Student-focused law degrees

Mark Osler at the Law School Innovation blog points us towards the University of Dayton Law School, which offers students the option to complete the standard three-year degree in just two calendar years (including a summer off) through an earlier start date and a more intensive course load. The implications, as Mark observes, include less time and lower costs. The major downside would appear to be less time to fully absorb the law school experience.

But would that necessarily be a bad thing? I’m certainly not the only law school grad who found third-year largely unnecessary and mostly frustrating, from academic, career and even social points of view (two years is probably the maximum time you can keep future lawyers cooped up before nerves fray and friendships splinter). When you spend a year taking courses marked as “elective,” that’s a pretty good sign you’re going through the non-essential motions of a degree program.

What interests me even more than the two-year accelerated program, though, is the way Dayton arranges its curriculum. The “Lawyer as Problem Solver” program lets students choose from among three curricular tracks: advocacy and dispute resolution, personal and transactional law, and intellectual property, cyberlaw and creativity. As you might guess, the first is geared towards students who want to focus on litigation and mediation, the second is for those interested in transactional solicitor-type work, and the third is meant for those headed for the entrepreneurial new-media industries. In all three cases, this is a program designed for people who fully intend to practise law.

Now, we’re not looking at a fundamental reimagining of the law school degree here. The track courses constitute less than one-sixth of the total course load, and of the 31 courses required to graduate (30 for the personal/transactional law track), all but three are mandatory core offerings. It’s also too bad that only the personal/transactional law track offers a course in law practice management. The course looks brilliant and seems like it ought to be required for everyone, especially since the school states flat out that the track system is there to “help prepare students for practice in a particular area of law.” Continue Reading

Beyond Facebook

Lawyers are going to have to figure out what to make of social networking. By and large, as the link to the articles in last fall’s edition of National indicates, a few are active believers, a few more are cautious optimists, and the vast majority are dismissive or clueless. I can actually understand that. I’ll be the first to admit that Facebook is a pleasant distraction and offers some tantalizing prospects for collaborative achievements, but I’ve received one too many Zombie invitations to be a huge fan. Time-pressed lawyers need fewer distractions, not more.

But Facebook is not everything that social networking is or can be. Using social software to connect and collaborate for any number of purposes is still in its infancy, and there are any number of law-related applications that we’ve just begin to think about. Could we use it to improve legal publishing? Absolutely. Could it be used as a marketing tool? Sure. Could we use it to make the legal conference more effective? Why not?

Now, from Ross Kodner, who’s attending LegalTech in New York, comes word that Microsoft, of all companies, is offering the next big application of social networking for lawyers: using its SharePoint system to create a practice management system inside a law firm that runs on social networking principles. Ross is evangelical in his enthusiasm for what he calls intrasocial networking:

SharePoint connects data . . . and people . . . and opportunities like no other practice management approach I’ve seen. Intrasocial networking will propel law practices of all sizes to surpass currently foreseeable revenue targets, and to surpass client expectations. Intrasocial networking will allow law practices to intrinsically incorporate traditional corporate concepts of “quality control,” “customer satisfaction,” and maybe even eventually, Six Sigma mentalities ….

We’ve only scratched the surface of what social networks will allow us to do as lawyers. Collaboration is one of the cornerstones of the new legal profession, and social networks are the early manifestations of how it will happen. This will be fun.

Hat tip to Legal Blog Watch for the LegalTech links.

Transforming the practising bar

If you’d like a glimpse of the legal profession of the near-to-mid-future, look to London. Yesterday, the UK’s Bar Standards Board launched a consultation paper concerning the effect on barristers of the new Legal Services Act, which received Royal Assent last October. (The Solicitors Regulation Authority addressed the LSA’s impact earlier.) Here’s LegalWeek and The Lawyer on the announcement.

The BSB’s 50-page consultation document asks for submissions on how the Board should respond to the LSA, specifically regarding Legal Disciplinary Partnerships (different types of lawyers and a minority of non-lawyers practising together) and Alternative Business Structures (firms that offer both legal and non-legal professional services and that could be owned by non-lawyers, from shareholders to supermarkets). LDPs might not seem like a big deal to North American lawyers accustomed to our fused profession, but we should understand that it represents a whole new way of looking at the Bar in England and Wales, and it won’t be an easy road there.

