Monday, March 26, 2012

The economics of small law and the cost of legal education

The reason that law school no longer makes sense for most people who enroll in it is that it costs too much relative to the kinds of jobs people can now get with a law degree.  This blog has emphasized the extent to which many current students (perhaps half) are never going to have careers as lawyers at all, in the sense that they will never get real legal jobs.  These are people who either will never work as attorneys at all, or will work only in temporary positions of various kinds until they give up on the idea of having a legal career.

But what about the other half?  The crucial difficulty for them will not be getting jobs as lawyers, but rather getting jobs that pay enough to justify what has become an average total cost of attendance of around $165,000 at the typical law school, at least for that half of the class that gets no break on the sticker price (Because of the reverse Robin Hood structure of "merit" scholarships this half of the class is also more likely to end up in the half that never get real legal jobs, but let's ignore that for the moment).

Nearly half of the Class of 2010 (the most recent for which national statistics are available) that went into private practice either got jobs with firms of two to ten lawyers or went solo.  Something like this percentage is typical even at relatively high-ranked schools.  For example Loyola Los Angeles (ranked in the 74th percentile of all ABA schools in the USNWR rankings) saw 114 of the 212 grads in its class of 2010 who went into private practice go to firms of ten or fewer lawyers, or go solo.

There are two big problems with these jobs: a certain number either aren't real law jobs at all, or are only doubtfully so, and almost none of these jobs pay anything like enough to allow typical current law graduates to service the educational debt -- which averages around $125,000 -- they incurred in the course of getting a BA and a JD.  (None of what follows should be taken to imply that there's anything wrong with a career in small law, which after all is what most lawyers in private practice end up doing in the long run, and which provides the only realistic access to legal services for the majority of Americans who have any access to them at all).

As to the first problem, some of these "jobs" are not with a preexisting business. This is obviously true of the solo practices (6% of 2010 grads who went into private law did so by attempting to start such practices), but it's also true in cases where two or three graduates with no other prospects decide to start a law firm, which is an increasingly common strategy among law graduates who find themselves with no other legal employment options post-graduation.  The practical challenges they face are daunting.  A friend of mine who graduated from law school more than 20 years ago, and has had a very successful career in small law, provides the following list of expenses that someone who wants to set up a solo practice or a small practice of any kind will likely have to incur to make a realistic go of it:

Rent (monthly, which includes NNN, i.e., property tax, utilities, and maintenance and repair)
Basic furniture
Parking (quarterly)
Copy machine / printer / scanner (buy or lease)
Computer / IT guy / software license renewal
Billing software
Westlaw subscription (monthly)
Martindale Hubbell Directory
Line of Credit (annual renewal fee, plus interest on balance, I pay 5.5% annually) (also you eventually need to pay it back)
Checks for Trust Account / Operating Account
Accountant (annually)
Phone line
Internet line
Fax line
Cell phone
Malpractice insurance
Website build / maintain
Yellow pages
CLE credits (need 45 every 3 years and they aren’t free)
Archive service (gotta keep client files somewhere)
Supplies (paper / envelopes / files / business cards)

Every year you need to get current publications (minimum):

Court Rules (State & Federal)
Pocket Parts for statutes
Jury Instructions
Legal Directory

If you have an employee (they get paid before you do)

Salary and applicable taxes
Health Insurance
Payroll service
SEP contribution (same % as you take)

Professional dues / bar fees:  Some are mandatory, like paying the Colorado Supreme Court to remain licensed annually, then there is the Colorado Bar Association, the local Boulder County Bar and you probably want to be in the Denver Bar association if you want to capture some of that market.   Then there is the American Bar Association, Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, American Trial Lawyers Association, Boulder County Legal Aid, Colorado Legal Aid, there are honorary organizations to which you pay dues like FACTL, ABOTA, ALI-ABA, International Society of Barristers, Inns of Court

I would say any serious lawyer is going to be in a minimum of 3 dues collecting organizations


Cleaning person
Bottled water
Shredding service

Other things to consider:

Dress clothes
Non-clunker car
Unpaid Accounts receivable
Contingency cases you lose both your time and costs advanced

Of course somebody starting out can try to cut operating costs to the bare minimum, but as law professors know all too well in a different context, giving the appearance that you're competent to do what you're doing can be even more important than actually being competent to do it.  In other words, as hard as it is to make a living in a hyper-saturated market full of experienced attorneys pursuing the kinds of clients who are not serviced by larger firms, it's even harder if your "conference room" is a Starbucks.  (None of this touches on the comparatively minor detail that law school graduates aren't really taught how to practice law, let alone how to run a small business).

