Posts Tagged ‘lawyer glut’

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/g/GromovatayaIrina/03/l/1458732114nc9vo.jpgIf the American Bar Association (ABA) is underwriting something — America’s lawyers be wary. This is the organization led a few years ago by an oblivious President with the stones to blame students for opting for law school in a declining economy — this while the selfsame was roundly criticized for its own considerable regulatory failings.

And despite having done more than its share to create the lawyer glut, the ABA stands around even now, in the words of one critic, “limp-wristed” while law schools race to the bottom repeatedly lowering LSAT admission scores trawling for matriculants as enrollments decline. Any wonder another commentator declares, “The ABA can’t be trusted”?

More recently, politically correct ABA do-gooders have recommended bar associations adopt a “speech code” for lawyers — the violation of which means discipline.

And just days ago, the ABA House of Delegates adopted a new model rule concerning continuing legal education, recommending in part that state bars uniformly impose a 15-hour minimum continuing legal education requirement per jurisdictional reporting period. As usual, the ABA trots out the self-serving claptrap offered without a scintilla of empirical proof that “MCLE continues to play a crucial role in maintaining public confidence in the legal profession and the rule of law and promoting the fair administration of justice.” Pretentious pretextual poppycock notwithstanding, left out as usual is the truth that MCLE mostly serves to line bar association coffers nationwide. Ka-ching!

Such was the context for the announcement of a pro bono survey project launched by the ABA last year. It was just rolled out in Arizona.

On its website, the ABA explains it offered “its pro bono survey instrument, free of charge, to states interested in studying various aspects of the profession’s pro bono culture.” One can only guess what that means although after welcoming survey-takers, the questionnaire reveals its intentions:

“You have been asked to participate in this survey so that we may gain a better understanding of legal services provided to low and moderate income people in your state. This is a nationwide effort to quantify and recognize the pro bono work provided by attorneys, as well as to understand the factors that encourage or discourage pro bono service. We are interested in the perspectives of attorneys who have provided such services as well as attorneys who have not.”

What the “better understanding” leads to, however, is another question. Otherwise, to the frequently asked question, “What are the states expected to do with the results?” — it answers:

The ABA encourages the state leadership teams to review the findings and collaborate to generate state program and policy recommendations. In the summer and fall of 2017, the ABA will facilitate conference calls with each of the participating states to review the findings and discuss recommendations.”

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/j/Jamierodriguez37/03/l/1426633399eunhs.jpg Carrots turned cudgels.

Since I ignored the first email solicitation from the Arizona Bar CEO to take the survey, last week I received a reminder to “take a few minutes” to participate in “this worthy effort” along with “an incentive to complete the survey.” No further reminders necessary for this resolute non-participant.

Based on the time it took Nebraska lawyer survey participants to complete the survey, it’s anticipated it will take lawyers more than “a few minutes” since Nebraska participants took an average of 32 minutes to finish it. And ostensibly an anonymous survey, that anonymity flies out the window if Arizona Bar members elect the Bar’s incentive to “be included in a drawing for a $150.00 gift card.”

In 2014, the State Bar of Arizona dangled a $250 Visa gift card as the sole prize for contestants vying to create a 15-second Instagram video with the mandatory phrase, “Finish the ballot. Vote for the judges!” To the best of my knowledge, the Bar never disclosed the winner or the wining video most likely because of embarrassing sparse participation. More recently, the Bar offered another gift card incentive to induce participation in its triennial lawyer compensation survey.

Compulsory lawyer servitude.

Ever the jaundiced one, I suspect these surveys will be used to advance program and policy goals of those clamoring for mandatory pro bono. Their salivary glands have never stopped drooling ever since New York became the first state to mandate pro bono work.

In New York, the forced pro bono rule was inflicted on law school graduates as a condition for bar admission. New York bar applicants must perform 50 hours of pro bono work before they can be admitted and some day hope to earn a living as lawyers.

