In Praise of Court TV

This —praising court TV —may sound strange coming from me.  I try to stay above the fray.  No Night Court for me!  I am a professional.

So you will understand why I am not truly proud of finding myself “glued to the tube” for the last two days watching a televised hearing in the Georgia case involving the allegations of election interference against former President Trump.  The hearing is, in my opinion, a great departure and distraction from the important issues involved in the case, nevertheless I recognize that it has value.  For law junkies like me, but, most important, for law students and entry-level lawyers.

I am a child of the law.  My interest in law started when I was a small child and my lawyer Dad took me to his office from time to time.  On some of those days, he and I would walk to the courthouse where I would sit on a bench in the hallway while my Dad met briefly with the judge or with the clerk of court to file a paper.  I had no idea what those papers were all about, but I loved just being in the historic courthouse with its high ceilings and huge portraits of men in black robes too high for me to see clearly but lending to the feel of serious business.

The rest is history.  I never gave up those early feelings of reverence that blossomed full into what I am today and have been for the last 45 years of my life.  A law junkie.  And that law junkie part of me has been on full view over the last few days.  Whether I like it or not.

Some people, including me, wish that cameras were allowed in the courtroom of the United States Supreme Court.  That could be very instructive and provide the opportunity to see and hear some of the great legal minds of our times at work, both judges and litigants.  But it is not the best opportunity to view what is most important for young lawyers to know and to learn.

That distinction goes to the trial courts where cameras are allowed in many jurisdictions today.  That is where you learn how to address the judge, how to question a witness, how to respond to objections from opposing counsel, how to move documents into evidence, and how to make persuasive arguments pertaining to both the facts and the law. It is where you are not impressed by the stateliness of the surroundings and where those in the courtroom remind you of the common folks you see and hear every day.  Those are the courtrooms and the people of your future, at least for most of you.

So, tune in with me and watch what is going on in a trial court in Georgia.  And visit local trial courts in person.  Take a break from studying contracts or billing hours.  Sit in the back of the courtroom for awhile and take it all in.  Imagine yourself doing it.

Oops …  I have to go.  Court is back in session!

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Pre-Law Students Have a Choice: Logic Games or No Logic Games

Logic games, including those on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), are a nightmare for many people.  Nothing new there.  But what is new is that the LSAT soon will not include logic games.

The inclusion of logic games on the LSAT has been challenged by students with disabilities, and, in response, the Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT, has decided to cut its losses and get rid of logic games.

That decision creates a choice for pre-law students and others anticipating law school application.  For those who decide to take the LSAT and are OK with logic games, they still have an opportunity to take the traditional format, which includes logic games, until the end of the 2023-2024 test cycle.  And for those who are not OK with logic games, waiting until after August 2024 is for you.

And for all of those who took the LSAT in the past and were not OK with logic games, there is no remedy for you!  That includes me.  Logic games nearly made me break out in hives on the LSAT, but I was perfectly fine with logical reasoning in law school.  Go figure.

You can read more about it here.

And you also need to remember that the LSAT is not the only show in town.   Some law schools now accept other proficiency and predictive tests in lieu of the LSAT.  It is important for all applicants to do research long before law school application deadlines and in time to apply for the test of choice.

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Undergraduate Law Reviews: A Novel and Valuable Concept

If you are a college or university undergraduate and are interested in a career in the law, writing for a law review or law journal would be a very useful tool to use as leverage when applying to law schools.  However, most colleges and universities do not offer that opportunity.  And the law schools on those campuses do not allow undergraduate students to publish articles in the law schools’ reviews or journals.

However, that is changing.  A recent article in the Daily Tarheel  announced the founding of the Undergraduate Law Association at the University of North Carolina (UNC).  The organization intends to publish law journal articles written by undergraduate students, establish a moot court program, and work with UNC Law School on projects.