The second problem is that even graduates who get jobs as real associates with real, ongoing small law firms, that have real clients and real income streams are going to get paid salaries that are in no way adequate to deal with the debt they've incurred.

How much do graduates going into small law get paid?  The available statistics on this question are very inadequate: only 31.8% of 2010 graduates in this category reported salaries. This contrasts strikingly with the more than 90% reporting rate among graduates who got jobs with firms of more than 50 lawyers.  As always, willingness to report salaries correlates very strongly with the increasing size of salaries, so we can be sure that the reported salaries of graduates who went into small law are quite a bit higher than the actual salaries found in this cohort (which again represents nearly half of all graduates who go into private law). Nevertheless the reported numbers are daunting enough: a median salary of $50,000, and a 75th percentile of $62,500 among those who reported (there are no income figures for what people who went into solo practice managed to net).

People with $125,000 of high-interest educational debt and a salary of $50,000 will, if they don't have very significant alternative sources of income, have to go into IBR, (assuming they're eligible, and that the program isn't eliminated) where they will have a monthly payment equal to about a quarter of what they would owe on a 30-year repayment schedule for their loans. This means, of course, that something like ten thousand dollars in interest will accrue onto their balance for every year in which they remain in this situation.

And note that such people are doing significantly better than the average graduate: after all, they have real legal jobs with real salaries.  They count, in the current context, as law school success stories.


  1. To those contemplating going solo, or starting a small firm:

    (a) Established law firms and well-known attorneys can blow your ass out of the water, with their advertising budget alone;
    (b) These attorneys also have extensive experience in litigation, dealing with court personnel - including the judges and clerks, drafting and arguing motions, interviewing witnesses, etc.;
    (c) If you take contingency cases, then you are taking on one hell of a risk.

  2. Uneducated women who offer sex for $ on craigslist make far more than a new solo ever could.

  3. Who would ever give a recent law grad with no clients entering a saturated market a small business loan, especially knowing that they are stuck behind the US Government if the lawyer declares bankruptcy? Does this happen? If not how do young lawyers get financing?

  4. "Solo" is a euphemism for unemployed.

  5. Bored3L: I would think this is a big part of why so few new law grads hang out a shingle, despite a functional 50%+ unemployment rate.

    You can borrow $250,000 to get a law degree but you can't borrow $25,000 to start a legal practice once you've successfully acquired one. That pretty much tells you all you need to know about how much sense the current system makes.

  6. A big problem with law school and employment is that even if you win the law school game (and get into Harvard) and win the employment game (and get a big law job), you've still lost.

    The chances are you owe a lot of money and the only way you'll that money back is if you work at a miserable job for miserable hours. Granted, if you've got wealthy folks they can mitigate the debt problem. Granted, there are a few folks who thrive off the miserable job, the backstabbing and politics, and will make partner.

    But for the overwhelming majority, its a lose-lose proposition.

  7. Last week, Forbes reported that, "there is already a bill in Congress to repeal the expanded Income-Based Repayment program, that lessens the sting of college students by letting them pay back what they own in proportion to their salaries."

    Does anyone have any more information on this? I can't seem to find anything.

  8. Thanks for doing a post on small law/solo practice, and the costs involved.

  9. Non Clunker Car?

    If it worked for Detective Columbo, why can't it work for a poor and struggling new lawyer?

    If it breaks down, the client can push while the lawyer steers.

  10. So if you are not on track to get a job in Biglaw, it used to be that you were shooting for things like the district attorney jobs, etc. You would practice there for a few years and either move up or else start your own private practice. You would of course have all of the expenses in this post, but after being in the legal community for a few years, you would have a shot of being a successful solo or small firm member after a reasonably short period of starving in order to build a practice.

    How much do these types of jobs pay today? I looked some up. An entry-level DA was $54K, a more senior one was $56K and a lead DA was $74K (all figures off of the public database). These are good public-sector jobs. They have salary, benefits, and retirement plans. Even so, you can't pay very many student loans at todays debt rates plus apartment rent, car, and food on $54K a year.

    The economics of going to law school has changed.

    By the way, it looked like the public-sector computer folks were paid around $80-85K.

  11. I agree with the conclusion, that it's difficult to win in the law school game, even for the small practioner. But it's not impossible. Although the big firms have all the big clients, there is still a large portion of the society that is underserved with basic legal services that can be provided at a lower cost by a hard working solo practioner.

  12. How much of the law schools' revenues go to paying salaries like those of LawProf?

    Will the law professors take a cut in their benefits if the law schools will use that savings to cut tuition?