Unlike other professionals, lawyers inexplicably remain the sole special snowflakes compelled to belong to their trade associations as conditions to earn a living. And soon enough lawyers may be the solitary profession whose services should also be compulsorily given away.


Credits: Morguefile.com, no attribution; Making Faces, at Flickr by a2gemma via Creative Commons-attribution license.


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https://i1.wp.com/cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/s/sideshowmom/preview/fldr_2005_04_20/file0002043695191.jpghttps://i0.wp.com/cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/s/Seemann/11/l/14170495919qjki.jpgProving there are turkeys after Thanksgiving, a couple of career law school académicos opined in Black Friday’s Washington Post championing “low-bono” legal services so that “talented young lawyers will devote an early stage of their career to communities in need.”

William Treanor, Georgetown Law Center Executive Vice President, Dean and Professor of Law, and Jane Aiken, Vice Dean, Associate Dean (Experiential Education) and Professor of Law at the same school, are the noblesse oblige promoters of that well-worn access to justice idea. The glut of new, unemployed young lawyers, they reckon, can charge “affordable fees” so that working people earning too much to qualify for legal aid can obtain legal representation.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/09/Ivory_Towers_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1650865.jpg/180px-Ivory_Towers_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1650865.jpgSince most people can’t afford to hire a lawyer, low-bono is a laudable enough idea — even if it comes from a pair of insular ivory tower inhabitants who from their CVs appear not to have any experience running their own law practices where they had to make their monthly nut.

This lack of real-world client-contact lawyer experience, however, is hardly disqualifying for Ivory Tower residency, as my buddy The Legal Watchdog has often pointed out. And so they blithely declare,“While pro-bono work is offered for free, the low-bono models provide adequate financial support for attorneys.” So much for the cursory conjecture of the comfortably clueless.

Young business man standing pulling his pockets inside out uid“Lower-income residents who don’t qualify for free legal aid but can’t afford lawyers suffer devastating consequences in court,” they complain citing the sad tale of a sixty year-old widow evicted from her home. “And yet even as they fall, unrepresented, through the cracks, we keep hearing about a glut of unemployed lawyers, many of them recent law-school graduates,” as though vaguely remembering a regurgitated classroom abstraction. Harder to ignore is the haughty self-serving skepticism, “we keep hearing about a glut of unemployed lawyers.” This must mean if they don’t believe it — it must not be true.

The reality is that for some time, it’s been well documented that new lawyers graduate with “soul crushing, crippling” six-figure debt. Indeed, the financial obligations are so humongous that it’s impossible for them to service those loans without a reasonably paying job. And while the economy has improved since the depths of the recession, good paying law-related work is still hard to come by. So it’s hard to conceive how jobless, low-income or no income recent law school graduates straddled with over $150,000 in debt will be in any position to “devote an early stage of their career to communities in need” when they themselves are card-carrying members of those communities.

You’d think these two well-placed high level Georgetowners would know better. Or that they’d concede at least to save face, that law school graduate debt is no abstraction — especially at Georgetown. According to the latest US News & World Report, Georgetown University  is 12th on the list of “Which law school graduates have the most debt?” with an average 2014 graduate indebtedness of $150,529 and with 79% of its grads with debt.

Any news from the jungle? | by HikingArtist.com

But unfortunately, with very few exceptions, law school professors, deans and administrators would rather not acknowledge the elephant-sized schools vs. students conflict of interest or the post-graduate employment risks and high cost realities of attending law school. As Pulitzer Prize winning NY Times writer David Segal famously wrote 4 years ago: “Legal diplomas have such allure that law schools have been able to jack up tuition four times faster than the soaring cost of college. And many law schools have added students to their incoming classes — a step that, for them, means almost pure profits — even during the worst recession in the legal profession’s history.”

Being very smart, though, I have no doubt there’s one reality they can’t ignore: “Fewer and Fewer Students Are Applying to Law School.” Also see: “Enrollment at Law Schools Continues to Decline.”

