PLP Pulse: News from the Frontiers of the Legal Profession

Globalization

Hong Kong Firms Engaging in “Rampant Fee Discounting” to Secure Clients

American Lawyer

Because Hong Kong is often the preferred destination for Chinese companies seeking international capital, it has become an intense battleground for legal work. The American Lawyer reports that “as international firms rush to expand in Asia, one uncomfortable fact is often quietly pushed aside: rampant fee discounting means it can be hard to make a buck in the region.” New market entrants, in particular, are eager to offer discounts in order to secure business. Moreover, procurement departments of giant state-owned-enterprises (SOEs) often bid for legal services “like the company was buying office supplies or toilet paper,” according to Victor Ho, a partner at Allen & Overy. But Davis Polk partner James Lin states that the lowest bid does not always succeed, especially when “really big money is at stake” or if a potential client suspects the quality of legal services might be too low.

Foreign Lawyers Allowed to Practice Commercial Aspects of Singapore Law

ALB Legal News

Singapore-based foreign lawyers may now sit for a Foreign Practitioners Examination, obtain a Foreign Practitioner Certificate, and practice Singaporean commercial law. In the Legal Professions Bill passed last month, the Singaporean Parliament authorizing the change, which is intended to allow law firms to offer a wide range of transactional advice in one office. Commenting on the legislation, Allen & Overy’s Singaporean partner Hooman Sabeti opined that “the process of liberalization in Singapore is going in a good direction.”

Indian Law Firms Serve as “Gatekeepers” between Foreign Law Firms and Indian Companies

Legally India

According to recent research, 85 percent of a sampling of India’s fastest growing companies rely on domestic law firms for referrals to foreign law firms, with nearly half accepting local firms’ recommendations. The companies sampled had average growth rates of about 100 percent and average revenues of approximately $422 million (from 2009 and 2010). Some of the companies—particularly if small and new—had limited or no prior exposure to foreign law firms.

Norwegian Law Firm Among Asia’s Fastest Growing

 ScandAsia.Com

Wikborg Rein, a leading Norwegian law firm with 215 lawyers and offices in Oslo, Bergen, London, Singapore, Shanghai and Kobe, has been named one of the 30 fastest growing law firms in Asia by Asian Legal Business. “Our growth in China and Singapore has been a direct reflection of both our local clients’ success and our Norwegian clients’ expansion overseas,” according to Geir Sviggum, head of the firm’s Shanghai office. Stephen Fordham, managing partner of the Singapore office, attributes some of the firm’s success to the “addition of English law specialists focusing on finance and international dispute resolution out of Singapore, Chinese and Singapore qualified legal teams who provide local advice, and even specialist projects lawyers who work throughout Asia.”


Diversity

Should US News Rank Law School Diversity?

California Bar Journal and The Careerist

Given the prominence and influence of the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings, the California State Bar Board of Governors has requested that “diversity” be added to the publication’s twelve ranking categories, and that this new category represent 15 percent of the overall ranking. “The rankings [currently] encourage law school policies and actions that . . . result in less diverse student populations and provide no support for other diversity initiatives,” according to a letter endorsed by the Board. The Careerist’s Audrey Wong, however, highlights some challenges, asking: “How would diversity be measured? Would it take into account factors such as the location of a law school?”

Major Corporations Spend $42 Million with Diverse Law Firms in “Inclusion Initiative”

National Law Journal

Last year the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms launched the Inclusion Initiative to “demonstrate that leading companies in an array of industries are successfully using diverse law firms for a wide variety of complex legal matters.” The initiative received commitments from eleven American companies to spend a combined $30 million with law firms owned by women and minorities, and by the end of the year the companies had surpassed the goal, spending $42.6 million. Organizers have raised the goal to $70 million for 2011, with additional major corporations participating.

Do Women Participate Less in the Law School Classroom?

National Jurist

A recent survey of nearly 25,000 law students revealed that 47 percent of women law students “frequently ask questions,” versus 56 percent of men, according to the National Jurist. The survey’s project manager, Lindsay Watkins, concludes that “female students are less likely to place themselves in situations they perceive to be risky.” Moreover, Watkins says the survey revealed that women are “more likely to report working hard in law school to either avoid embarrassment in front of their peers, or out of a fear of failure, than were their male classmates.” The National Journal reports various proposals to help women succeed in law school (and beyond), including changing law school curricula, hiring more female professors, and increasing mentoring, counseling, networking, and leadership opportunities for women.