    LawProf, I'm sure you collect a pretty fat salary and benefits, plus you've been a LawProf for quite a long time. I'd guess you probably have a pretty nice nest-egg, so why do you keep taking part in the raping and pillaging if it is so wrong? It isn't like you'd be starving on the street if you acted on your (alleged) principles, right?

    Let me guess...your answer is that it would do no good because A) being on the "inside" helps you "expose the scam," and B) if you gave up your job somebody else would just take it, so there would be no real benefit.

    A) Wow, it's making such a big difference now. You'd get the same exposure, if not more (plus added credibility) if you were a "former LawProf who resigned in protest."

    B) This is exactly why nothing will change. If you, who feels as strongly as you do about this situation, are willing to keep on keeping on, why on earth would anyone else do anything different, and how can you possibly rail against them with a straight face?

    The fact that you are willing to continue to take from the system that is ruining so many lives means that you care more about lining your already lined pockets than doing anything realistic to try to change it. You can afford to do more, and you've benefited so long and so greatly from what you now call a scam that you owe it to law students everywhere to quit picking their pockets.

    This blog is the epitome of hypocrisy.

  13. When law professors talk about lawyers having the admiration of their peers and being leaders of society, I don't think they envisioned your peers and society being your fellow Starbuck's patrons.

  14. I really dislike people who do nothing but get on here and bitch about Campos.

    The man is a saint just for being brave enough to acknowledge that there is a problem.

    Throw in clear writing + an occasional joke + infuriating Leiter, and I vote that we should all throw in some cash and pay him a bonus.

  15. It really does appear to be impossible. I was thinking of going solo (if I was unable to find a job) as a last resort. This posting pretty much seals the deal by showing that it is a huge uphill battle. I could do it on the cheap, (website, insurance, use library for Westlaw, couch for office, virtual office) but why bother? The area I want to move into is saturated and I have no idea what the hell it is I am doing.

    Of course...I have nothing to lose so I may do it anyway. Either way, this posting speaks of the reality of going solo.

  16. It's particularly telling that Loyola lists firms with 100 or more attorneys "very large" in its statistics when the accepted convention is to call firms with 500 or more attorneys very large. It's obvious why, because if Loyola could have touted a respectable placement number in the 500+ category, they'd have done so in a heartbeat.

    This tells me that if you go to Loyola, you have virtually NO hope of getting a job at an NLJ 250. Their placement in that sector is pathetic.

    Contrast that with a certain Loyola professor, who is irresponsibly telling folks in an "article" that they should choose Loyola over Vanderbilt if they want to become a biglaw partner in Los Angeles. (Ludicrous,I know, I laughed out loud too, but this guy really believes that).

  17. @9:24: NLJ 250 go as small as 160 attorneys. So, a high 100+ placement rate but a low 500+ rate is not inconsistent with a high NLJ 250 placement rate.

  18. The average law student debt load is $100,000. The amount needed to start a shoestring law firm is at least an additional $50,000. Plus you'll need at least $50,000 in living expenses before enough money is coming in to make your firm sustainable. That's before you buy a house, a car, have a kid, buy health insurance, etc.

    That's tough economics as no bank will lend you $100,000 on top of your student loan to establish a practice.

    New dentists, on the other hand, can come out with that much debt and easily find lenders willing to shell out $250,000 to buy a practice and equipment. (Dentists are a very good risk for banks and are the second or third highest level of repayment).

  19. @ lawprof
    Anectodally, I spoke with a loan manager at a bank (simply out of curiosity) on how hard it was for a newly graduated dentist to get a small business loan compared to a new law graduate. He told me that the new dentist can get the loan with the high amounts of student loan debt, while the new lawyer cannot.

  20. The "average" student debt load is a number relevant to lenders.

    What matters to students (and should matter to schools) is the median, and the 75th-90th percentile.

    For instance, at NYU the average debt load (of students with debt) was 131,476. Missing from that stat is that students paying full freight and taking out loans to cover living expenses will graduate with debt over $255,000. It's $225,000 in actual expenses, plus 6.8% interest (I counted 3 years of interest on first year expenses, 2 on second, 1 on third).

  21. Campos as hypocrite is the oldest troll move in the book. Try something new.

  22. I specialize in prosecuting legal malpractice claims. I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating it is to go after a newly minted attorney who fucked up a case and screwed over his client. Most new attorneys cannot afford malpractice insurance and are judgment proof. So what if I get a paper judgment for $300K against a new attorney who has another $150K of student loan debt. With no assets or steady income, I cannot garnish wages or levy on assets.

