Monday, December 28, 2009

Another Lucrative Field of the Law HIJACKED by Law Students!

Common sense dictates that certain aspects of the national economy are certain to expand while others contract.  For example, during the height of the market; mergers and acquisitions, corporate and real estate areas of the law basked in the sunshine of the good economy.  In contrast, bankruptcies, divorce and and workers comp claims are on the rise because of the bad economy.  Traditionally--and fortunately for attorneys--it costs money to be unemployed, bankrupt, unhappy and single.  But, no thanks to the weak and ineffectual ABA, many states have changed the laws to allow non-lawyers to do traditional recession-type toilet bowl legal work. 

I ran across an example of this trend towards fleecing lawyers of clients and income on the web today.  This article outlines how University of Pittsburgh undercuts the profits of many local lawyers, most likely also former students, by offering a class allowing students to represent people who have been denied unemployment benefits.

"The course known as the Unemployment Compensation Practicum. In its second year at Pitt, the course is co-taught by Stephen Pincus and John Stember, adjunct law professors and partners with Stember Feinstein Doyle & Payne, a Downtown law firm that represents workers and unions in labor and employment cases."

This scheme is beautiful in its simplistic approach to destroying the legal industry.  They are using law students to screw ex-grads out of an income.  Once these law students are pushed out of the door, they realize that they received invaluable experience in workers comp law while in law school--but are unable to find clients post-graduation.  Only then will they see that they were part of the machine.  Rather than hire lawyers with experience in Unemployment Comp, people in Pittsburgh will flock to the law school for free legal help.  All the while, 0Ls will be attracted to UPitt School of Law for the wonderful experience that the curriculum provides.  How many classes in law school are as practical as "Unemployment Compensation Practicum"?  So, once again, people are paying exorbitant tuition to work for free, and adversely affecting the legal market in their wake.  Then suffering the consequences of their own uninformed choices. 

And how is this possible?  Because States are successfully expediting the outsourcing of legal work to both India and to non-lawyers.  "A state law enacted in 2005 allows parties to be represented by non-lawyers in unemployment compensation proceedings."  I think it's so ironic that the type of work that can be done anywhere (like document review and legal research and writing) is sent to India instead of sending it to lawyers sitting at laptops in the Midwest.  And work that can only be done in the States because it involves a judge or administrative hearing officer and courtroom located in the U.S., is handed to non-lawyers.  What about the ethical considerations of allowing for outsourcing?  Who is on the hook when someone rights are waived or eroded because of ineffective legal representation, if it's not legal representation at all?

Of course, what I would want more than customers paying for legal help would be for law schools to lower tuition so much so that lawyers could work for nearly nothing upon graduation, so that poor people could have the legal help they need for little to no money.  But with law schools costing as much as they do, a profession that was set up to help the people... much like the schools that manufacture lawyers... have to work FOR PROFIT.  When schools adhere to their original non-profit purpose and charge an appropriate tuition, the lawyers can work for the satisfaction of the profession, and not a salary.

When will the ABA wake up and help us???

Read more:


  1. I can't help but notice a general theme throughout your blog: you are very negative, whine a lot and are self-centered. This latest rant really takes the cake (dethroning the previous masterpiece from 11/2/09 where you renege a tip). Do you honestly think this clinic is out to destroy you and your career? Do you think that maybe, just maybe, this clinic was created to help the inundation of unemployment claims attached to record numbers of unemployed people?

    Reading the actual article, I see a piece of positive journalism. Students who are law students (3L's mind you) are exposed to clients (a mere 31 clients according to the article) and learning under the watchful eye of a lawyer mentor. Hopefully, when they graduate law school and become licensed lawyers after passing the bar, they will actually be good at representing their clients instead of messing it up and being subject to malpractice suits or claims of ineffectual assistance of counsel. Being able to practice law well is what helps you build a practice, something this clinic has a direct hand in. This is a bad idea? All you see is negativity here? Really?

    When restrictions on lawyers were relaxed to help with staving off foreclosures, namely in California, lawyers were getting in lots of hot water with ethics boards. It really created quite a mess. If your suggestion is to give all this work to lawyers so they can charge money, it is a truly selfish and short-sighted suggestion that could do more harm than good. Can we take a second here? You want to stop *free* help to those who have no jobs and no unemployment checks which means they have no money at all coming in? I imagine you'd also lobby for ending programs like the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program which several law schools take part in and helps elderly and poor people file their taxes. Guess what: the IRS runs the training program and anyone, not just law students, can take part. Why aren't you crying for the poor people who work at H&R Block?

