Trendspotting

What is this, a law school for ants?

If the American Bar Association was serious about protecting its members, it’d be trying to do something to stop the influx of market-depressing new attorneys. America might need more lawyers willing to work for next to nothing to help those who can’t currently afford legal representation, but the last thing current attorneys need is even more law school graduates competing for the few paid positions available. Let the Obama administration start some kind of Americorps program for attorneys; the ABA should be concerned about keeping the supply of attorneys competing in the private market down around levels that come within shouting distance of demand.

(Of course, the ABA is still trying to figure out how to keep member institutions from lying to the ABA. I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for the ABA to figure this one out.)

Instead, it looks like some law schools are starting to voluntarily reduce the sizes of their incoming classes. We reported on two schools, Albany Law and Touro, doing this back in March, and it seems that the trend is continuing.

I guess there are only so many disgruntled, unemployed graduates these schools want walking around griping about their legal education (or suing them over it)….

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Critics of the legal-education industrial complex would probably like to see some radical changes in the U.S. law school system. They’d probably want a few dozen law schools to shut down entirely, to reduce the glut of lawyers in this country. Barring that, they might want to see law schools reduce tuition dramatically — not just freeze tuition, which some schools are already doing, but make an outright cut in the sticker price of a J.D.

Alas, expecting such changes isn’t terribly realistic. Law school deans and law professors aren’t going to willingly reduce their salaries or send themselves into unemployment — and why should they? Despite all the warnings about the risk involved in taking on six figures of debt to acquire a law degree, demand for the product they’re selling, legal education, remains robust (even if it’s showing signs of abating).

Interestingly enough, however, we’re seeing some law schools cutting their production (of graduates, of J.D. degrees)….

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You can’t call it a trend just yet, but the University of New Hampshire School of Law has joined Maryland Law and Miami Law in the fight to keep law school tuition down during a still-recovering economy. The school reports it will not be raising tuition for the 2011-2012 academic year.

It’s a sad state of affairs when a law school holding the line on tuition is breaking news. But with nearly every other law school rushing to bilk students who will pay anything for a legal education (law schools at Stanford, Arizona State, and Minnesota spring to mind), it’s nice to see at least a couple of schools that regard their students as something more than profit centers.

Maryland announced its tuition freeze in December. The National Law Journal reports that Miami recently announced it would be maintaining a tuition freeze already in place. Now UNH Law is joining their ranks. There’s still plenty of room on this bandwagon if your law school would like to take a brief break from molesting your financial future.

Not that UNH Law is cheap, especially for a third-tier law school. But this tuition freeze is another indication that UNH is at least trying to think about legal education in a somewhat realistic way…

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In a couple of years, we might look back on today as the first point where the giant, unsustainable bubble that is the student loan market began to burst. Check out this press release:

The Student Loan Corporation (NYSE:STU – News), a subsidiary of Citibank, N.A., and a leading originator and servicer of student loans, announced that The Student Loan Corporation (“SLC”) and Discover Financial Services (“Discover”) have entered into a definitive agreement for Discover to acquire SLC, and thereby become the owner of its private student loan business as well as $4 billon of its private student loans. Separately and immediately prior to the transaction, (i) SLM Corporation (“Sallie Mae”) will acquire from SLC $28 billion of securitized federal student loans and related assets and (ii) Citi will acquire from SLC certain federal and private student loans and other assets totaling $8.7 billion. Upon the closing of the transactions described above, shareholders of SLC will receive $30 per share.

So Citi is getting out of the student loan origination business (although they’ll still have some existing loans on their books). I guess they don’t want to be the Lehman Brothers of this failing market…

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Here at Above the Law, we like to know what’s going to happen, before it happens. We therefore pay special attention to Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. The firm is a trendsetter of sorts — at least for things that are bad. Few remember, but Cadwalader faced down a bed bug epidemic back in 2007, long before every New Yorker lived in fear of the critters.

More people know that Cadwalader was one of the early adopters of massive associate layoffs, with the first sizable round all the way back in January 2008 — well before the fall of Lehman and the true start of the financial crisis. CWT was kicking people to the curb before it was cool.

Nobody knows why Cadwalader seemingly has this mystical power to experience calamities before they happen elsewhere, but one doesn’t have to be able to explain every thing that happens to be true. So ignore the following email sent around the New York offices of Cadwalader at your own risk — but don’t say that CWT didn’t warn you…

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Hello? Anyone home? Right now it feels like everyone is on vacation, even though Labor Day is still two weeks away. C’mon, folks, this isn’t freakin’ Europe.