In the end, the solution, which they will eventually come to albeit not quietly and not before some law schools close will be an approach along the lines just recommended for universities by Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein. He advocates greatly improving productivity, cutting overhead and lowering the overall tuition cost. See “Four tough things universities should do to rein in costs.”

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Grape eating contest | by denverkid

Proponents also speciously called the whole thing an “authorization” to increase dues and not a dues increase. And a “kick me” sign is not an inducement for a foot to the backside.

So citing oaths, obligations, and the special snowflake status of lawyers, the petitioners hoped to add Florida to the list of jurisdictions such as Minnesota and Wisconsin where as a condition to practice, state supreme courts tax lawyers to fund civil legal services. The other states that impose mandatory civil legal aid assessments are Indiana, Illinois, Texas, Missouri and Pennsylvania. And not to be outdone, at a $100 Florida’s tax would have been the highest.

"Peel Me a Grape" | by basykesIn December, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments on the petition. Noteworthy was this scriptural riposte courtesy of Justice James Perry, “To much who is given, much is expected.”  Of course the easiest burdens to bear are somebody else’s.

‘Don’t worry about the mule going blind, keep loading the wagon.’


Speaking, then, of the noble obligations of the so-called privileged, just last month I read about the falling average earnings of solo legal practitioners. Solos and small firms generally represent two-thirds of most U.S. lawyers.

In the last 25 years, average solo pay has fallen from $75,000 to $50,000 according to data compiled by University of Tennessee Law School Professor Benjamin Barton and cited in Professor Paul Campos’ post, The Collapsing Economics of Solo Legal Practice. Professor Barton’s new book, Glass Half Full: The Decline and Rebirth of the American Legal Profession was published last month.

And no matter that lawyer unemployment remains a problem in Florida or that 44% of all respondents to the Florida Bar’s last lawyer economics and law office management survey reported their business/profitability had decreased the past two years. In the same survey, almost 40% said they didn’t expect things to get better in the near future.

And then there’s this. According to Law School Transparency, nearly 85 percent of law graduates financed law school through student loans. The average debt incurred for 2010 law graduates was $77,364 at public law schools and $112,007 at private institutions. See “Burdened With Debt, Law School Graduates Struggle in Job Market.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m well aware that legal aid programs across the country are in continual budgetary crisis. And I’m not quibbling with the need, the rationale, or the petitioners’ parade of horribles. My objection is over the means. When did fixing a longstanding societal problem become the sole obligation of lawyers? By comparison, are physicians and dentists as a condition of practicing their professions likewise required to pony up for indigent healthcare services?

Fortunately for Florida lawyers — but not so much for legal aid advocates, petition opponents prevailed. Stating that the “issue requires further study and a more comprehensive approach,” the Florida Supremes declined to adopt the proposed amendment.”

Hat tip to The Legal Watchdog  for passing along the latest moves afoot in Florida.


Photo Credits: “grape eating contest,” by denverkid at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; “peel me a grape,” by Bev Sykes at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution.

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Businessmen uid 1How improbably ironic that just the day after a lawyer fulminates at length in the Los Angeles Times about too many lawyers, too many law schools and too little oversight, See No more room at the bench, the Wall Street Journal runs a news account about Lori Singleton-Clarke, a Maryland nurse, who because she couldn’t afford a lawyer had to face the IRS’s tax lawyers alone.

Happily, she not only survived to tell the tale but Singleton-Clarke beat them like the proverbial drum. See Nurse Outduels IRS to Deduct M.B.A. Tuition – WSJ.com.

Too many lawyers, too many clients but no work?

Writing in the Los Angeles Times on January 8th, Lawyer Mark Greenbaum complains that the American Bar Assn. allows unneeded new law schools to open and refuses to regulate them. Desperate for a solution, he wants the government to step in to save the lawyers from themselves! He believes the government should consider taking steps to stop the flow of attorneys into a saturated marketplace.

