Above the Law

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I think his primary prescriptive advice — in essence, our problems will be cured with the passage of time — is naive and potentially dangerous to those who follow it.

– IU Law professor William Henderson, eviscerating the stupid arguments of WNEU Law professor Professor René Reich-Graefe so I don’t have to. Reich-Graefe went with the whole “lawyers are retiring” and “people need legal services” claims that appeal to prospective law students who aren’t thinking critically about the future market for legal services. If you don’t know why listening to Reich-Graefe’s wishcasting is “dangerous,” Henderson explains it all on Legal Whiteboard.

“The future is already here — it is just not evenly distributed.” If this William Gibson aphorism is true, then there was an extra heavy concentration of the future of the legal profession in Tribeca last Wednesday at the inaugural meeting of a new organization, the Forum on Legal Evolution. (The Forum is spearheaded by some names familiar to ATL readers, Bill Henderson (Indiana-Maurer/Lawyer Metrics), Bruce MacEwen (Adam Smith Esq/JDMatch), and Dan Katz (Michigan State Law/ReInvent Law).

While the rest of the business world has embraced off-shoring, Six Sigma, right-sizing, and what-have-you in pursuit of efficiencies and greater productivity, we are still waiting for the long-promised technology-driven transformation of the legal profession. When compared to other industries, actual changes thus far amount to so much fiddling around the margins. The Forum is premised on the idea that a way must be found to propel earlier and wider adoption of innovations.

The invitation-only Forum is intended as both a high-level networking community and as a resource for briefings on new technologies and trends. Think TED talks, but for senior in-house lawyers, law firm leaders, tech entrepreneurs, and academics. In other words, the entire legal supply chain. Without identifying them, we can confirm the room was sprinkled with the legal world’s equivalent of bold-faced names, including current and former Biglaw managing partners and Fortune 100 corporate counsel.

For such a forward-looking gathering, it was a little surprising then that it began by harkening back to Iowa cornfields during the Great Depression…

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It’s not that cold today, but don’t you worry, the polar vortex is coming, again! This winter needs to be stopped by Dennis Quaid.

Going to work or school in this weather is no fun. That’s why I stay home, but some people don’t have that luxury. This weather is terrible because you freeze your ass off getting to work, and then once you get there you have to disrobe because your office is 5,000 degrees.

Well, one law school has seemingly solved the problem of “layering.” They just keep it so cold in the building that students only have to worry about frostbite…

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When I got to law school, I thought it would be “College II.” I was good at college. I had figured out how to drink the maximum amount while doing the least amount of work without hurting my transcript.

I don’t mean the sad, old-man drinking that you do in your basement while telling your wife you’re changing a light bulb to get five minutes of blessed peace. I mean the exciting, outside drinking. With friends, and games. In college, I engaged in drinking as a sport, instead of drinking as a medication.

In retrospect, that line between college drinking and adult drinking was crossed sometime during law school. I didn’t recognize it at the time. I played a lot of beer pong in law school and even as an associate. But really, the innocence of drinking “for fun” was lost in law school, and replaced by drinking “professionally.”

And so I look at this “challenge map” for a bar crawl at a respected law school — the bawdy, ridiculous, tempting-the-fates-of-alcohol-poisoning bar crawl challenge — and I think, “Don’t these kids know that they’re already dead?”

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Could a K-Mart manager run your law school?

The Association of American Law Schools’ annual conference starts today. I’ll be there tomorrow and I’ll be speaking there on Saturday about law school rankings.

AALS is a giant mixer for law school deans. I don’t like to go, because I don’t like being yelled at or assaulted, but it’s a great conference. You’ve got to remember, law deans are not afraid of the American Bar Association or the Department of Education. The so-called “regulators” of legal education don’t do much actual regulating of established programs. Instead, law deans are afraid of their faculties. Law deans are afraid of law faculties the way kings are afraid of their generals.

Deans are not afraid of their students. Student happiness has nothing to do with whether law deans get to keep their jobs. I don’t expect that a new law dean will care about an impolite greeting from one of his new students. But still, if I see this guy at AALS I’m going to give him a hug….

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As discussed last week, I agreed to answer some questions from Professor Bill Henderson of Indiana University’s Maurer School of law in exchange for his kind agreement to be interviewed (parts 1 and 2 of that interview available here and here) for this column. This week, I conclude our exchange by answering his final three questions. In so doing, another year of writing for ATL will come to a close, and I wanted to take the opportunity to thank everyone who interacts with this column, whether as reader, commenter, interview subject, or editor. May 2014 be a year of success, health, and growth for us all.

BH: You have chided your fellow lawyers to give back to the next generation of lawyers. I certainly agree. However, between moral exhortation to do the right thing, or changing incentives within law firms, where should we focus our efforts?

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For the past two weeks, readers of this column have benefited from the insights of Professor William (Bill) Henderson of Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law regarding the current state of Biglaw. When Professor Henderson kindly acceded to being interviewed, he made a request that was both unexpected and welcome: he asked that I commit to answering a number of his questions in return.

I agreed and am pleased to present our exchange. I found his questions probing, and I have tried to answer them from a broad perspective, despite the fact that they call for some personal viewpoints that are by their nature unique to my outlook and experiences. I have answered the questions in the order presented, and have not altered them in any way. Now, I get my turn in the interviewee’s chair….

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Last week, part 1 of my written interview with Professor William (Bill) Henderson of Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law was published here. Again, I’d like to thank Professor Henderson for agreeing to this interview and for all the important work he is carrying out. As with my prior interviews, the commentary below Professor Henderson’s answers is mine alone.

AP: What current Biglaw practice do you find most disturbing?

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Wasn’t this thing invented by Gutenberg?

Maybe it took the snowstorm. I really felt like law students were keeping it together even in the face of impending finals. But it snowed over the weekend, and was very cold in other places, and maybe that wintery snap reminded law students and professors that finals are here and it’s time to go nuts.

This week, we’ve had our share of final exam stories, but they’ve been of the legitimate mistake or concern variety. Today… we’ve just got some weird crap that happens around campus during finals period…

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One of the most important voices in the academic legal community, particularly on the topic of the business of law, and Biglaw in general, is Professor William (Bill) Henderson of Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. I personally have long admired his work, and I was very pleased when he reached out to me after he had read my column on Biglaw’s “sticky seniors” problem.

At that point, I asked him if he was willing to do a written interview, and he graciously agreed, on the condition that he later have the opportunity to ask me questions. I look forward to doing so, and in the meantime I hope you find his answers to my questions as informative as I did. I’d like to thank Professor Henderson for agreeing to this interview, and for all the important work he is carrying out. As with my prior interviews, the commentary below Professor Henderson’s answers is mine alone.

AP: You got in touch with me regarding my column on Biglaw’s issues with senior partners. What are your thoughts on the issue?

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