    I have raised the issue of requiring malpractice insurance to my jurisdiction's highest court and to a few legislators. My hope is that they impose a mandatory malpractice insurance requirement. The failure to carry this insurance should be disbarment.

  23. Not to mention that the vast majority of new dentists are able to find well paying jobs as dentists without having to open their own practice directly out of dental school.

  24. @8:42, the reason a solo practitioner needs a non-clunker car is that clients might see him driving it to court or a meeting. The client asks you if you are capable of handling his case, you answer yes, he asks if you've handled these types of cases before, you answer yes, he asks if you've gotten good results, you answer yes*, client sees you drive away in a shitbox, he wonders why it is the case that if you are a good lawyer, you drive such a shitbox instead of a decent car. Client wonders how it can be that you drive such a car, decides to go with a lawyer with a respectable honda accord.

    *You only answer those things if they're true.

  25. I went solo in 2009, after 18 years in biglaw. Didn't cost 50k to get set up, but certainly everything in the OP is true. (Well, I'm not in the ABA any longer). Not for the faint of heart. Or thin of rolodex. And especially not for the inexperienced.


  26. 10:00 AM:

    Uh, ok. So if you had your way, the barrier to entry would be even higher due to making liability insurance mandatory? If insurance is made mandatory the insurance companies would charge out the wazoo because everyone needs it. Demand would be off the charts. While I agree insurance is necessary for anyone, making it mandatory does not solve the real problem.....not knowing what you are doing.

    How about this solution: Law schools teach students how to open up shop. They make it mandatory in every law school. Alumni in those areas could get breaks on their student loans (from the school) by allowing current students in their area of interest to "shadow" the practicing lawyer in his or her solo practice while the law student is in law school.

    Oh wait, I forgot...that would be too practical.

  27. 10:00:

    Hopefully you don't get your way. Requiring malpractice insurance would simply add another massive impediment between purchasers and sellers of legal services.

    How about this; buyers beware. You purchase crappy legal services from some kid whose office is a Starbucks, who charges 1/10th of what a real lawyers costs . . . you get what you pay for. If the client asks the lawyer if she has malpractice insurance and she says "no," the client should ask for a discount or shop elsewhere.

  28. @10:40AM

    Automobile liability insurance is mandatory in most states, yet insurance companies cannot charge whatever they feel like because most states have a banking and insurance regulatory agency which keeps them in check (in theory anyway).

    I wish liability insurance was made mandatory and that companies charge premiums in accordance to that attorney's history. I am fucking tired of seeing my premiums skyrocket because I have to pay for the sins of the shit for brains recent grads that can't put together a simple motion.

  29. Oh and 10:40AM, fuck the idea of shadowing and mentoring. If you were dumb enough to pay six figures to go to law school to learn how to "think like a lawyer," don't expect an actual lawyer to take time out of his/her schedule to teach you the ropes. You want to learn how to play Mr. Lawyer, pay me. My hourly rate is $350.

  30. Looked at LLS's employment page. Interesting to see that 35% (125 students of 358) got their job through OCS. And of those 125, 44 (12%) got their job through OCI.

    The remaining 81 (22%) got their jobs through Symplicity and Career Services Events. This sounds suspiciously like sending out hundreds of resumes to various firms.

    While individual circumstances vary, the information provided leads me to believe that only 12% of LLS grads will get job offers. And of that 12%, who know whether the job is temporary or meaningful.

    Lawprof, do you have any info on LLS's Tax LLM program? A few of my friends looked into it and saw that it was a decently ranked program. I figured those in the top of the class will be able to find a good job.

  31. I saw many of my graduating class go solo at arts law, or family law, or whatever. Many were 25 year old children, barely capable of taking care of themselves.

    Those who I knew well, I knew did not have the skills to run their own business or practice law without oversight.

    Every morning, I thank my stars that I majored in finance in undergrad and managed to get a foot in the compliance door before the whole world collapsed. I can make a pretty excel table, and know how to find the calculator in the start menu. And that is what saved me.

  32. 11:12:

    No, fuck you. There are plenty of lawyers in my state who will allow shadowing. The biggest hurdle is not asking a baby boomer for help since they cannot see past themselves. Any lawyer outside that age group is more than willing to help.

    Also, if insurance becomes mandatory for those who are clueless, insurance companies will raise premiums for all because insurance companies will be on the hook for all fuckups by those who do not know what they are doing....because they were required to take out liability insurance. Got it?

    Try pulling your head out of your ass.