    I wouldn't have a problem with your blog if you were just honest about things: you only have an interest in helping yourself, not others. You realize in the very sentence you say you want these people as paying clients and then write you hope to be able to charge them little to nothing (pretty much what they are paying thanks to this clinic), you are exposing your true nature. If you did care about others you'd be happy that people who need help are getting it (and you also wouldn't be stiffing tips). Stop the constant whining and actually do something constructive because all this is doing is making you a champion of negative people who feel the world owes them something. If that is the epithet you want, just be honest about it. Maybe if the balance of your savings account wasn't such a focus for you, especially when, by the sounds of it, you are much better off than the people who need this clinic, you'd be a much happier person.

  2. :) I'm a very happy person. Thanks for the comments though. I just object to these types of free services when attorneys are barely surviving while under the burden of huge student loans. If schools were more inexpensive, then lawyers could the work for very little. And I was trying to point to a general trend of allowing non-attorneys to do legal work, Mr./Ms. Literal--but I'm *happy* I enraged you so. That's what I seek to do. If you cannot see the general trends of the legal field, then I cannot help you.
    I do employ the tactics of Yellow Journalism.. to get readers to tune in. I just want people to think and it looks like you definitely have your thinking cap on!

  3. Gerry Spence, in his work, "And Justice for None," has one chapter devoted to the sordid mess known as law school. He notes that we use public funds - in the form of public law schools and federally-backed student loans - to train corporate lawyers.

    These companies benefit from the public. They then turn around and use these hired guns to screw working people over a coffee table - over and over again.

    This post illustrates a dilemma: we need more hands-on training/experience in the law schools. In order to produce better-prepared, competent, confident attorneys, the law schools need to provide more practical experience and clinical programs for their students.

    Low-income people will benefit from such programs. I also see where you are coming from, Angel. Students will come out better prepared, but - if such programs take on lots of clients - they may have less available work when they graduate.

    I think the bigger issue is the ABA allowing foreign lawyers AND non-lawyers to engage in U.S. legal work. See ABA "Ethics" Opinion 08-451.

  4. commenter #1, you are dense.

    There is nothing wrong with students gaining experience. But why does it have to be for FREE?

    This isn't a death penalty clinic where the market of paying clients is super-limited and the eventual practitioner would work for some pro bono outfit anyway. This is a run-of-the-mill, bread-and-butter legal service provided to retail customers. And it is enough to significantly displace the marketplace of PAID service providers in the area.

    Do the culinary schools serve free dinners? I've stayed at some fine hotels run by hotel-schools, it sure wasn't free. If you're in a hospital and seen by interns and residents, is that free, too?

    If your livelihood depended on selling this kind of service and your alma mater started competing with you by giving it away, you'd sure be pissed. The bigger story is that it fits into the general theme that boo-hoo, everyone is "entitled" to our services. And of course, we're all Thurston Howell rich anyway, don't you watch L.A. Law?

  5. yah. you are a bit dumb. i did a criminal clinic when i was in school through a local law firm and i know they billed me out. but i got the experience.

  6. To commentator #1, Angel is not being negative, Angel is being realistic about the current job market, which is bad enough without giving away legal services for free and /or shipping paying jobs off to India.

  7. Wow...

    I have to say that this post really did seem more self-serving and negative than anything else.

    Without knowing more about the screening process for this "practicum," I don't really think it can be labeled as a bad thing for anyone, unemployed lawyers included.

    But, from what I've gathered, these students assisted people who really could not afford to pay an attorney, so the only thing they were doing was taking away some "pro-bono" work that no attorney would have been willing to do anyway.

    I have to say that I feel completely opposite to Angel on this one... I think the legal clinics in law schools provide a valuable part of the learning process. How many times have I read that law school sucks because it doesn't teach anyone how to practice law in the real world...

    But then when a law school has a practicum/clinic course that does just that, then the law school is guilty of stealing clients from the workforce? C'mon...this is getting ridiculous.

    And the reason (one of them, anyway) that students are "paying" for the privilege is that there seems to be pretty intense supervision by the law faculty who run the clinic...who are teaching the students how to handle these cases from start to finish.

    I'd much rather pay for that kind of education than to sit in a room and listen to some old drone lecture about property laws from the Dark Ages.

    You can't have it both ways... I think law schools should offer MORE of this kind of opportunity, not less.