But it’s the ABS regime that has people on this side of the pond talking, because it authorizes not just multi-disciplinary practices, which the Canadian and American bars wrestled with and ultimately rejected over the past decade, but also non-lawyer ownership of legal service provision, which is anathema to the vast majority of lawyers and their regulatory bodies. ABSs aren’t likely to appear in the UK before 2011 — it takes time to set up an entirely new governance structure for an ancient profession — but they will come. And when they do, it’s only a matter of time before they cross the pond.

There’s been a lot written about the future impact of the LSA on North American lawyers — Bruce MacEwen has been on top of this from the beginning — but it seems to me that if any member of the Magic Circle floats shares, merges with an accountancy, or otherwise takes advantage of the ABS options to greatly enhance its capital and strategic reach, then their New York-based competitors are going to want a level playing field on which to compete. And if that kind of regulatory change occurs in one US jurisdiction, dominoes will start falling all over various states and into Canada. In a globalized economy, any country that refuses to allow its lawyers to play by the same business rules as their foreign competitors will relegate those lawyers to a purely local purview. That’s not in anyone’s interests.

This is not happening overnight — probably we’ll see this whole situation play itself out around the middle of the next decade. But it’s not far away, either: by the time today’s first-year law students are into their third year of practice, this will be the reality on the ground. The challenge for law firms is to start thinking now about what kind of business structure makes the most sense for their practices and clients, because their options should expand dramatically in the near future. The challenge for governing bodies is how to prepare themselves and their members for an entirely new way of organizing the practising bar.

Here’s a parting thought from BSB Chair Ruth Evans, announcing the Board’s consultation paper: “We may not see barristers selling their services in the supermarket aisles quite yet, but we can expect changes in the way some organize their affairs and offer their services.” Emphasis added, and how.

It’s still not funny

I can understand why a lot of people tell lawyer jokes. I will never understand why some lawyers do.

Jokes about people in positions of authority — political leaders, clergypeople, doctors and lawyers — trace their lineage back centuries. They’re grounded in people’s real need to exercise some sort of control over or resistance to the authority these figures represent. If you can’t topple el presidente, you can at least mock him, safely, behind closed doors. Lawyers have been powerful figures in society for as long as the profession has been around, so it’s natural that jokes have evolved as a way to cut lawyers down to size and bring them down to a more everyday level. That’s understandable and, from a social point of view, entirely healthy.

My problem with most lawyer jokes is that they’re abusive. Good humour turns on incongruity or unexpected developments; the humour in most lawyer jokes, such as it is, turns on the execrable nature of the lawyer. To the extent he speaks or acts in the joke, the lawyer is greedy, dishonest, stupid, destructively selfish, amoral and nihilistic. (And note that many lawyer jokes don’t even require the lawyer to be more than a silent caricature — he’s just the dead object in the road in front of which there are no skid marks.)

Jokes that hinge on people being lumped into a category aren’t jokes, but stereotypes — if the jokes were really funny, they wouldn’t have to lean on the crutch of prejudice. They dehumanize people, denying them the dignity to which they are fundamentally entitled and making the “joke” easier to swallow. The lawyer in the worst lawyer jokes is not a person to be humbled, but a thing to be abhorred. Yet that doesn’t keep people like the pending Republican nominee for president from telling a particularly unfunny and cruel lawyer joke to boost his own popularity. Continue Reading

Coping with fewer associates

The Ottawa Citizen ran an article over the weekend that caught my eye, thanks in part to this succinct summary of the gigantic demographic challenge facing the North American economy:

Baby boomers are retiring and the number of young adults behind them is on an irreversible slide. Starting in 2011, Canada’s workforce will lose two workers to retirement for every one that enters it. The ratcheting price on youth is a sign of things to come for the rest of the country as an aging population forces provinces to compete for dwindling numbers of young people.

Law firm associates’ salaries are already rising separate and apart from a talent shortage; in time, firms seeking to hire new lawyers are going to find out just what a full-blown seller’s market looks like, and they won’t enjoy it. I can see two long-term trends emerging from this.