  33. Here's an attempt to bring students into contact with lawyers as part of the required first year curriculum.

  34. Re: 11:17: "...decently ranked program..."

    And therein lies the problem. Stop giving a shit about arbitrary rankings (perpetuated further by what "a few of your friends looked into") and start opening your eyes to the fact that you're all getting scammed.

  35. To BL1Y

    @9:24 here

    Lest there be any doubt, according to the NLJ itself, Loyola placed less than 6.49 percent of its 2011 graduates in NLJ 250 firms OF ANY SIZE.

    Loyola's NLJ 250 placement is absolutely atrocious.

    See here (the last school on the list, Miami, placed %6.49, so Loyola is somewhere below that):

    So, what Loyola presents, at best,is about 1 in 20 shot at getting an NLJ 250 job, but an almost certain six figure debt load (see US News: Loyola ranks high on the average debt meter).

    Loyola is a horrible financial deal (gamble) for anyone hoping to become a lawyer at an NLJ 250 firm or any firm with more than 50 attorneys, and it's irresponsible for a professor at the school to suggest otherwise. This is particularly true given it's ridiculously high placement in the 15 attorneys or less category.

  36. 11:17: I don't know anything about LLS's tax LLM. FIWIW the conventional wisdom is that the only tax LLM worth getting is NYU's, but I've heard a lot of bad things about NYU's LLM placement lately.

    I certainly wouldn't sign up for any LLM program without first being given granular data about what people who graduated from the program a year or two ago are doing now. If the school doesn't have that info then it's basically asking you to give it $45K or whatever on sheer faith.

  37. @ 8:55am

    I'll much rather take a "hypocrite" like Campos who has actually done quite a bit to expose the law school scam even though it is more in his self-interest to stay quiet or even tell BS about how things aren't "that bad" than any other law prof who is benefiting from the law school scam and not speaking out at all.

    We could use a lot more "hypocrites" like Campos than people on the inside who choose to lie about the problems inside or at best just stay quiet even when they know the truth.

  38. Given the huge difference in the value you bring to the table over your first few years at a small firm I'm not sure starting salary (for those at legit small firms) fairly presents the situation.

  39. @11:21

    You really seem to lack an understanding of how the world works. Your doomsday scenario requires 2 things:

    1) Legal malpractice insurance companies wouldn't compete with eachother for customers by offering lower rates.

    2) All lawyers would have to pay the same amount for premiums regardless of their history and experience.

    If you've ever bought insurance in anything, you know that neither of those is true.

  40. Actually, you are the one who seems not to understand how the world works.

    1) They may compete but when they are paying out numerous 100K claims, they may very well conspire to keep their rates at a certain level. Paid a health insurance premium lately? Does it seem cheap to you? Those companies that lower their premiums would not survive.

    2) This makes no sense. Premiums go up for most lawyers over time because the tail of liability grows larger each year a lawyer practices. Call Lawyers Mutual or any of the other insurance companies, they will tell you the same thing.

    So...the screw ups of the newbies would be paid for by the whole profession in the form of higher premiums. The companies would work together to establish a floor on the price of those premiums. I guarantee you that floor would be significantly higher that it is now because of all the payouts these companies would be making because of newbie screw ups.

    Wake up.

  41. I'm glad that lawprof is doing what he's doing but it is every lawprof's duty to do the we're making the ordinary and decent laudatory? If he didn't have tenure he wouldn't create this blog. You can agree with everything lawprf writes while also asking the questions 8:55 did. Greg Smith writing a NY Times Op_Ed about why he was leaving Goldman Sachs was far more admirable. Sorry but Campos is directly benefiting from the misery of the law students he is "sticking up for." The truth is the truth. I'm done making excuses for anyone in this horror show of cronyism eating the young.

  42. You also kind of have to wonder what Campos' students think about all this, and what effect the blog has had on the dynamics in class. I would be really interested in a post from one of them, actually. I know it's not totally "on point" with the blog, but neither was that petulant rant about how women don't like men with debt last week...

  43. "I'm glad that lawprof is doing what he's doing but it is every lawprof's duty to do the we're making the ordinary and decent laudatory?"

    The point is that what Campos is doing isn't "ordinary". You can count on one or at most two hands the number of law profs who have spoken out so forcefully on this issue.

    No matter how much of a "hypocrite" you may think he is, he is still far far better than those that aren't speaking out or worse defending "the law school scam".

    Hypocrite isn't even a legitimate attack. AFAIK, he has never advocated something that should apply to others but not to himself or his school or engaged in double talk.

