Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Young Associates Aren't Worthless," Says Duke Dean

Thanks for that. But rather than write an op-ed in the National Law Journal, why not reform the curriculum at Duke to make better associates?

I went into this issue at length earlier this week. Yes, it's true. As a young and bright person, law school grads bring little to the table as an associate. It's not their fault. Law school does a horrid job of "preparing" law students to become practicing lawyers. But Dean Levi of Duke Law thinks this untrue:

For 17 years as a U.S. district judge, I hired first-year lawyers as clerks, and they were wonderfully productive, insightful, careful, skillful and hardworking. I gained a huge amount of very valuable assistance in preparing opinions and researching complex legal issues. Although it was somewhat of a burden to train a new crop of clerks each year, it was also a joy and undoubtedly made me a better judge.
I am certain that the same is true of new lawyers at firms, at government offices and at nonprofits. Indeed, I often have heard distinguished lawyers in all kinds of practice say that one of the aspects of being a lawyer they value the most is their interaction with, and instruction of, new and young lawyers. They say this not because young lawyers are worthless, but because they have so much to offer when properly guided.
Well, the problem with Dean Levi's logic, is that these students were likely productive, insightful, careful and hardworking before they went to law school. Don't get me started on researching "complex" legal issues either. Since Google has taken the place of Lexis and Westlaw, anyone can excel at researching complex legal issues. Frankly, very few legal issues are that complex. I know this because I explain the law to all of my clients and they all have a great understanding of their legal rights with a simple explanation. Some clients have approached me with what strategies that they came up after a few late nights on Google. So, what's the difference between a college graduate and a law school graduate? Not much. That's why complaints are mounting. Law Firms, selfish corporations that they are, are not willing to train attorneys on procedure--which can be truly complex and is NOT taught in law school. Instead, they fire young associates, or hold off on hiring and place the blame on law schools:

The criticism comes from law firm managers, in-house counsel and former lawyers who now comment on the legal profession. They most likely represent a minority view, but they are vocal. They say that clients are no longer willing to pay for the work of young associates because their work is "worthless." We might expect clients to make any argument that could lead to a lower bill, particularly during an economic downturn. But it is wrong and surprising for experienced lawyers inside and outside of firms to acquiesce in, even reinforce, this line of argument.
Clearly, the market dictates that there is no demand for an associate who bills at $350/hour. Why would there be? An inexperienced associate will take 10 hours to do what a mid-level associate can do in 2 hours. So, the clients are asking for discounts in their legal fees, and the law firms are turning around and slashing the overpriced associates. I don't blame law firms. I blame law schools. Dean Levi defends law schools as follows:
As a law school dean for the past three years, I know that law school graduates are ready and able to practice in firms, government agencies and public interest positions. Whatever room there may be for continued improvement to the law school curriculum, there is little doubt that the young lawyers whom we graduate today are equally well and better prepared for practice than at any other time in our history. Our graduates have had the benefit of superb clinical and experiential educational opportunities. Many of them already will have appeared in court, written appellate briefs and participated in simulated deals and transactions. They have had the discipline of thinking about difficult legal issues and applying that theoretical knowledge in the search for solutions to real-world problems. Many will graduate with joint degrees in business, economics, public policy, international law and the sciences. All of them have had substantial legal writing experience. Most of them are "tech savvy" in ways that both amaze and enormously benefit their less proficient elders.
It's not enough, Dean Levi. Listen to the Legal Industry. They aren't going to change their opinions because you told them to. Make Duke Grads more employable. That's what you're paid to do.
Even as conditions seem to improve, let's not permit the junior members of the profession to bear a disproportionate share of the burdens caused by the downturn on the ground they are only getting what they deserve.
What they deserve is the opportunity to show what they can do.
Why don't you do your part to lessen the burden on our young graduates? Why don't you decrease the tuition so they are able to find employment in smaller firms and eat and pay back Sallie Mae, simultaneously. You, Mr. Levi, and every other Dean of law schools are robbing our students blind. You have a duty to your students. Skaaden Arps doesn't. Jones Day doesn't. Neither does Mayer Brown. You have publicly acknowledged the problem, unlike most Deans. I will give you credit for that. Now create a solution.


  1. Preach on!!!!!

    Great post. Most if not all of the greatest attorneys before our time never had to jump the most expensive hazing ritual that is law school. They learned as apprentices.