First, those organizations and regions in danger of losing talent (i.e., most of them) will continue to look for ways to staunch the flow. Nova Scotia, according to the article, is introducing tax breaks to entice younger Nova Scotians to stay or return. The drawback to that approach is that if you’re trying to compete with Toronto or Calgary (or for that matter, London or Hong Kong) on money, you’re outgunned from the start. It will likely be a stretch just to be in the ballpark of the highest offer, and there’s only so much you can spend to keep up.

Consider instead the lawyer in the Citizen article, who’s returning home to Halifax because it’s a better community for her than Ottawa. Successful lawyer recruitment could in future be less about the firm and more about its environment. Forward-looking law firms could start getting actively involved in their own communities’ efforts to become more attractive to tomorrow’s scarce young worker. They’d join forces with other local organizations and identify potential opportunities and obstacles to young professional recruitment and retention. Continue Reading

The rookie says thanks

I’m going to borrow a page from David Maister‘s blog and take a moment at the start of each month to say thanks to other bloggers who did me the honour of linking here over the past few weeks. I’m brand new at this game, and I genuinely appreciate the warm welcome to the blawgosphere I’ve already been extended. So, many thanks to Simon Fodden, Paul Caron, Amir Kafshdaran, Omar Ha-Redeye, Simon again, Dennis Kennedy, Ron Friedmann, and Steve Matthews, not to mention commenters Amir, Susan and Tybalt. Grazie mille, folks!

Ontario bar admission overhaul, part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post, here’s the conclusion of a two-part running commentary on the Interim Report To Convocation from the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Licensing and Accreditation Task Force. Again, this won’t be a blow-by-blow account of the report, but I do recommend you read the whole thing. This article (which is also appearing today at SLAW) will simply touch on some of what I regard as the more relevant and noteworthy paragraphs on articling in an altogether remarkable document. Here we go.

83. The Law Society’s articling program has been an established part of the licensing process for decades. It reflects the transition from the earlier legal education system that was predominantly an apprenticeship system to the university model that replaced it. It has provided students-at-law with an opportunity to experience and learn about the practice of law in a relatively risk free context of supervised law firm placement. In the Law Society’s current licensing process the articling term is 10 months. Candidates may begin articling at any time after the end of the skills and professional responsibility program.

84. Unlike the medical model of education, however, articling is not interwoven into the framework of legal education. There is little direct link between the education candidates receive during law school and the “clinical” component that is articles. The profession has long viewed the articling program as a bridge between the two worlds of education and practice.

Just setting the stage here.

90. [I]ncreased law school enrolments, possible establishment of new law schools, increasing numbers of internationally trained candidates [are] problematic for the articling program…. [I]n a system that appears able to place approximately 1,300 articling students in a stable economy, it is likely that the number of candidates seeking articles in 2009 could be approximately 1,730. This does not reflect additional candidates that would come from any new law schools.

To put that in its proper perspective: in 2001, the number of new applicants for articling positions was just 1,247. The system is being overwhelmed. Continue Reading

Ontario bar admission overhaul, part 1

Yesterday, I posted a brief note about the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Licensing and Accreditation Task Force Interim Report To Convocation. Today, as promised, is the start of a two-part running commentary on what struck me as the most relevant or noteworthy aspects of the report. The first half, which I’ll address below, deals with the report’s preamble and its thoughts regarding the Skills and Professional Responsibility Program. Tomorrow, in an article that will first appear at SLAW, I’ll look at the task force’s recommendations concerning the articling system.

Herewith, an annotated stroll through a very important report.

15. A national standard for the approval of common law degrees for the purpose of entrance into law society bar admission or licensing processes has never been articulated in Canada. The only articulated standard for 50 years is a Law Society of Upper Canada document, set out at Appendix 1, that was prepared in 1957 and amended in 1969 (“the amended 1957 requirements”) and which other law societies appear to have tacitly accepted.