There’s something wrong here. Even with a so-called saturated lawyer market, people like Singleton-Clarke still couldn’t get legal representation. Singleton-Clark couldn’t find a lawyer or at least, one she could afford.


Tax problems, consumer fraud, bankruptcies, negligence, crimes, probates, unpaid child-support, divorces, business disputes, or wrongful terminations, the list of legal challenges is ongoing and endless. So every rant, then, about lawyer glut is made in this context of an exponential consumer need for lawyer services. Problem is consumers can’t afford to hire them! So demand falls not because there isn’t need for the “product” but because of sticker-shock.

But how to fix this? Can new lawyers overburdened with massive tuition debt bear the burden of working for free or at best, for wages “affordable” enough for most consumers? How will they be able to pay off their student loans, let alone support themselves and their families?

Businessman begging for help with cardboard signAnd what about ‘old’ lawyers who long ago retired their school debts and business start-up loans? Well, like any businessperson, they still have economic constraints on who they can prudently represent. In his famous book, “How to Start and Build a Law Practice,” Lawyer Jay Foonberg explains the conundrum facing lawyers.

He cautions, “Serving the poor does not require becoming one of them. Do you have the courage to say “no” to someone who desperately needs your brilliance, but has no ability to pay?”

And with foreclosures, debts, joblessness, and other attendant strains on life, the prospects of work are unlimited, especially for lawyers choosing not to charge clients for their services. An avuncular and sagacious salesman I once knew loved telling me, “It’s amazing how much you can sell when you give it away.” So much wisdom in such a confounding statement.

Foonberg reminds lawyers they have “a higher responsibility” to pay their employees and to take care of their families. If you cannot limit your pro bono work, you may become “pro bono” and not be able to help anyone.

“Just say no,” he says. “It’s hard, but in reality, you have no choice.”

Price, demand, supply.

General economic theory determines an equilibrium between price, demand and supply. If there is too much of something and insufficient demand for it, its price goes down. If on the other hand, there’s a high demand for something but it remains scarce, that demand will push its price up.

But what about lawyers? If there’s too much supply but demand appears high, do prices go down or do they stay the same? I’m not an economist even if it is more art than science.

But a host of theories and algebraic formulas exist to explain away the phenomena of price, elasticity and the interrelationships to excess supply.

No formula can adequately explain the current situation of a lawyer glut but consumers doing without, except this. Unlike essentials like food, clothing, and shelter, the vast majority of time, hiring a lawyer is discretionary. It’s not a necessity. So even with the practice of law being a monopoly, some of the economic rules aren’t going to apply if consumers ‘choose’ to do without.

In Greenbaum’s essay, there’s a clear inference, too many law schools producing too many lawyers does not a monopoly make. He’s probably right.

Despite the incongruity of excess supply, law remains a highly elastic service. If the price for legal services remains high or increases, consumers will do without.

Self-represented litigants.

Even though Abe Lincoln may not have said, “He who is his own lawyer, has a fool for a client,” thanks to the high cost of legal services, the number of the supposed foolish, i.e., self-represented litigants, increases and the use of self-help centers proliferates. This is especially true in the midst of one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression. See Recession Forces More People with Legal Problems to Represent Themselves in Court and The recession comes to court: More seek out legal aid funds

No fool.

Returning to Singleton-Clarke’s Tax Court win, although she represented herself, she’s certainly no fool. Quite the opposite. The judge in the case, the Hon. Stanley Goldberg, called her “so articulate and so well-prepared.”

Not only was Singleton-Clarke meticulous and smart but, she was tough. The gist of her dispute was over the IRS’s disallowing the tuition deductibility of her $14,787 in expenses for her M.B.A. Even though she felt overwhelmed and intimidated at times, she didn’t let the IRS muscle her.

While she did alright as her own client, the same cannot always be said for others confronted with often overwhelming legal problems. But with the price of legal services remaining high despite a so-called “saturation,” the lawyer’s conundrum will continue.

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