Public Interest

The ruins of a house on the outskirts of Tacloban, capital of Leyte.

Law firms and the legal profession have a long and distinguished tradition of contributing to the public interest. Earlier today, we highlighted five Biglaw firms that are pro bono all-stars.

Most pro bono cases involve clients and causes here in the United States. But in today’s increasingly global world, law firms look beyond borders when it comes to helping the needy.

Yesterday we commended Skadden for its generous support of Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts in my ancestral homeland of the Philippines. And today we recognize several other law firms that have joined in this worthy cause….

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South Park metaphorically linked the 2004 election to a matchup between a turd sandwich and a giant douche. As bad as the Bush era had become, John Kerry came across as such a self-righteous tool it was hard to get swing voters psyched up to vote one way or the other. I think of this episode today as I approach the tale of two lawyers sniping at each other over Facebook about whether a woman deserves to have her parental rights terminated. It’s not that I think either is really wrong, as much as both of them exhibit the worst of their respective positions in their online feud.

So what did one entitled Biglaw lawyer say about a poor client, and what did a self-righteous public interest lawyer say in response? All bets final once you read past the jump….

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… a damn about pro bono.

Pro bono work is often an afterthought in the minds of attorneys who have more important things to do with their time — things like “churn[ing] that bill, baby!” But for others, it’s a commitment to fulfilling the very concept their naive and idealistic law school applications were premised upon: helping the people who need it most.

We know lawyers like rankings, so we thought we’d provide you with a way to measure a firm’s prestige and beneficence, all at the same time. Out of all of the Biglaw firms in the United States, which five are filled with the most worthy do-gooders? Let’s find out…

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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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The Empire State Building, lit up with the colors of the Philippine flag to show support for Typhoon Haiyan victims. (Photo courtesy of Natalie Navarrete.)

When disaster strikes, lawyers are there (and not just to hand out their business cards). Lawyers and their law firms have responded swiftly and generously in the wake of natural disasters, giving of their time and treasure to help the victims of calamities around the world.

Lawyers and their law firms, especially Biglaw firms, have come to the aid of people affected by Hurricane Sandy, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and earthquakes in Haiti and China. We have chronicled and commended these efforts in Above the Law over the years.

In light of this track record, it should come as no surprise that one of the world’s top law firms is giving generously to support relief efforts in the Philippines, my ancestral homeland, where thousands have died due to Typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda). Which firm, and how much is it giving?

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101 Central Park West: home to celebrities, a billionaire’s daughter, and an in-house counsel.

Earlier this year, we wrote about a commendable initiative at Pace Law School called New Directions. It’s a program devoted to helping lawyers who have left the profession, many of them stay-at-home mothers, get back into the world of practice.

The New York Times profiled a few of the program’s graduates. One of them, Jeannette Rossoff, graduated from Boston University School of Law, worked at Shearman & Sterling for a few years, then left the workforce for twenty years to raise four children. After her children were grown, she completed the New Directions program, interned for the New York State attorney general’s office, then landed an in-house job with a nonprofit.

It’s nice that Mrs. Rossoff is back to practicing law, but it certainly wasn’t necessary. If you can afford to live in a $12 million apartment with monthly maintenance charges of almost $7,000, “work” is optional….

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Andrew Kravis, recent Columbia Law School grad and new millionaire.

Congratulations to Andrew Kravis. He graduated from Columbia Law School this past May, but he’s already earned enough money to pay off all his student loans.

And no, he doesn’t work at a hedge fund or private equity firm. He doesn’t even work in Biglaw. He’s a public interest lawyer, about to start a fellowship at Lambda Legal, the nation’s oldest and largest legal organization working for LGBT civil rights. He was honored upon graduating from CLS as one of two students “who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in the furtherance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.”

So how did this outstanding do-gooder also do so well? How did he earn enough money to pay off all his student loans, and then some — a cool $2.6 million, to be exact?

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This is some quality dissembling. Dean William Treanor of Georgetown Law decided to enter the fray by responding to the New America Foundation report that I wrote about last week that claimed that Georgetown Law was using a loophole to use its public service debt repayment program to profit off the federal government. By way of recap, the school agrees to pay off the income-based payments of its students in the federal income-based repayment plan itself, then raises tuition for the next crop of students and uses that money to pay off their payments later, creating a big circle where tuition is artificially (if only marginally) inflated and taxpayers pick up the tab and the school pockets the profit.

Dean Treanor’s response attempts to deflect the criticism, but the article misses the entire point of the controversy.

What’s the important life lesson that Dean Treanor learned from Patches O’Houlihan? Oh right: Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive.

And Dodge….

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Make it rain, law schools!

* With the Supreme Court’s term winding quickly to a close, it’s likely that conservative justices will write for the majority in some of the most closely watched and controversial cases. Uh oh. [Washington Post]

* Judge Edward Korman, the man who slapped around the FDA like it owed him money in a ruling over access to the morning-after pill, is actually a very soft-spoken, kind-hearted fellow. [New York Times]

* Wherein a Chicago Law professor and a Vedder Price partner argue that instead of cutting law school down to two years, financial aid should be given out like candy. Hey, whatever works. [Bloomberg]

* Brooklyn Law’s got a whole lot of drama these days: Their president is stepping down, their dean is apparently still a full-time partner at Patton Boggs, and a law professor is suing over alleged ABA violations. [New York Law Journal]

* That’s not the only New York-area law school awash in scandal. Chen Guangcheng has received the boot from NYU Law due to alleged harm done to the school’s relationship with China. [New York Times]

* When questioned about the need for his school, Indiana Tech’s dean says the lawyer oversupply and lack of jobs don’t matter. It’s about the quality of the graduate. Good luck with that! [Journal Gazette]

* This came too soon (that’s what she said). The alleged porn purveyors at Prenda Law will close up shop thanks to the costly litigation surrounding their copyright trolling. [Law & Disorder / Ars Technica]

* Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hassan won’t be allowed to use a “defense of others” strategy in his murder trial, because not only does it fail as a matter of law, but it’s also ridiculous. [Associated Press]

* Harvard Law grad Cate Edwards, daughter of disgraced pol John Edwards, took a dramatic step away from her father’s tabloid-esque pubic interests by opening her own public interest firm. [WJLA ABC 7]

* Judge Thomas Jackson, well-known for his antitrust ruling against Microsoft, RIP. [New York Times]

Here at Above the Law, we try to pay attention to every sector of legal employment. We often find ourselves skewed rather heavily toward Biglaw, but as we all know, not everyone wants to work in Biglaw — including some of the people who are ensconced in high-paying Biglaw jobs themselves.

Imagine a place where you won’t be shackled to the billable hour. Imagine a place where you’ll get all government holidays off without having to worry about showing up just for the sake of appearances. Imagine a place where your clients are people, not corporate entities. If that seems nice to you, it’s because it is.

Today, we’re going to open the floodgates for the members of our audience, prospective law students in particular, who aspire to some day work in government and public interest jobs. Which law schools should you be considering if you’d like to have the best odds of reaching your goal?

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