I think this nicely sums up the imminent train wreck of a lawyer licensing system that our profession lives with today. The standard was written in 1957, amended in 1969, and tinkered with at regular intervals over the next four decades while Canadian society, the legal services marketplace, and eventually, even the profession itself, evolved into enormously different beasts. In 1957, Louis St. Laurent, Maurice Duplessis, Tommy Douglas and Joey Smallwood all held elected office. Try picturing the legal profession as it existed in that era — that’s the profession that drew up today’s bar admission rules. Continue Reading

Articling abolition? A groundbreaking LSUC report

It arrived quietly and without fanfare. I’ve seen no reports of it in the mainstream media or the legal press. In fact, the young-lawyer-focused law blogs Precedent and Law Is Cool are the only places I’ve seen talk about it so far. But the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Licensing and Accreditation Task Force Interim Report To Convocation, delivered last week in Toronto, is set to completely overhaul the process of admission to the practice of law in Ontario and, eventually, the rest of Canada. If you’re a law student, a lawyer who intends to hire new lawyers someday, or interested at all in the present and future direction of lawyer training in Canada, this report is an absolute must-read.

The main interim report is 44 pages long, followed by an additional 152 pages spread out over 10 appendices. I doubt there’s ever been a more comprehensive report on the bar admission process (nor will any other province likely try to duplicate the task force’s efforts or findings), and I can only imagine what the final report will look like. For what it’s worth, I think the report’s findings are accurate, timely and sorely needed.

I don’t have time here to break down the report in detail — I’ll be writing a more comprehensive commentary that will appear at SLAW in a few days’ time and will be cross-posted here. But this is what you need to know:

1. The Task Force recommends the abolition of the current Skills and Professional Responsibility Program from the bar admission process in Ontario. Of all the reasons the task force gave for this recommendation, perhaps none is more suprising than its assertion that right now, law schools are doing a better job of teaching students skills and professional responsibility than the law society is.

2. The Task Force offers three alternatives to the current articling process by which lawyers ostensibly receive sufficient practical training to enter the practice of law. These are:

(a) make it extremely clear to all current and prospective law students that the law society does not guarantee articling placements, and accordingly cannot guarantee that a law graduate can become a practising lawyer (laissez-faire).

(b) set up or certify a parallel Practical Legal Training Course that provides law graduates who could not obtain articles the chance to earn an equivalent certification in practical legal skills training (Australian model).

(c) Abolish articling outright (the U.S. model).

The Task Force makes no recommendation concerning these three options — it offers pros and cons of each — but it makes quite clear that the status quo is not sustainable, not least because the Ontario bar admission process is facing a tsunami of rising applications over the next few years, culminating in an expected 2009 application class no less than 38.7% larger than in 2001.

The report is groundbreaking, if for no other reason than that it squarely lays out the numerous shortcomings of Ontario’s present bar admission process and demands that the profession act, now, to change. Go read it.

Eversheds: how to set new client standards

I was jazzed a year ago when Eversheds struck a deal with Tyco to become the service and manufacturing multinational’s primary outside counsel, reducing Tyco’s complement of law firms for most legal matters from 250 to 1. Those who doubted the wisdom of the arrangement at the time worried that Tyco would miss out on other firms’ offerings and would suffer from Eversheds’ inevitable sense of complacency, while the firm would be at a greater risk of business-losing conflicts. Even when international gas and engineering giant Linde struck a similar deal shortly afterwards with DLA Piper, there was still uncertainty over this kind of approach.

Well, one year on, says The Lawyer, Tyco is still partnering with Eversheds and singing its praises, especially since the firm must get Tyco to sign off on every legal task it performs on the client’s behalf in order to get paid for it. So how did Eversheds do? Today, it’s now sitting on no fewer than six similar arrangements with other companies, each of which looked at the Tyco deal and were impressed by what they saw. Now other London-based firms are trying to emulate Eversheds’ approach, including Hammonds and Pinsent Masons. So I’d say, on the whole, that this has been a pretty successful undertaking so far.

What really impressed me here, though, is how Tyco’s partnership with Eversheds indirectly helped bring the six other companies on board. When Eversheds first proposed the present arrangement to Tyco, it proffered two cutting-edge software programs: Dealtrack, a budgeting and cost management tool, and Rapid Resolution, a project management application for litigation. But Tyco wanted more: it wanted a way to precisely estimate the total amount it was spending on its legal services company-wide.

Eversheds rose to the challenge and integrated Dealtrack and Rapid Resolution into a more powerful new program called the Global Account Management System (GAMS). “The system breaks down a company’s legal spend by country, jurisdiction or practice area, providing a heat map [of] where money is being either wasted or used efficiently,” says The Lawyer. But there’s more to it than even that. Continue Reading