Legal Education

“Big Shifts at Big Law” Force Law Schools to Adapt

US News & World Report

US News & World Report details the “seismic shake-up in the legal profession” impacting law firms and law schools. The magazine quotes PLP Faculty Director David Wilkins as noting that “we’re in the midst of an important movement of transformation for law firms and the legal profession,” and that “the recent [economic] downturn has been accelerating these changes.” U.S. News also highlights Harvard Law School’s intensive 1L Problem Solving course in January of each academic year—as well as Washington & Lee’s “retooled” third year that is almost entirely practice based—as innovations designed to help law graduates “add value when they walk in the door [of their first law job],” in the words of former Northwestern Law School Dean David Van Zandt.

Will Downsizing Entering Classes become the “New Rule of Law”?

New York Law Journal and Times Union

At least two New York law deans plan to reduce admissions in the Fall of 2011. Touro Law Center Dean Lawrence Raful contends that “it is the ethical and moral thing to do” since “we are concerned about … turning out quite so many students in debt when we know that not everyone can get a job to pay off that debt.” Raful added that “if I had my druthers, I’d go from [a class size of] 280 students to 150, if I could afford it.” Thomas Guernsey, Dean of Albany Law School, explained that it has always been his view “that we don’t want [the school] any bigger than it has to be because we know the smaller it is, the higher quality program … we’re going to be able to provide.” Geurnsey predicts that law schools “are going to shrink” and “more and more [will] figure out that they maybe should be smaller.”

The Revival of Data-Driven Legal Scholarship

National Law Journal

For the past several decades, law schools have produced largely theoretical scholarship. But a growing movement, “empirical legal studies,” is increasingly engaging data-driven, empirical projects and analyses. Proponents of the movement—including Harvard’s Program on the Legal Profession—believe that “harnessing data to answer legal questions gives [legal scholarship] credibility, and empirical work tends to reach a wider audience than traditional legal scholarship," according to the National Law Journal. UCLA law professor Stephen Bainbridge, a skeptic of legal empiricism, claims that empiricists “can only answer questions when they can get numbers” and “if they can’t count something, it doesn’t exist for their purposes.”

Massachusetts’ New (and Only) Public Law School a “Cash Cow”

South Coast Today

UMass Dartmouth’s new School of Law—the state’s first public law school created one year ago—is “turning into a cash cow” and exceeding official projections. South Coast Today reports that, for the current year, UMass Law accepted 168 students—45 more than projected. Revenue projections for fiscal year 2011 have been revised upward by at least $1 million. Moreover, according to UMD spokesman John Hoey, “we are making all the investments we were talking about in financial aid, in faculty, the library, and students services … to create a very robust law program worthy of national accreditation,” which the law school hopes to achieve by 2017.

Berkeley Creates Institute for Jewish and Israeli Law and Society

National Law Journal

The University of California at Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law has launched an institute devoted to Jewish and Israeli studies. The Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israeli Law, Economy and Society will bring together faculty members from multiple academic areas, including law, political science, economics, history, sociology and Jewish studies. The institute will focus initially on two separate programs, the first involving Jewish law and the second examining Israeli law, economy and society. The institute will support research and other activities involving these academic areas, and it will offer courses in Israeli history and constitutional law.


Innovation & New Models

Senator Proposes Non-Lawyer Ownership of Law Firms

The Lawyer

North Carolina State Senator Fletcher Hartsell, who is a lawyer, has proposed legislation that would permit “non-attorney ownership of professional corporation law firms,” according to The Lawyer, a British legal publication. The proposal would incorporate some of the reforms in England’s recent Legal Services Act, which allows non-lawyers to invest in British law firms. Under Hartsell’s proposal, outside investors could own up to 49 percent of a law firm, leaving the majority of the organization’s shares to its lawyers. According to Mitt Regan, a law professor at Georgetown, “the difficulty may be that even if North Carolina passes the bill, lawyers in a firm that has offices in other states would be in violation of [other] state laws unless there was structural change.”