  8. Oh Doug... for a man of the world, you have much to learn. Because Penn has opened the field up to non-lawyers, it will not be lawyers who do Unemployment Comp before long. Illustration:
    Writer - Advocate (Long Island City)

    Date: 2009-10-21, 12:50PM EDT
    Reply to: see below

    National Social Security Disability Advocacy Company is hiring writer-advocates in our Long Island City, Queens office to represent claimants on disability claims. Candidates will be trained to assist in preparing cases for hearing and provide substantive writing support in the adjudication process. Duties include file review, case development, and writing case summaries for consideration by administrative law judges (ALJs). The candidates will be trained to appear independently before ALJs on disability claims. The ideal candidate must possess a bachelors degree with a demonstrated proficiency in writing, an ability to meet deadlines, and oral communication skills. Salary increase once candidate becomes an authorized advocate. Candidate must submit writing sample of 3-4 pages maximum that reflects his/her analytical ability.

    JDs and Attorneys need not apply.

    Salary 32K, health plan available at shared cost, union dental, and 401k plan.

    Email resumes and a writing sample to

    Social security used to be reserved for attorneys until NY changed the law. Now, firms that want non-lawyers are prevalent in the field. So, these is the beginning of a trend. If Penn had changed the law to allow 2L and 3Ls supervised by attorneys, then this area would be protected. But this is the first step to taking Unemployment Comp away from lawyers altogether.

  9. FWIW, I did administrative hearings while in law school and it was decent experience.

    While it does seem that Angel is projecting a certain amount greed and selfishness, the ugly truth is that guilds need to protect themselves.

    A similar problem started happening 15 or 20 years ago in academia. Schools started cranking out PhDs while at the same time using grad students and adjuncts to do the bulk of the teaching. The result was that there were a lot of bitter, unemployed (or underemployed) PhDs.

    There was a blog called "invisible adjunct" a few years back which talked about these problems. Here is an excerpt:

    "While academics tend to be smart, some of them very smart, people, until very recently many of them failed to grasp a basic point that would have been readily apparent to an illiterate silkspinner in medieval Lyons: if you allow the use of cheap, contingent labor, you will depress the wages (salaries) and degrade the status and working conditions of your guild (profession) members, and you will fail to maintain your labor monopoly. Let me emphasize: There is something deeply, structurally wrong with a profession that allows and even encourages the use of cheap, contingent labor."

  10. The law school ought to obey Model Rule 5.5, the unauthorized practice of law. Are these students not engaging in lawyering? Why even require a JD and license then?

  11. Doogie, you really are the typical know-it-all 0L, aren't you. You haven't even spent a day in law school but you can confidently tell us that all the clients served by this program would not PAY for these legal services had they not received them for free.

    Really? How much do you know about the business of law? These people have not taken a solemn vow to refrain from using money. They spend money on lots of things they cannot get for free or steal. Perhaps if they valued legal services, they'd find a way to pay for that, too.

    The services being given for free by the school are services for which lawyers (used to) charge money, money with which THEY could survive. The law school, I assure you, is very good at collecting money for services it asserts have value.

  12. Angel: Original Anonymous Commenter here. I think a better point to rail against is the fact we can get a credit card with 0% interest for one year but not get such a break on our student loans. "But what about the economy??" the banks will whine. Well, there are those who will pay the minimum and use the extra money saved to buy things giving them their stress release through instant gratification. The others (I fall into this category) will power pay down their loans as much as possible in that one year, freeing up more money for entertainment after that one year period while coming out on the other side with more manageable monthly payments. End result: those in debt are happy (for real, not pretend, Ms. Angel) and spending is up. What's not to like? Why do credit card holders get treated better than us? Lobby for that, Angel, not for kicking the much, much poorer-than-you when they are down.

    Anonymous 12:56 and Anonymous 1:57: Do either of you have a dictionary? Look up "overhead" and figure out why your culinary school meal, hospitality training ground stay and off-campus local law firm charged money for their services. Having not sorted that out on your own is a bit, dare I say, dense/dumb. And for your own edification, Anonymous 12:56, interns and residents have finished medical school. They are doctors. They are legally entitled to use "M.D." after their name. That's very different from non-diploma-holders and non-lawyers.

    PS Angel: it's misleading to use the term "non-lawyers" when referring to an article about law students since that term also includes those who never went to/intend to go to law school. It's akin to a Glen Beck/Birther/Sarah Palin tactic to fan flames while hoping no one checks the actual source.