This is not the first time an undergraduate college or university has taken similar steps to give interested students an edge on acceptance to law school.  Other undergraduate law reviews exist across the country at schools like the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, Stanford University and College of the Holy Cross.  However, programs like this are still novel.

I had experience with students in one of those programs some years ago when I spoke to the students enrolled in the undergraduate law review program at College of the Holy Cross.  Those students were interested in hearing about the subjects included in my book series for young lawyers, and it was a very rewarding experience for me.  The students were very capable, well-informed, dedicated to their cause and anxious to learn as much as possible to prepare themselves for success in law school and legal practice.  And they put out an impressive product.  At the time, I believe that the program at College of the Holy Cross was one of the only such programs in the country, and I was inspired by the vision of the founders there.

Likewise, bravo to the UNC students who envisioned this new program.  I wish them good luck.  Establishing a platform for undergraduates, by undergraduates, is a heavy lift. Most law journals are run by current law students and feature articles by professors, other law students and practicing attorneys.  Undergraduates need not apply!

But change is in the air. I hope these programs are very successful and establish a trend.



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Is Handling Medical and Family Leave Really That Difficult for Firms?

This one is hard to believe.  Above The Law recently reported on a law firm that took the “opportunity” to remind its attorneys that being on medical or family leave does not mean what it implies —- that the lawyer has temporarily LEFT the law firm to deal with serious needs that require attention and can be life-threatening.  As in, those lawyers have departed the firm, and the firm must figure out a way to deal with this temporary circumstance.

The communique in question, from a law practice co-chair, stated clearly that there is enough time in any day for lawyers on leave to check e-mail and respond as required.  Yes, you read that correctly.  On leave does not mean left.  Really?  Really!

It seems to have been settled long ago, in 1993 to be precise, that the Medical and Family Leave Act provided for LEAVE.  It could be interpreted as “leave me alone for awhile” because I have a serious situation to deal with— either of the medical or family variety — that the law considers important enough to be protected.  And since the enactments of that law, firms have been dealing with leave situations by devising simple systems to reroute inquiries and other matters directed to attorneys on leave to those who are not on leave.  Period.  Full stop.

Until now, I guess, when the absurdities of present day life in general are working their way into law firms and managers who should know better.  And, as pointed out in the article, that is not only bad for the individual lawyers, and for the law firms, it is also bad for clients.

Fortunately, for law firm managers who remain clueless, the article provides simple recommendations for how to handle matters affecting lawyers on leave.  It is not rocket science.

As I often have written and said, lawyers are better than this.  It is time they acted like it.  Here is the article for your reading displeasure.


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When Women Fought Hard to Fight Back

It is so easy to forget how far women lawyers have come in the law profession in our country today.  They now represent more than 50% of associates in law firms, the percentage of women partners is on the rise, and it is common for women to be members of executive committees and practice leaders.  There is still significant work to do to increase the percentage of women equity partners, but even that Holy Grail has seen some upward movement.  But, on balance, women lawyers have advanced on so many fronts to take their rightful seats at the table.

Here is a story of a woman lawyer, who fought to protect her clients from long-held assumptions surrounding domestic violence and leaned into it in a big way with a style that is still worth emulating.  And no, I am not talking about policies and practices prevalent during Victorian times.  I am talking about policies and practices and prevailing law in the 1970’s when I started practicing law and was referred to as “girl” and “honey” by judges in open court, even Federal judges.

It does not seem so long ago to those of us who lived it.  However, living it and advancing in the profession in spite of it is one matter, but facing it down against all odds to change long-accepted policies, practices, and perceptions is quite another.  Read this story of a woman lawyer, now departed, who leaned into a problem of great magnitude and dire consequences with truth and dignity on her side and changed the perception of how women are entitled to protect themselves and their families against abuse within the very family itself.

Read about Holly Maquigan and thank your lucky stars that she came before you.  I wish I had known her.  Here is her story.



