Pro Bono

Last week, the New York City Bar released a report, Developing Legal Careers and Delivering Justice in the 21st Century. To the bar’s credit, it acknowledged the role that starting a firm can play in addressing joblessness in the profession.  To this end, the bar proposes to create a New Lawyer Institute that will provide training and advice to potential small firm and solo practitioners.  And while I realize the concept of starting a firm as a way to launch or continue a legal career in the absence of other options is hardly revolutionary (I’ve been blogging about it almost eleven years), in a universe where many law school placement offices direct students to unpaid internships or non-legal positions, the renewed focus on the startup option is refreshing.

But as I read more about the program, I began to wonder if the goal is to teach lawyers to start firms as an end in and of itself or as a means to expand access to justice. According to the Report, the program includes the standard “Starting A Law Firm 101″ fare – obtaining insurance, business forms, technical needs and “benefits and cautions of cloud computing” (but nothing about the benefits and cautions of housing files on site in a physical office).  Meanwhile, substantive classes focus on “Divorce Law 101, Handling Cases in Family Court, Estate Planning Basics, New York Civil Practice, Introduction to Land Use and Zoning in NY, Basics Residential Real Estate Closing, and Everything You Wanted to Know About Landlord/Tenant. NLI participants will be required to take a set number of credits in both practical skills and substantive law areas” (page 113).

Herein lies my beef with the New York City Bar program….

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Legal and industry conferences can provide great educational and networking opportunities for solo and small firm lawyers, particularly those just starting out. Sure, there are some conferences that are a complete waste of time, but in some fields, simply doing face time at conferences year after year is critical to keep business flowing. And in other practices, conferences may offer high-level, substantive training on new legal developments.

Of course, back in law school, you could take advantage of your student i.d. card to access almost any conference you wanted to attend. And if you ever worked for a firm, your employer willingly footed the bill for conference attendance.

But now, as a solo or small-firm lawyer, conferences are on your dime. And as many solos quickly learn, conferences can take a toll on your wallet….

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Many lawyers love food and wine — not wisely, but too well. Their stressful jobs cause them to develop unhealthy obsessions with eating and drinking. A fair number of lawyers end up overweight and out of shape or suffer from serious drinking problems.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Food and drink should be sources of health and happiness in one’s life. And they’re worthy subjects of intellectual interest as well; someone should start a museum devoted to them, don’t you think?

Let’s meet a lawyer whose love for food and drink has manifested itself in a healthy way….

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* Former top Pentagon lawyer Jeh Johnson previously told us he was done with public service, but when the president asks you to join the Cabinet, it’s kind of hard to say no. Plus this Paul Weiss partner is filthy rich, so he can secure our Homeland any day. [Washington Post]

* Earlier this year, Gibson Dunn appointed a seventh-year associate as the firm’s first ever global pro bono director. We wish her the very best of luck as she tries to make lawyers do work for free. That can be a really tough sell in Biglaw. [Am Law Daily]

* Law school rankings existed long before U.S. News was even conceived of, and they broke schools into two lists: those that matter, and those without the “slightest significance.” Sick burn. [National Law Journal]

* Arizona Law alumni really don’t need to worry themselves about the fact that the school’s servers were hacked. Come on, your credit couldn’t be much worse than it already is with all that debt. [KVOA News 4]

* Lady Gaga is nearing settlement with a disgruntled ex-employee, which is too bad, because we were dying to see her get on the stand. The dropping of F-bombs would’ve been fabulous. [New York Post]

The American Bar Association is out there, fighting for the rights of law students to labor without pay. Wait, that doesn’t sound right. Maybe that sentence should go, “The American Bar Association is out there, fighting for the rights of legal employers to not pay their laborers.” Yes, that makes much more sense.

The Department of Labor sent a letter to the ABA, assuring the organization that hiring unpaid law students to do pro bono work is totally fine. This news makes the ABA happy for some reason. The ABA applauds the Labor Department declaration because of something about “service” and “experience” and other things that sound really nice when you can already pay your bills…

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Lady Gaga

* You skip over the footnotes when you’re reading for class, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg doesn’t think you should. She’s a proponent of the most important footnote in all of constitutional law. [New Yorker]

* New York will modify its pro bono requirement for LL.M. students to allow public service completed outside the country. Well, so much for closing the state’s justice gap. [New York Law Journal (sub. req.)]

* Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the government-initiated trademark infringement actions over “Don’t Mess With Texas.” Like “I <3 NY," the Lone Star State's slogans are off limits. [New York Times]

* WUSTL Law Dean Kent Syverud didn’t mind advocating for halving professors’ salaries. He just stepped down to become Syracuse University’s president — for much higher pay. [National Law Journal (sub. req.)]

* You can sue Lady Gaga for overtime pay all you want, but you do not want to face her wrath. The pop star is due in court in early November where she’ll tell a judge “exactly what f**king happened.” [Daily Mail]

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Sarah Powell, author of Biglaw: How to Survive the First Two Years of Practice in a Mega-Firm (affiliate link), helps new associates face their own unrealistic expectations about life in Biglaw.

My last post focused on how much it can suck to be a junior associate in Biglaw today. In fact, much of what I say about Biglaw could be construed as a tad critical by the cynical and jaded (or sane).

So let me begin with a caveat: what I write is never aimed at my former firm, or any firm in particular. In fact, if you choose Biglaw, I have no doubt that my firm is one of the best places to practice. My crucial point, which is not controversial, is that Biglaw’s pathologies cannot be isolated to one or two crazy partners here or there. The problems of Biglaw are endemic.

So before we get too far down that Biglaw-bashing road, and especially for the folks gearing up for OCI, let’s look at what you can get from Biglaw if you decide to say “damn the torpedoes” and push ahead despite all warnings.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

* Though she be but little, she is fierce! Under Mary Jo White’s guidance, the Securities and Exchange Committee is now cracking down on financial fraud with a vengeance. [DealBook / New York Times]

* When a Biglaw firm’s chairman skeptically says, “Uh, OK, I mean, maybe,” with regard to a future increased demand for legal work, you know things are bad. We’ll have more on this later today. [New Republic]

* With Detroit’s downfall, vultures are swooping in left and right to snag clients. Firms retained thus far include Weil Gosthal, Arent Fox, Kirkland & Ellis, Winston & Strawn, and Sidley Austin. [Reuters]

* “I’m not a 100% sure this is legal.” Two law professors have come up with a revolutionary way for law students to finance legal education that sounds like it just might work. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* Normally when Biglaw firms and legal departments go to court over contested litigation, something’s gone wrong, but this summer, they’re trying to do some good in the world. [National Law Journal]

* Soon, it’ll be known as Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School, but even with a new name, you’re still going to be Cooley, and there’s no recovery from that. [Lansing State Journal]

* In Greenwich, Connecticut, the fact that people buy homes where they want their kids to go to school isn’t a “complicated concept.” The schools’ racial diversity, on the other hand, is. [New York Times]

* Under the leadership of emergency manager Kevyn Orr, Detroit is now the biggest U.S. city to declare bankruptcy in history. Unfortunately, not even the strict Jones Day dress code could save them. [Am Law Daily]

* As one of our columnists David Mowry told us weeks ago, New York wants to close the justice gap by looking to the state’s best untapped resources for pro bono work: in-house counsel. [New York Law Journal]

* It turns out the “new employer survey” to be used by U.S. News is really just the old employer survey that’s been used in the rankings since 1990. How incredibly anticlimactic. [Morse Code / U.S. News & World Report]

* Law schools are officially ready to scrape the bottom of the barrel when it comes to filling their classes. Some are now accepting first-time June LSAT scores for fall admission. [National Law Journal]

* Our managing editor, David Lat, comes to the defense of fictional representations of the law, but seeing as he’s writing a fictional legal novel, we think he’s kind of biased. [Room for Debate / New York Times]

* Mobsters really don’t like rats, and it looks like someone who was planning to testify against Whitey Bulger may have been whacked after having been dropped from the prosecution’s witness list. [CNN]

Driving to court this morning for a pro bono appearance, my Blackberry buzzed with the headline that DOMA had been struck down. Concurrently, the song “Fight the Good Fight” was playing on the radio. Indeed.

In France, there were violent protests in the streets when the issue was up for a vote. Here, some folks give a shrug and a “meh” to today’s news. Later, when the Court effectively struck down Prop 8, people in California began pilgrimages to their local courthouses or civic centers to look into getting married. It is indeed a great day to be an American….

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