Surviving A Lay Off

February 7, 2009

With some friends and former co-workers recently laid off, and another 589,000 jobs reported lost for January 2009, I wanted to pause and offer up the same support and advice I have given them, and that has helped me through the past 9 months…going on 10:

  • Take some time to decompress. Give yourself a week or two and just decompress. Spend more time with family, go for long walks, do the fun things you have been putting off, space out in front of the TV, anything not related to work or finding another job. Whether or not you saw the lay off coming, it is still a shock to the system, and your system needs time to adjust.
  • Organize your finances, if you haven’t already.
  • Apply for unemployment, even if you don’t want to or think you won’t qualify.
  • Network. Get involved in community activities, groups, associations, something that will put you in the company of like-minded people. Join social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Facebook offers escapes in various games, groups and other mindless fun while also connecting with people. LinkedIn is a helpful professional network, people post advice, suggestions, questions, etc. And Twitter has spawned something called TweetUps, or gatherings of other Twitter users in places like New York, Chicago, Boise…all over. If gives you some common ground, and you feel like you know the people already from following their Tweets.
  • Lean on family and close friends. They may not completely understand what you are going through, but they provide a support system and another network. And sometimes, they surprise you.
  • Talk it out. Be it to a really good friend, a family member, a therapist, mentor…someone you trust. Being laid off is a huge blow, and you’ll go through a grieving process. You’ll be shocked, in denial, sad and really pissed off. Talking it out with someone will smooth the process a little, and make it easier to answer questions about your situation, and stay professional, during an interview.
  • Ponder your previous job(s), what you liked and didn’t like about them, what you liked or didn’t like the company(ies) and slowly start to think what you want your next job to be. You may want to do the same thing, you may want to try something different. Think about it.
  • When you do start job hunting again, be sure to take a break. Take a couple days off from job hunting and do something completely unrelated. It will lessen the feelings of burn out, inadequacy and frustration. Job hunting is no easy task, and takes a its own toll.
  • Be patient. With the job hunt. With other people, friends, neighbors, family. With yourself.
  • Talk it out. I can’t stress this enough. Or if you’re not much of a talker, or don’t feel comfortable opening up to anyone, start a journal. Start a blog. Some how, get it all out.
  • Exercise. Go for a walk, go to the gym, WiiFit, something that gets your heart rate up and your blood pumping. It helps.

The world isn’t coming to an end, though it may seem like it. There will be some dark days, days you don’t want to get out of bed, days you want to left alone. It is OK. It won’t always feel that way. It took me about four months to feel like I could function “normally” again. Some of my classmates noticed a different when the fall semester started, a more positive difference than what they noticed during summer semester.

Things do get better. Remember: Decompress. Be Patient. Talk/Write/Get it Out.