    Campos blog and his speaking out has helped advanced the issue. That's all that matters to me. If he isn't willing to be a full "martyr" to the cause by quitting then so be it. (not that I think that would help matters in any way to do so)

  44. In perusing the new-and-improved job placement stats, I have noticed exactly the same thing as Law Prof--though the schools assert that 40-70% of grads nine months out obtain full-time, bar-required jobs, half or more of those “jobs” are in small law (i.e. firms of 2-10).

    Maybe some of these lawyers have landed in established firms of 8-10 attorneys with a lucrative niche practices. However, I think it is fair to guess that the majority are either storefront lawyers or are in some sort of arrangement whereby a well-established lawyer pays a pittance or nothing to the fledgling lawyer and the fledgling lawyer hangs around and tries to pick up some skills and contacts.

    This does not surprise me. Small law is the future of the profession, what with public sector austerity, reduced big law hiring, and increased chances of layoffs in both the public sector and big law. This is a reality to which law schools will have to adjust if they are to have any relationship to students or the profession other that of scammer to victim.

    It is, therefore, imperative that law schools adopt a clinical model of training lawyers and do so in the most cost effective manner possible. The kids can not afford to have law professors play doctrinal hide-the-ball or teach courses in Nietszche, and then assert that the students got their money’s worth because, well, all these mind games have turned them into great legal thinkers.

    Law school should kick off with a bar review-like crash course to teach core doctrine fast. After that, law school should consist of a structured series of clinics and externships. Every student should graduate from law school having the knowledge and local contacts necessary to confidently defend a criminal case, defend a foreclosure, handle a contested divorce, and represent a personal injury client. Moreover, every student should graduate knowing how to try a case and write an appeal.

    It is often asserted that a clinical model would be more costly than the current “Socratic” model. I do not believe a word of it. All you have to do is replace law professors earning $140K or more per year with adjunct practitioners paid by the course. When I was with the appeals division of the public defender, we ran a very nice clinic in a nearby law school and our only remuneration was parking privileges.

    If law school was five semesters long rather than six, if it provided practical training, if it cost 6-10K/ per semester, then the problems that this blog addresses would mostly go away. Even if the new lawyers failed to establish themselves in practice, their lives would not be ruined by debt. Moreover, I believe that a law degree would no longer be despised by nonlegal employers because it would represent a bundle of skills, rather than a bundle of elite expectations.


  45. At the school where people teach Nietzsche( I guess this is a dig at Brian Leiter) students are getting their money's worth, if anyone is.

  46. @3:41 - Just because most lawprofs are scum (when has this not been true) doesn't lower my expectations of how humans should behave. Maybe they've lowered yours but don't pretend to speak for me. You have been treated for shit for so long its apparent that any crumbs thrown your way are treated like gold.

  47. 4:01: Every student should graduate from law school having the knowledge and local contacts necessary to confidently defend a criminal case, defend a foreclosure, handle a contested divorce, OR represent a personal injury client.

    Expecting a newly-admitted attorney, or any attorney, to do ALL of the above things is a recipe for malpractice.

  48. LP: The Corp Tax class I took at NYU had about 20 people, and maybe half were JDs, the rest were LLMs. Pretty sure all the LLMs were currently working in BigLaw tax departments.

    Looking at an LLM placement rate is, I think, silly. It should be irrelevant because you already have a job.

  49. 4:14: That may be so. My point is that, right now, new lawyers have the ability and contacts to do NONE of these things. However, given that so many are going into solo or small firm general practice(undoubtedly for lack of any other option), they are trying to do them ALL.

    Whether law students should be intensively trained in one practice area, or whether they can be competently trained to handle cases in two or three, is a great debate to have--once the law schools are serious about adopting a clinical model.


  50. Don't forget the actual cost of litigation. You can easily spend five hundred bucks just getting past the clerk. Then court reporters are thousands more. If you're plaintiff's side you've got to front the costs for two years and even defense side you've got to wait for your client to reimburse you. In a routine auto case you can spend 10 grand just to get the treating doc to do a dep, much less actually testify. And forget about outside experts.

    I'm a 2011 grad with a deathgrip on my bootstraps. I've met clients in their home or the Starbucks, turned my cell phone into my "office" line, and set up a PO Box. What I can't afford is the cost of moving a case forward. It's just too expensive.

  51. Leiter's trolling is becoming painfully embarrassing. Almost as embarrassing as his blog, or his recent "article" on reforming legal education.

  52. Even the "small law" offices are easily replicated by large chains that service several smaller satellite offices in whatever niche practice is necessary.

