Conferences / Symposia

Well, I’m back in New York. It’s cold, it’s rainy, there’s no barbecue, and I’ve been sober for hours. Austin, I miss you already.

But I wasn’t in Austin to have tremendous fun, good food, and become introduced to this new concept of “closing” that doesn’t really exist in NYC. There was a conference to attend, and I’m here to report on how to get a job at a small law firm.

Because chances are, the career counselors at your law school aren’t really going to be able to help you.

At NALP 2012, I attended a panel called: “Raising Your School’s Profile in the Land of Opportunity: The Smaller Firm Market.” I figured the room would be overflowing, considering smaller firms are the only firms where hiring is on the rise. But the panel was just regularly attended, not “holy God, missing this would be a dereliction of my duty” attended (only panels with the words “social media” in the name needed overflow seating). The presenters were knowledgeable, and the attendees were eager to learn, but it seems that way too many schools are still stuck in a Biglaw or bust model that isn’t responding to the new hiring realities for most students….

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This is Elie Mystal, coming to you live from Austin, Texas, and the 2012 conference of the National Association of Law Placement. It’s my favorite annual conference, because every year, NALP just gets all the law school career services officers and all the law firm recruiters in a room, and tells them all the trends in legal hiring. We’re not talking about anecdotal evidence or law firm spin. It’s the one time each year we get to look at some hard numbers.

And in case you live under a rock, let me tell that every year since the recession, the numbers get more and more terrible. Looking at some of these statistics is as close as you can come to physically witnessing a dream die a horrible, mangled death.

This year, the numbers are worse than ever! And that’s the good news. NALP’s Executive Director, Jim Leipold, thinks that we’ve probably “hit the bottom” in terms of new associate hiring, with the class of 2011 suffering the absolute nadir of this process. While he doesn’t know if things will get significantly better any time soon, he figures they pretty much can’t get any worse.

Yay!

Does anybody want to hear the bad news?

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LegalTech New York finished up earlier this week. I survived with only a minor case of technology loop, although my iPhone was begging for mercy by the end.

The conference was frenetic, to say the least. There was a lot going on, regarding a cornucopia of technological topics and tools to help lawyers. As expected, the biggest hype revolved around predictive coding and computer-assisted review.

The legal technology world has been buzzing about this stuff for a while now, and we have covered it on these pages several times before. (Here and here, for starters). At the conference, attendees got to hear from the naysayers, the enthusiasts, and everyone in between. Several panels helped explain exactly what the technology means on a practical level. And no, cyborgs will not be stealing all the contract attorney jobs any time soon.

One of this week’s highlights was a lunchtime panel featuring two prominent attorneys and a New York magistrate judge. The discussion helped clarify, demystify, and define the terms that have been making headlines (even in the New York Times) for a good part of the past year. Is computer-assisted review as scary as it seems? Of course not.

Let’s see what the panelists — and at least one irate audience member — had to say….

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So, I’ve been in New York for a few days now. I’ve eaten pizza the way you are supposed to, I’ve spent a lot of time underground, and I’ve stayed out drinking until 4 a.m. Just the usual stuff people do here.

But I didn’t fly 3,000 miles just for Fat Sal’s. I’m spending this week at LegalTech, a seriously huge conference centered around, you guessed it, legal technology.

On Monday afternoon, everyone was caffeinated, and the halls of the New York Hilton were crowded. I attended my first panel yesterday morning: “Global Trends in Law and Technology.” The panelists covered some familiar topics, and the discussion revealed an important shift in the way attorneys relate to technology.

The times they are a-changin’….

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Judge Andrew Peck

Keyword searching is absolutely terrible, in terms of statistical responsiveness.

– Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck (S.D.N.Y.), in a panel today at the LegalTech conference. He spoke alongside Wachtell Lipton counsel Maura Grossman and Jackson Lewis partner Ralph Losey, on a panel that aimed to demystify cutting-edge, computer-assisted e-discovery technology. Peck is a vocal proponent of computer-assisted discovery and predictive coding. He is not a fan of the slightly older keyword-searching technology.

(A few minutes later, Losey had another strong opinion to add. See what was said, after the jump.)

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Plaintiffs’ lawyers in class action cases: are they heroes, or villains? Do they make too much in fees, leaving the classes they represent high and dry? Or could it be argued that they make too little for the work that they do?

Let’s discuss….

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Let a thousand law schools bloom?

Critics of the current legal-education model, including my colleague Elie Mystal, have accused the American Bar Association of failing to uphold sufficiently stringent accreditation standards. ABA-accredited law schools proliferate, even though thousands of law school graduates find themselves unemployed or underemployed.

The ABA was recently chided by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity for various alleged deficiencies in the ABA’s exercise of its accreditation power (for example, failure to consider student-loan default rates in assessing programs). Politicians such as Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Charles Grassley (R-IA), and Tom Coburn (R-OK) have also raised questions about whether there are too many law schools and law school graduates, especially in light of the still-challenging legal job market.

In light of this debate, I was eager to attend a panel at the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention on the subject of law school accreditation….

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When you stop smoking, the cigarettes don’t get together to figure out how to kill you anyway.

Benjamin Wittes, on a panel at the National Lawyers Convention of the Federalist Society, responding to the observation that smoking and traffic accidents cause more deaths in a year than 9/11.

(Julian Sanchez discusses what the web is for, after the jump.)

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I really think after-dinner speeches are a barbarous institution.

– Justice Antonin Scalia, in after-dinner remarks at the annual banquet of the Federalist Society, where he and Justice Clarence Thomas were honored for their respective 25 and 20 years of service on the Supreme Court.

(Justice Scalia comments playfully on Justice Thomas, after the jump.)

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I recently spent a week in Denver over two days (“ba dum bum”). The day I arrived, the temperature hit a record high of 80 degrees, and it snowed several inches the next evening. I was supposed to be attending (and enjoying) the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Annual Meeting, but instead, I was frantically trying to close deals for month end. A constant barrage of emails and calls from clients kept me from really focusing on the innumerable offerings at the conference.

I have written before in this space about my membership in ACC, and no, I don’t get paid to mention what a wonderful organization it is, and has been, for this fairly new in-house attorney. I cannot stress enough the importance of an organization like ACC for a new in-house counselor. Not only are there countless resources available on the ACC website — everything from forms, templates, e-groups, and career services — but there are also any number of networking opportunities for the enterprising lawyer….

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