Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Better Legal Profession

Perhaps some of you have heard about Law Students Building A Better Legal Profession, started by a group of Stanford Law students. They've gotten a lot of press recently (NYT article here) because they are a student group that aims to rank firms based on three factors: diversity, billable hours, and pro bono, under the assumption that these three factors make law firms more humane places to work.

While I'm not certain to what degree this effort will have on firms in terms of changing their policies, I do think that any effort on the part of law students can only put pressure on firms to clean up their acts.

But I have two critiques:
1. (minor) The group uses NALP data, which is entirely firm-reported, which of course distorts the reality of the situation. Just like in law school where 1/8 Native American or 1/8 Latino will get you put into the law school's diversity statistics, 1/8 will also put you in a firm's diversity statistics. To what degree having 7/8 white "minority" partners will make a firm a better place to work is a philosophical question not to be touched on here. Likewise, the billable hours are also skewed. For example, Jones Day New York reports 1,800 billables. I would have to be stupid to believe that number, since (a) no NY firm would pass with 1,800 billables and (b) the firm's nickname is not Jones Day, Nights, and Weekends without a reason.

2. (major) The group stresses "building a better legal profession," yet their url is refirmation and tabulates the statistics only for major law firms. But to say that biglaw encompasses the entire "legal profession" is both arrogant and naive. Perhaps at elite schools, biglaw is the measure of success, and everyone not in public interest who goes to a firm earning under $100,000 is somehow a "failure." (Note: these are not my words, but is the sentiment of students at many top law schools, including my own.) But at the other 9/10 of law schools in the country, only a select few end up at biglaw. Indeed, only 10.36% of all lawyers in the entire country work for biglaw (14% of the 74% in private practice), so I really don't see how statistics about big law firms will help "build a better legal profession." How does the group help improve the legal profession for the other 89.64% of lawyers?


Blogger Strange Bird said...

I might have wondered those things at the meeting if it didn't just depress the hell out of me, since apparently being a woman in law means that my career will end in five years (so, just enough time to pay back my loans). Thanks for the reminder that the info doesn't apply to the entire profession.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Michele said...

Dear Fox,
This is a terrific comment. The response is that this is only the beginning. (But a darn good one -- see our website at This of course is a student organization and is building its agenda and doing what it can as fast as it can given the demands of schoolwork, other activities (like public interest work and clinics) and limited financial resources. We started with biglaw because 1. it is where the most glaring need is given the sheer numbers of lawyers hired by large firms, and 2. because large firms often set the tone for the rest of the profession; 3. Stanford is a school where students are blessed to have a lot of choices and with those choices comes some ability to have market influence, so they wanted to try to develop that leverage to promote social change. But of course that was the judgment of the students who did the work and you could definitely disagree with it. Fortunately there is more than enough work to go around and more than enough room for all to contribute. Start a chapter at your law school and investigate diversity in mid-size firms, or quality of life for lawyers from midsize law schools. These would be great issues for a SoCal chapter and we would be really excited to have your participating and that of your colleagues there.
Best regards,
Michele Dauber
Professor of Law
Stanford University

8:33 PM  

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