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Enough Already About The Salary Wars

All the buzz this week seems to be about top grossing/top ranked law firms matching each other — and besting one another — in starting salaries for associates and in associate bonuses.  It is all about what Cravath is doing, what Milbank is doing …. and the beat goes on.  Frankly, I am tired of reading about it because it affects so relatively few.

Statistical Research Department has reported that approximately 35,000 law students graduated across the US in 2022.  I think we can assume that approximately the same number graduated in 2023, although that number was not readily apparent from my research.

That is a lot of new law school graduates, and more than 50% of them typically start practice at law firms.  So, let’s say that 17,500 new law graduates are practicing in law firms as I write.  That is still a lot of new associates.

And let’s also say that the top 50 law firms with annual revenues between $6 billion and $1.2 billion are fighting over the top graduates of the most highly ranked law schools in the country.  I guess that, with those annual revenues, they can afford to raise starting salaries to $225,000 — which is exactly what the top firms are doing —- and more if you add the increase in yearly bonuses.

It is obvious from these numbers that there are plenty of top law school performers to go around and service these top law firms.  However, as noted in my blog last week, the important question is whether the law firm managers and executive committee members of those firms understand the consequences of that kind of salary increase in terms of the high price that associates will pay.  Law firms do not give out that kind of money without exacting demands like more billable hours — which, when added to the current billable hour requirements, will likely result in more associates on shrink’s couches demonstrating signs of depression and career choice remorse.   Your guess is as good as mine about how that will affect future recruiting.

And also consider the stress that it puts on second tier law firms trying to compete.
One legal industry expert was quoted on Above The Law today as stating that, while elite firms with high profits will be able to match these compensation increases, others will have a very difficult time doing so.  That is easy to believe when you consider that the following factors — inflation, recession, war, and interest rate hikes —conspired to create a difficult business environment in 2022, and that the profession has not bounced back yet.  Work at the associate level is still down, and it likely will be for awhile.

So, I say enough already.  Let’s hear about something else.  For example, let’s hear about law firm reforms to meet the circumstances of today rather than more about money.  There are a lot of issues to address that affect young lawyers —- even those who do not meet the criteria for these huge salary hikes.  Most of them are very capable with promising futures, and they deserve information that is relevant to them and, like me, they probably are tired of reading about issues affecting only the elite.



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Finally, Milbank’s Foul Ball is Called

Salary increases for associates are a competitive sport.  One top law firm moves, and others follow.  Just like lemmings to the sea.

Finally, the foul ball is called, but anonymously.  Nobody wants to own it.  But, at least it is out there, and attention should be paid.  Salary increases have repercussions, and associate lawyers in BigLaw do not need more  pressure on them just to satisfy egos that feast on being the biggest and the best.

Here is the comment, as reported by Above the Law recently.

 All we’re doing is continuing to put targets on these kids’ backs. Increasing salaries…causes them to increase salaries up the chain [and] increase billable hours for them. I just think they’re taking this pound of flesh out of them.”

Yes, top management needs to pay attention to what they are doing and how their actions impact the most vulnerable.



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Calling All Senior Associates!

In a surprising development in law firm world, senior associates are suddenly in high demand — a real change from even a year ago.  We all recognize that associates become more valuable as they gain experience and climb law firm ladders, but this is something different.  Now senior associates are especially sought after outside their firms as laterals, according to an article in the American Lawyer earlier this week.

Being the subject of lateral hiring changes the game for associates.  It puts experienced associates at the heart of the bargaining process like never before.  An associate recruiter at Major, Lindsey & Africa, as quoted in the American Lawyer and reported by Above the Law, attributes this market shift to the the lack of training for associates during the pandemic, which has created a need at firms for associates with transferable skills.  Firms are desperate for senior associates who can run a deal or a case without much supervision.  And it seems that associates with 6 years or more experience are taking advantage of that opportunity.

Here’s the Above the Law article.  Check it out and share with your friends.  Some of you may want to dust off your resumes and test the lateral market.

It is so nice to be wanted!

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