Maybe some people are still on their “bar trips” — multi-week (or even multi-month) post-bar-exam vacations, to some exotic destination (or destinations; I have friends who have traveled around the country, or even around the world, on their post-bar jaunts).

But wait. Do people still do bar trips? That’s the question we raised last August, when the Great Recession and pushed-back law firm start dates threw customary ways into chaos. Many of you answered in the negative last year, claiming that you were replacing Carmen Sandiego-esque globetrotting with more staid “staycations” — or even using the time to get an early start on the job search, for the many readers without employment already lined up.

This year, things seem to be returning to normal in law firm land, at least in part. Not as many lawyers are deferred, and some of the deferrals are shorter (or being ended early). Does this mean bar trips are back on? Let’s discuss — not just bar trips, but summer vacation more generally, since August is a big month for getting away.

Are you traveling this summer, or have you traveled already? If so, where? Do you have any travel tips or great destinations that you’d like to recommend to others? Or perhaps you’re in need of some advice and vacation ideas yourself?

Here’s an open thread for discussion. Bon voyage!

Earlier: Open Thread: Is the ‘Bar Trip’ Barred By the Recession?

In the movie The Untouchables, Sean Connery counsels Kevin Costner: “If you don’t want to get a rotten apple, pick one fresh off the tree.” Apparently, Hewlett-Packard is taking the same advice; instead of hiring in-house attorneys seasoned in Biglaw firms, HP is getting its next crop of legal help directly from the nation’s top law schools. The Recorder reports (gavel bang: ABA Journal):

This fall, Hewlett-Packard is going where few corporate law departments have gone before: hiring fresh graduates for full-time in-house positions.

Four first-year associates will join HP in Palo Alto, Calif., in September — one from Harvard, two from Northwestern and one from UC-Berkeley. The associates will earn $115,000 per year plus a $15,000 signing bonus and undergo a training program similar to the type installed recently at firms like Howrey and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

We just did a report about how the lawyer training programs offered by firms like Howrey weren’t catching on. But perhaps HP can offer the renowned better lifestyle of in-house attorneys to buttress their below Biglaw market salary?

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Last week, we set up an open thread for people to discuss the next round of tuition hikes at their law schools. Sadly, it appears that many schools are indeed raising tuition despite the soft economy for legal jobs. Once again, the cost of legal education is proving to be recession proof.

But another, even more disturbing trend could be on the way. At a few schools, the new plan seems to be raise tuition on entering students by a higher percentage than the tuition on returning students. To keep the money rolling in, it looks like this next crop of 1Ls will be subsidizing their jobless, 3L brethren.

The situation at the University of Houston Law Center could be a harbinger of an even darker future for the class of 2013…

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do not duplicate stamp.jpgWhat should be done to protect fashion designers from copycats? Law professor Gerard Magliocca would probably say nothing, but other observers are more sympathetic to the designers. Law profs Scott Hemphill (recently married) and Jeannie Suk (half of celebrity couple Feldsuk) propose what they call “the squint test.”
Although fashion designs don’t currently enjoy copyright protection, designers who feel they’ve been ripped off do have other options. They can try suing under a theory of trade dress infringement, which is exactly what some of them have been doing.
Trade dress litigation over fashion designs seems as ubiquitous this season as thigh-high boots. Alexander McQueen recently sued Steve Madden, claiming that Madden’s Seryna peeptoe bootie is a ripoff of McQueen’s Faithful model (see for yourself here). Meanwhile, Forever 21, the fashion retailer known for cheap knock-offs, umm, affordable interpretations of designer fashion, has settled a lawsuit brought by Trovata, the Newport Beach clothing company. Trovata claimed that Forever 21 was copying its striped tees, sweaters and blouses.
You can read more, compare the designs, and comment, over at Fashionista (links below).
McQueen Sues Madden: Halle-f*&%#ng-lujah [Fashionista]
Settled & Stuff [Fashionista]

Bryan Cave logo.jpgMy friends, we have a trend. Bryan Cave has become the third firm we know of to offer its incoming associates money to simply go away instead of starting at the firm.
Tipsters report that the firm is offering some associates $70,000 to “walk away” instead of showing up for work. That’s the carrot. This tipster reports the stick:

[A Bryan Cave letter] stated that they are unable to guarantee a start date at this time .. The letter [also] said was that they are unsure if they will need any first year associates before 2011. Shady, shady, shady…

Stroock — the first firm to offer incoming associates go away money — offered $75,000. Pillsbury offered $60,000. So Bryan Cave is keeping up with the market for these kinds of things.
After the jump, a reader poll, and Bryan Cave’s strategy for incoming associates.

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