  13. I dunno, I have a small firm and lots of overhead. some of that is paying off student loans.

    and yeah, a non-lawyer includes law students or anyone else -- ANYONE -- who is not licensed on active status. If you are an admitted lawyer but don't go to CLE or pay dues, guess what: you cannot practice.

    why is it that lawyers must attend CLE, and pay dues, while NON LAWYERS get to practice law and take away our clients by offering them free services?

  14. Thank you, 8:32! That's my point exactly!

  15. I don't think being a "0L" has anything to do with being qualified to share an opinion on this isn't really a question that requires a legal education to address.

    I suppose my "man of the world" view comes more from my "Libertarianism" than anything else. If "non-lawyers" can do an adequate job for less money, then I do not see a big problem with them doing it. I do not support protectionism, and it sounds like that is what the lawyers are asking for.

    If these "non-lawyers" are not doing an adequate job, then people will not use them. If they are/can, then aren't we all stupid for paying for law school. Skill sets that people pay for do become obsolete or replaceable...that's just a fact of life. I don't think we should prohibit someone from doing something just to prop up salaries for some other group, even if I am a member of that group.

    And as for the last two comments above, if you are jealous of the Non-Lawyers not needing to attend CLE and pay dues...well, then you are free to stop paying dues and attending CLE and join their ranks! Or is the JD after your name still worth paying to maintain? Each year you pay your dues you will have to make that decision.

    And if, at a certain point, it is not....if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Live and learn...


  16. Doug,
    why do you want to be a lawyer again?

  17. No one is more libertarian than me Doogie.
    Libertarians believe in punishing and exposing FRAUD so that market participants can make rational choices.

    Are the ethical rules about protectionism and not about protecting clients and the legal system? Perhaps there is something to that. Nonetheless they are expensive to comply with for us, and if we don't we don't just run the risk of jail and financial ruin but are also labelled "unethical."

    so now that we've been forced to spend big bucks complying with the rules (eg going to an expensive law school in order to get an expensive license to practice law), you have more than small nerve telling us ohhhh noooo, that's all quite unnecessary. Unless we're all the victims of a fantastic fraud. Maybe there's truth in both those propositions.

  18. Non-lawyers performing legal work is nothing new. I temped at Legal Aid for a few weeks before I started my job and most of the "legal assistance" in my practice area was given by undergraduate interns (who were paying their college for the opportunity to work as interns), AmeriCorps members (who are paid crap wages) and a couple of paralegals who were overseen by 2 attorneys. My parents have always gotten their taxes/immigration stuff done by a paralegal who runs her own business.

    While there is little to no money to be made by helping people get their food stamps or other forms of public aid and setting up your own tax and immigration firm isn't the easiest thing to do, it just goes to show that a J.D. is, in some areas of the law, completely worthless.

    I think this is Angel's point. The ABA knows that legal services are being provided by non-lawyers, thus devaluing the work and credentials of attorneys, and has done nothing to stop it. The best thing the ABA can do at this point is stop accrediting more law schools and get law schools to publish audited employment statistics. If they can't or won't do anything for J.D.'s in the job market now they should at least try to reduce the number of J.D.'s entering into the job market every year.

  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. Ok, I really can't agree with this post (although I love your blog). So many recently barred attorney's are screaming that law schools do nothing to prepare their students for practice. I can only see Pitt's program, and other legal clinics or practicums, as a plus.

    As far as that Binder and Binder ad, from *professional experience* I'd say about 25% of the SSI claims that I see are unrepresented. That's not a bad thing - unrep'ed claimants don't have a lower success rate than rep'ed claimants. A disabled person is almost always clearly disabled in their medical records, and if they won't comply with going to the doctor or getting records, a lawyer won't make it a good claim. If anything, a bad lawyer hurts the claimant. It is better in this type of case to be unrepresented than to have a poor lawyer.

    Most of the lawyers I see in hearings are not worth the money the fleece out of their claimants. They don't show up for the hearings; they don't meet with the claimant AT ALL before the hearing; they refuse to request records; they don't submit the required paperwork. It makes my blood boil.

  21. in sum, kelly, what we do is not that valuable. Great!

  22. Anon: Exactly. Administrative law is NOT adversarial. Plently of people represent themselves or have non-lawyers do it. SSI law is a complete racket. Everything you need to file a sucessful claim is on the websites, in hand-outs at the SSA office, or in the paperwork the goverment mails your with your hearing information. I am hoping to open a pubic clinic to help people navigate the process instead of seeing these attorneys taking $6000.



Blog Template by - Header Image by Arpi