    Solos don't have a shot in hell. Small law is all about sales. Essentially, the firm with the largest advertising budget will be the most successful and lucrative practice. It may be possible for an extremely talented attorney to garner recognition in the community via word of mouth, but this is the rare outlier.

  53. Lawprof- the city bar association in new York has programs for people who want to start their own practice. I'm sure other bar associations have the same. And you can talk to them about membership fees.
    I was disabled and was able to be a member for free as long as I wasn't working.

    But I have another concern- I see people on TLS claiming hiring is better, current stars are misleading low because of when the latest classes did OCI . Is this true ? How can we find out ? Are all the increases due to small firm hiring or have all firms picked up significantly compared to two years ago?

  54. 4:08 p.m:

    Brian Leiter used to be a law professor at the University of Texas. Were the students at Texas getting their "money's worth"? As readers of this blog are largely aware, it was raining money onto the University of Texas Law School, but only into the pockets of the law school faculty.

    It is legit, I suppose, for the law faculty at Harvard, Yale, Chicago, and Stanford to say: Our students will get big law, big salary jobs, so we can teach them Nietszche, ancient Etruscan, theology, whatever, and the other 196 law schools can find their own paths.

    The problem with Leiter, in addition to his disgraceful blog, is that he is assists other totally-unqualified-to-practice-law philosophy Ph.ds in obtaining law professorships at places like, say, the University of Miami School of Law, where the kids are assuredly not getting their money's worth.


  55. Now hold on a minute everybody and listen up youse all!

    Speaking of clunker cars, or trucks for that matter, here is a trick to save money:

    I just had my 12 year old truck inspected yesterday and it passed too! 126,000 miles and still going strong (sort of).

    No collision coverage or glass coverage and I pay about $1,700 bucks a year for insurance with Geico here on Long Island. (High rates around here for car insurance)

    But hey man, there's no lien on the truck, and as Nietzche once said: "Ze veery best car zat un can own eez a car zat you own!"

    That Nietzsche, I gotta tell ya...he was the bees knees, and had a real head for knowin'.

    So who can blame Leiter for whipping up Nietzsche/Law inspired hybrid masterpieces for the house organ?

  56. I CAN NOT believe you people missed this:

  57. JD Painter,
    You must have a terrible driving record...

  58. @ 5:21 -- that's a good catch, but it's likely to be as successful as Durbin's last attempt to rein in the financial industry.

    During 2010-early 2011, Durbin attempted to introduce a bill allowing the reduction/ cramdown of principal in banruptcy. It did not go well.

    Additionally, if this happens, private student loans go to 19-29% immediately.

    Anyway, Durbin is just a stalking horse for Obama. This is an attempt to scare the banks and lock them into IBR which, if you foolios have been paying any attention at all, is nothing more than a soft default. It's no different than the banks "extend and pretend" strategy with mortgages.

  59. Incidently for new law students here is one advertising tip.

    Yellow book and Phone book Advertising prices areoutragously high. Unless you are rolling in dough just have your phone number in the book and use your advertising money for a website.

  60. Sorry, new attorneys. Law students can't advertise legal services.

  61. @ 8:31 or dybbuk, UT is a great school now as it was when Leiter was there. Everyone would want its tuition to be lower, but it is better than at comparable private schools. So, I would say students who go there get their money's worth. The out of state tuition is higher, but that is to be expected.

    HYS and Chicago do not just teach people Nietzsche, Etruscan whatever you said. All of those schools have strong clinical programs and lots of their students participate in them. There was a link early on in this thread about a new first year required course at Harvard that has partners from Boston and NY firms teaching and participating in problem solving cases with students. Stanford has opened up its 2nd and 3rd year curricula to allow students to take courses in any area of the University. What's the point of being in a great university if you can't have access to all of it? They changed their calendar to make it possible.If you want to learn more about business operations you can do it. Your image of what those schools offer, and how they are trying to change to help their students, is not correct.

    As for Leiter championing JD-Phds-- he can't make schools hire them. There has to be a vote of a faculty.

  62. 8:22 a.m.

    UT Law is not a great school-- it is a national disgrace and laughingstock. And that is a result of the behavior of the guy Leiter, helped select as dean--Larry Sager. Sager got access to a University foundation, and used it to direct millions of dollars to the UTexas faculty, including $500,000 to himself-- and that was on top of the faculty's customary six-figure salaries.

    Leiter was a member of the dean search committee that selected Sager, and he used the following words to herald the great scammer's appointment in 2005: "It gives me great pleasure to announce that my esteemed colleague and friend Lawrence Sager (constitutional law, jurisprudence), who joined us in 2002 from NYU, has been named the new Dean of the Law School....he is one of the most remarkably eloquent and penetrating interlocutors and discussants of scholarly ideas in the American legal academy. We are fortunate to have someone of his intellectual caliber at the helm of the Law School."