E-Discovery Software “Mimicking Human Reasoning”

New York Times

In an environment of rapidly improving artificial intelligence technology, e-discovery software is becoming increasingly successful at “mimicking human reasoning,” sometimes even achieving accuracy rates higher than those of trained lawyers. The speed and precision with which software applications can analyze evidence (such as e-mail and telephone records, for example) reduces the need for large groups of attorneys to review such materials. Mike Lynch, who founded the e-discovery company Autonomy, predicts that these services will reduce the need for large teams of attorney reviewers in the future.

“Voir Google” and Facebook Increasingly Prominent in Jury Selection

Wall Street Journal and ABA Journal

The Wall Street Journal and ABA Journal both report that lawyers are turning to online sources such as Google and Facebook to investigate potential jurors during the vetting process. Lawyers are searching for clues that reveal religion, hobbies, and recreational tastes to help determine potential biases. Personal online postings may indicate strong opinions and passionate spiritual beliefs, either of which could potentially result in juror disqualification. Critics argue that data gleaned from online sources, especially if taken out of context, is simply not as valuable as information gathered during voir dire—the traditional in-person questioning of potential jurors in court.


Ethics

Yale Law School Creates Innovative Ethics Clinic

Yale Daily News

Yale Law School has created a new clinic on professional ethics, the first of its kind in the nation. Lawrence Fox, a former chairman of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, created the Ethics Bureau at Yale and hopes that this model will be replicated at other schools across the nation. According to Fox, who is a lecturer at Yale, “the clinic is a great opportunity for students to understand the importance of professional responsibility to their careers as lawyers and to give them practical experience dealing with the really serious issues that arise every day in practice.”

Professors Demand “Mandatory and Enforceable” Ethics Rules for Supreme Court Justices

BLT: The Blog of Legal Times

In a letter to the United States Senate and House Judiciary Committees, over 100 law professors requested hearings and legislation regarding the adoption of “mandatory and enforceable” ethics rules for United States Supreme Court Justices. Justices are currently not covered by the code of conduct applicable to lower federal court judges, although the Supreme Court has traditionally acknowledged that it consults the code for "guidance." The signatories to the letter argue that "[a]dherence to mandatory ethical rules by justices, and requiring transparent, reviewable recusal decisions that do not turn solely on the silent opinion of the challenged justice will reinforce the integrity and legitimacy of the Supreme Court."


Law Firms and Practice Management

When Firms Fall, Rivals “Show No Mercy,” Which “Is Just Part of the Business”

Legal Intelligencer

Citing examples including Howrey, Coudert Brothers, Heller Ehrman, Thelen, Wolf Block and Thacher Profitt & Wood, among others, The Legal Intelligencer reports that “when law firms are bleeding, rivals show no mercy.” But the legal profession does not necessarily view taking advantage of a wounded firm negatively, according to Hildebrandt Baker Robbins consultant Lisa Smith, who argues that firm dissolutions create an active lateral market that is simply part of the business process. Consultant Jerome Kowalski colorfully acknowledges that when a “tide of resumes” flows from firms in trouble, “the recruiters then attack like piranhas” and “they do draw blood.”

Slaughter & May is London’s Most Profitable Firm; Weathered Financial Crisis with No Layoffs

City A.M.

London’s City A.M. reports that Slaughter & May holds “a singular aura” among London’s Magic Circle firms: since the financial crisis began, the firm has not fired any of its 1,200 staff (including 733 lawyers), and its 126 partners enjoy some of the highest salaries in the industry. City A.M. reports that Slaughter & May’s success may result from the fact that firm trains its lawyers as generalists, enjoys a close-knit and unique culture, boasts “an astonishing” 28 FTSE 100 companies as clients (more than any other of its rivals), and regularly secures government work. Moreover, Slaughter & May does not carry large overheads—the firm has expanded to only three offices: Hong Kong, Brussels and (most recently) Beijing. And Slaughter & May’s senior partner Chris Saul is “upbeat but guarded” about prospects for the year ahead.

National Law Journal Ranks “Go-To Law Schools” for NLJ 250 Firms

National Law Journal

Each year the National Law Journal ranks “Go-To Law Schools”—the schools most frequently tapped for talent by NLJ 250 firms. The highest ranked “Go-To Law Schools” for 2010 were the University of Chicago Law School and Cornell Law School, respectively. The survey noted that over the past year the overall number of graduates working at NLJ 250 firms decreased from 30.3 percent to 27.3. The survey also ranked schools who provided the “best bang for the buck,” with the “highest percentage of graduates taking first-year associate jobs at NLJ 250 law firms for the lowest tuition price.” Once again the University of Chicago Law School topped the ranking, just ahead of the Howard University School of Law.


