Public Interest

It’s that time of the year again. No, we’re not talking about the Above the Law holiday party, which happened already. Or the ATL holiday card contest, which is now underway.

It’s time for celebration of a different sort — time to celebrate, and congratulate, the latest class of Skadden Fellows. The winners of these prestigious public interest fellowships were just announced, as they are every December.

As explained in the Skadden Fellowship Foundation’s press release, the 28 new fellows are graduating law students or judicial law clerks who are devoting their careers to public interest work. They’ll be working for organizations located in nine states and the District of Columbia, “focusing on issues ranging from the health and safety of low-wage immigrant workers in California to representing Russian-speaking victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking in New York.”

(Baby Jesus would be proud of what they do. Unless they work for the ACLU and try to ruin his birthday.)

Who are the Skadden fellows for 2012? Which law schools produced the most fellows? And what’s different about this year’s program compared to past years?

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* Apprenticeship programs sound great (especially to Lat), but will they help you to become a lawyer? Of course they will, but only if you don’t mind failing the bar exam a few times. [National Law Journal]

* According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 100 jobs were added to legal sector in November. Cue unemployed lawyers singing: “Santa baby, slip a law job under the tree, for me?” [Am Law Daily]

* Things you can sell as a practicing attorney: your soul, your dignity, and your standards. Things you can’t sell as a practicing attorney: babies (but it sure is a great way to abort your career). [Daily Mail]

* When you earn $1.50 in attorney’s fees, it’s just not worth it to be nice. Something to remember before you take out six figures of loan debt to become a public interest lawyer. [Wall Street Journal]

* A lesson to be learned by all mothers-in-law: you do not question a man’s sexual prowess, even if there’s a chance that he might be shooting blanks. [New York Post]

Here at Above the Law, there’s been a long-running debate between our editors over the benefits of going to law school. As most of our readers know, Lat is in favor of going to law school, and Elie is usually against it. My own views fall somewhere in the middle.

And regardless of the brand name quality of the law schools we attended, we can each express our opinions about the costs and benefits of going to law school because we’ve been there ourselves.

But what happens when someone who didn’t attend law school — someone who apparently doesn’t even know how long law school lasts — starts giving out career advice to prospective law students?

Ridiculousness, and lots of it….

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[A] rush to open the practice of law to unschooled, unregulated nonlawyers is not the solution [to the justice gap]. This would cause grave harm to clients. Even matters that appear simple, such as uncontested divorces, involve myriad legal rights and responsibilities. If the case is not handled by a professional with appropriate legal training, a person can suffer serious long-term consequences affecting loved ones or financial security.

William T. “Bill” Robinson III, president of the American Bar Association (ABA), in a letter to the editor of the New York Times. Robinson’s letter responds to an NYT staff editorial arguing that “allow[ing] nonlawyers into the mix” could help address the justice gap, i.e., low-income Americans’ need for legal services.

Lawyers like to complain about the billable hours requirements at their firms. A common question seems to be what will count and what won’t. In this line of work, time is money, and many associates want to know if they’re wasting their time.

If the firm makes you go to a professional development event, are you losing out on hours? If you get wrangled into doing pro bono work, are your weekly billables for paid clients going to plummet? And will that ultimately get reflected in your bonus check?

Yesterday, we lamented the fact that we often report on depressing news about the state of the legal profession in this country. Today, we actually have some good news. Jenner & Block realized that their lawyers shouldn’t be toiling away in their dungeons offices and forgoing pro bono opportunities in order to meet their billable hours requirements.

The firm remembered that this profession is supposed to be about helping the less fortunate, and it has adjusted its policies accordingly….

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State bar associations could help address [low-income Americans' need for legal services] by requiring lawyers to report their pro bono service — such disclosure would likely increase many lawyers’ service to the recommended 3 percent to 5 percent of their paid work. Another step is to allow nonlawyers into the mix. The American Bar Association has insisted that only lawyers can provide legal services, but there are many things nonlawyers should be able to handle, like processing uncontested divorces.

– a New York Times staff editorial entitled Addressing the Justice Gap, which offers several proposals for reform of the legal profession. You can read the full piece here.

Under new management?

There has been a lot of talk in the media lately about how law schools are failing to adequately prepare recent graduates for the working world. Because after having your nose in a book for three years, let’s face it, you probably don’t know how to do “useful things with the law” that would actually help a client.

Law schools have also been under fire for their apparently inability to employ recent graduates in the legal work force. While some law schools are simply gaming their employment numbers, others are creating temporary employment opportunities so their graduates can be employed at graduation.

And in the spirit of killing two birds with one stone, law schools may soon have a solution for both of these problems. Instead of inventing temporary jobs to make you “practice-ready,” they might invent a whole law firm….

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Layoffs at law firms have slowed to a trickle (although we still hear the occasional rumor; email us with your tips). In the public sector, however, layoffs continue — and may even accelerate, as state governments and the federal government grapple with contentious budget issues.

Today brings word of major layoffs in Connecticut. In a just-issued report, Judge Barbara Quinn, Chief Court Administrator, laid out some serious cuts to positions in the judicial branch.

How serious? This may be hard to believe, but the number of jobs being axed exceeds the February 2009 bloodbath at Latham & Watkins….

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Reema Bajaj: pretty and professional.

I have previously expressed my belief in the innocence of Reema N. Bajaj, the 25-year-old lawyer who has been charged with prostitution. This Illinois solo practitioner didn’t strike me as a prostitute — and some who know her personally concur. A classmate of Bajaj from Northern Illinois University College of Law expressed his shock at the charges, and college students whom Bajaj taught described a caring and considerate teacher — an unlikely lawbreaker.

But, in fairness to the prosecution, evidence does exist that could be construed as supporting the charges. And some of this evidence is rather salacious — to wit, photographs of Reema Bajaj’s bajayjay.

If you have delicate sensibilities, please stop reading here. If you have a stomach for somewhat scandalous (but still safe for work) material, however, you may continue….

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Joseph Flom

Back in February, Joseph Flom — name partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, and one of the nation’s most successful and prominent lawyers — passed away, at the age of 87. During his life, Flom earned well-deserved renown as an attorney, philanthropist, and mentor. He was also a wonderful father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, many times over.

Joe Flom, R.I.P. — and R.I.C.H. As you might expect from the name partner of one of the world’s largest and most lucrative law firms, Flom left behind a vast fortune.

It might seem tacky to talk about this. But that hasn’t stopped us before given Flom’s commitment to charity, it’s actually heartwarming to see all of the worthy causes that will be receiving much-needed funds from the Flom estate.

So how much are we talking about? And who are beneficiaries of his will?

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