    Answer me this, Mr. 8:22 a.m.: Is there anything that Leiter touches that does NOT turn to scam?

    You say that "everyone" would want UTexas to have lower tuition. Did "everyone" include the faculty? Did it occur to any of these great academics to share the foundation loot with their indebted students who trusted them? Or is such a concept beyond the looking glass?

    It is not "strong clinical programs" that I favor, but rather replacing the whole Socratic/caselaw law school model with a clinical model. Law schools shouldn't just offer clinics here and there as electives, they should turn law school itself into a structured series of clinics. And these clinics should be supervised by adjunct practitioners, not by six-figure layabout law professors who wouldn't know a courtroom from a faculty lounge.

    Once the framework of a clinical model is implemented, I would definitely favor allowing law students to audit courses in philosophy, history, and literature that bear on the law. However, these courses should be offered by other departments, not by the law faculty. Law school should be about giving law students the skills, contacts, and confidence to practice law from the get-go.


  63. Dybbuk, don't you realize your ranting and raving in the comment section of a blog makes you look silly and impotent? You probably are silly and impotent in real life, but give it a rest here will you?

  64. it is a great school. But, you disagree and we will not convince each other to change positions. So..
    Members of the faculty do not control the Foundation. And the Foundation does give money to students. It's clear to you that the Foundation ought to help out indebted graduates, and I might agree. But you must know that that would be a controversial idea among alums and taxpayers who would say, I pay my debts... That is not as simple as you are making it out to be.

    Your idea of expanding clinical education at schools that want to do that is fine. There should be different types of schools that offer programs to suit the needs of students who choose to go there. HYS and Chicago should keep doing what they do, however, which includes trying to shape their curricula to meet the needs of the kinds of students they have.

  65. 9:19 am: Speaking of silliness and impotence, try listening to this all the way through:


  66. Hey Brian, HYS and Chicago do not belong in the same sentence, no matter how many times you post it on your blog.


  67. @10:11 I'm not Brian.

  68. Getting back to the original topic...this topic is very near and dear to me, first because I have been living the solo/small firm life since 1993 and second, because, as Law Prof notes, small firm practice "provides the only realistic access to legal services for the majority of Americans who have any access to them at all."

    I could write pages on this subject, but after reading through all of the comments, I want to add my small two cents for some of the naysayers. I do NOT mean to sound like an entitled-baby boomer, because I am truly sympathetic to the screwin' the younger lawyers are taking from the schools.

    But for all of you who posted comments about how hard it is to make it in a small practice, and how all the odds are stacked against you, etc., etc., I don't deny any of it. The fact of the matter, though, is that some people who graduated in the last few years are going to make it, and I don't mean just those who hit the big law lottery or snagged a government position. I mean some percentage are going to hang in their, work their asses off, and succeed in some manner or fashion they can be proud of in the long run.

    So I would merely suggest that, rather than focusing on how hard it will be (and it will be hard. It was hard for me in '93, I can only imagine how hard it is now), start trying to figure out how you are going to make it work. Believe me, I know it's bleak, and I've been in bleak spots too. But where are you going to focus your energy?

    (P.S. One other thing. I do not know of ANY experienced attorneys who would not gladly spend some time with a new solo to help him or her out...except the A$$hole on this thread.)

  69. It's great to see a blog of this quality. I learned a lot of new things and I'm looking forward to see more like this. Thank you.

  70. A young attorney who does not want to play the big law game and devote his life helping wealthy clients lie, cheat and steal their way to greater wealth, should really consider working as a government attorney. Becoming a deputy DA will teach you how to put a case together. If you go to a rural area, you will be prosecuting felonies within a year.

    While these jobs do not pay enough to service student loans, you need to figure that if you are not in Big Law, you are screwed anyway. However, they do offer medical benefits, paid vacation, pensions and other benefits.

    If you work for a small office for a local government, you will find that you will be highly respected as one of the most educated people in that government. (Unlike a law firm, where you will be treated like crap.)

    The hours are reasonable. You can actually have a life outside of the office.

    The main problem with these jobs is they are highly desireable and you have many people applying for them. Generally you will need experience to land one.

    The notion that you take one of these jobs to get experience so you can work for a lawfirm is ass backwars. You work for the law firm so you can get the experience to land the government job.

    Setting up a solo practice is a very high risk move and all the odds are against you.

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