Public Interest Lawyering

Partisan Split Over Legal Services Corporation Funding

Wall Street Journal Law Blog

President Obama’s budget proposes to add $30 million to the annual budget of the Legal Services Corporation (the organization that funds local agencies that provide legal services for low-income individuals), while Republicans are seeking to cut $75 million. The Wall Street Journal notes that “not only is demand higher for services—a result of the high unemployment rate—but budgets of legal services agencies have also been hard hit by the recession-fueled decrease in revenue from IOLTA or Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts.”


Professional Development

SMU Pays Private Firms to “Test Drive” Recent Law Graduates

National Law Journal

Last year Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law unveiled a program called “Test Drive” in which the school pays employers to hire recent graduates for one or two months—with no further commitment. Of the 48 SMU graduates in the first cycle of the program, 35 have already been offered permanent positions. According to the National Law Journal, supporters claim that SMU’s program is an innovative way to assist graduates, while skeptics charge the scheme is “an attempt to game the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings by inflating job-placement data.”

Leadership Council on Legal Diversity Creates “Fellows Program” to Mentor Promising Leaders

National Law Journal

The Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, an organization founded in 2009 to address diversity challenges in the legal profession, has created a “Fellows Program,” which is the Council’s “highest-profile initiative to date,” according to the National Law Journal. The Fellows Program identifies about 100 attorneys with promising leadership traits, introduces them to the management at law firms and corporate legal departments, and provides them with ongoing training (in person and virtually) over the course of at least one year. The Council includes about 100 firms and 65 corporations, each of which can nominate any promising lawyer—regardless of background—for the program. “Obviously what we’re trying to do is impact the future,” according to Roderick Palmore, general counsel of General Mills and chairman of the Council.


PROGRAM NOTES:

Harvard Law School Executive Education

Leadership in Corporate Counsel
June 22-25, 2011

This intensive, three-day program offers general counsels and chief legal officers insights into the challenges they face and the skills required to be effective leaders in their companies. By studying a cross-section of companies and professional service organizations, participants reflect on the unique challenges faced by, and the perspective and skills possessed by, effective general counsels and chief legal officers. Case studies, lectures, classroom discussions, and small group sessions afford participants the opportunity to deliberate on how leadership in the corporate counsel office contributes to sustained superior performance of the corporation. Participants include leaders in corporate counsel offices who currently have, or are going to assume, the role of general counsel or chief legal officer in their corporations.

Applications are available at our website.


Ready, Set, Go! Preparing for Summer Success

Friday, March 25
3:00 – 6:00 pm
Harvard Law School

Find out how to hit the ground running as you begin your summer or permanent job. Whether you are entering the public or private sector, employers are operating with fewer resources than ever with a constant eye on results. Select up to three sessions offering practical tips on efficient legal research strategies in a variety of areas as well as concrete strategies for success on the job, including how to tackle a new assignment, interact with supervisors, obtain constructive feedback, and gain the most from your job opportunity.

More Information


Summer Theory Institute

The Summer Theory Institute was launched in the summer of 2008 as a ten-week workshop for Harvard law students with public interest internships in New York City. Two public interest lawyers, Jocelyn Simonson ‘06 and Nisha Agarwal ’06, founded the Institute with generous support from the Program on Legal Profession’s Harman Family Foundation funding.

The Institute has two broad goals:

  • To encourage thoughtful public interest practice: creating a space for participants to think through the role that social theory can play in public interest practice; infusing intellectual excitement, creativity and sustainability into the participants’ early experiences practicing public interest law.
  • To deepen the commitment to public interest law: fostering a network of future leaders who are motivated to be innovative thinkers and actors in the public interest world, and who will bring their enthusiasm for pursuing social change back to the HLS community at the end of the summer.

For more information, please visit our website.


Editor: Cory Way
Managing Editor: Nicola Seaholm
Contributing Editors: Amanda Barry, Hakim Lakhdar, Mihaela Papa, Erik Ramanathan

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