    Our generation needs to stand up for ourselves and refuse to allow people to profit off of our desire to enter the workforce without mortgaging our future. Once we can get representation in congress we will right these wrongs

  2. I agree with massive law school reform. I would say first year should be bar classes (throwing out Socratic doesn't work method) plus legal research and writing. 2nd-3rd year should just be on the job training (perhaps taking pro bono real world cases) involving both contract drafting, motion filing, appellate writing, and trial work.

  3. Our generation is finally waking up a little. The previous generations are exploiting us and throw in shaming as good measure to boot.

    I'm hoping that our generation stops doing volunteer work, or otherwise working for free, and also questions the value of education and a lot of the other traditions in place.

    There definitely needs to be major reform in several different areas. Education is just one part of it. I think we as a generation have also moved away from the established media/news services and are utilizing the internet more to get a better source of information.

  4. I find the comment "you are paid to make duke grads more employable" a laugh...he is paid to bring in the big dollar$ from donors....He doesn't care what happens to Duke grads now as they will not be the one who can donate to his school - that is the next couple of deans problem. The more he shills for industry the more they like him the more $ he brings in simple enough.

  5. Well, the Poverty Law clinic at Duke was actually helpful for me considering that I now represent impoverished people.

    So, they have one clinic that does what it's supposed to do.

  6. "... very few legal issues are that complex."
    Yeah, right:

    Very few legal issues *you* deal with are complex because you evidently do fairly simple types of cases. Try a more challenging field of law and you might change your tune.

    In my field, a lot of prospective jurors can't even understand some of the voir dire questions, and the actual jurors have trouble with many of the standard instructions.

    "I know this because I explain the law to all of my clients and they all have a great understanding of their legal rights with a simple explanation."

    Hahahaha. The prisons are filled with people who said they understood their rights (especially the ones they were waiving) when they really didn't. And more than a few *lawyers* don't understand all the consequences of the laws that they explain so carefully to their (soon-to-be-deported/imprisoned) clients.

  7. I think most lawyers don't take the time to explain issues to their clients.. because then their role may be considered less crucial. I have dealt with very complex issues while working for big law. Trust me, they love to make mountains out of mole hills.

  8. "I think most lawyers don't take the time to explain issues to their clients.. because then their role may be considered less crucial."

    We're talking apples and orangutans.

    When a client's freedom is at stake, a criminal defense attorney's role can never be "less crucial."

    A lot of PDs either don't explain as much as they should because they're tremendously overworked and don't have enough time, or they explain as well as they can but their clients have trouble understanding either because of their level of education or because of the complexity of the law.

    Even judges have trouble getting sentencing right - and that's just at the state level. If you think sorting out federal sentencing issues is a breeze, then you're really much too smart to be wasting so much of your time bitching about your job on this blog.

  9. I'm not a criminal defense attorney. Thanks for your kind words though.

  10. I went to Duke Law School! I make $8/hour in their "Bridge to Practice" program. I'm going to be homeless next month.

  11. Thank God you pursued a higher education, Anon @ 4:59.
    Seriously though, I feel horrid for your situation. You should bounce and leave the country. You could work for more under the table in Amsterdam.

  12. I've found that actually a lot of defendants are quite well educated about the law and the legal system, moreso than many attorneys. I have confirmed this is true from speaking with partners at bigger law firms that have at least at one point handled criminal law cases, which happens a lot for the trial firms. Most of these guys started doing 18b work 20-30 years ago and getting trials because the defendants wanted these attorneys to get that experience. It is harder now to get that work because there are far more requirements, and malpractice is more of an issue.

    The issues in law however aren't really that complex. Nothing in law is complex. If you think it is complex, that could just mean you are not that intelligent. I come from a science background, most lawyers can't even wrap their heads around relativity, which I think is a pretty simple subject. Medicine, engineering, military strategy and NFL level football are complex, law is just what the fools that couldn't get into medical school or any of these other areas do because they weren't smart enough.

    It's like back when Matrix: Revolutions came out, the average moron just claimed people didn't like it because "it was too complex" and we didn't understand it. No, you probably think it's complex because you're an idiot.

  13. Thank you 5:02 PM. I agree. It's really not that hard! :) Lawyers like to make the law more complex than it is to justify their role and pay. And, even those aspects of the law that are arguably complex, are not taught in law school. Federal sentencing guideline, how well did you understand it after law school?

  14. I agree why do junior lawyers have to bear the burden. I used to hate it when junior partners slashed my billable hours. This is work actually done for the client. As such, the associate lawyer should be paid accordingly.



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