Friday, April 27, 2007

MoneyLaw's "law professor market"

MoneyLaw's currently talking about creating a market in law professors, akin to other types of markets. Take a look at the posts: Paul Caron (MoneyLaw2.0: The Law Prof Exchange), Jeff Harrison (Is There Hope for MoneyLaw?), and mine (A new market: law professors?).

Thursday, April 26, 2007

On Crying: National Jurist and Wall Street Journal

Today's Wall Street Journal has a piece by Sue Shellenbarger on crying at work--Read This and Weep: Crying At Work Gains Acceptance. I wish it were true that crying in frustration and anger were more acceptable at work, but I just don't agree. If it were true, why would National Jurist still be focusing on tears instead of the issues raised on and after a faculty meeting of more than a year ago?

Perhaps, as more people become comfortable with tears as a legitimate way of expressing anger and frustration, there will be less use of those more violent means of expressing anger (although I doubt that, too).

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

St. John's LL.M. in Bankruptcy

Sorry for the gaps in my blog--I've been doing a lot of speaking (Enron, images of lawyers in movies, legal ethics, corporate ethics) and some teaching (St. John's LL.M. in Bankruptcy program--a short course on Enron and other corporate disasters).

A word or two about this year's class on Enron at St. John's: the students were quite good, of course; more important, though, they worked collaboratively. We began three out of the four sessions with brainstorming on the students' papers, and the students shared their ideas and research leads freely. The class discussions included an illustration of how easily smart people can run into problems. The students formed their own "law firm" from scratch and had to sort out how to hire people with good character, how to retain them while maintaining a collegial and cooperative environment, what to do with laterals from different corporate cultures, and how to evaluate associates.

My favorite discussion involved how to encourage associates to report problems. I gave them the following scenario: it's very late at night, and an associate is babysitting a closing. Five minutes before the closing has to occur, the associate spots a problem with the deal. She tries to reach the partner in charge, or any partner, but everyone's unreachable. What happens if she refuses to close the deal, and later, she discovers that she was wrong about the problem? Should the law firm reward her for having the guts to hold off on the deal (assuming that her mistake about the deal was reasonable), or should the firm punish her for not trusting the work of the partner who was in charge of the deal?

The class's discussion included several variations: What if she could wake up the partner in charge just before the closing--should the partner be angry or glad of the interruption? Would the firm "punish" her later by failing to give her work of the same level of importance? Should the firm trust her more, or trust her less, for making this mistake? Can the firm avoid a last-minute problem by briefing all of the associates on the deal before the deal closes?

I had a great deal of fun teaching this class, and I'm looking forward to reading the students' papers. Bravo to St. John's (and Ray Warner and Yvette Gutierrez) for such a wonderful program!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Sugar rushes for the season

I was just responding to Brian Leiter's ranking of law schools by LSAT score over at MoneyLaw, and I found myself using the word "peep," which naturally led to my thinking about Peeps. (It's a seasonal thing, although the Peeps website says that Peeps don't have to be only seasonal.)

My friend Carol Brown, who happens to be the sister of Larry "Bubbles" Brown, turned me onto Peeps, but I'll bet that she hasn't yet seen this website about Peeps experiments. Those experiments reminded me of the late, great experiments on Twinkies that Rice University students once performed. What made the experiments so priceless was the fact that the students performed them during finals week.

As my friends celebrate this season for reasons other than mine (we get matzot, they get...Peeps?), I thought that you might enjoy this scientific look at two classic foods.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Prediction of the death of billable hours, part 3

Peter Lattman's post today on Law Blog, You Say You Want a Big-Law Revolution, talks about the efforts of two Stanford Law School students to get the big-name law firms to agree to change the 24/7 nature of the practice of law. Here's part of Lattman's post:

A group of law students wants to change that. Last night, Stanford Law’s Andrew Canter and Craig Holt Segall — along with roughly 125 students from the nation’s top law schools — emailed hiring partners and recruiting coordinators at the AmLaw 100 law firms. Their new organization, Law Students Building a Better Legal Profession, wants the country’s biggest law firms to sign-on to principles espousing a saner work environment for lawyers.

“We are writing as a group of over 100 law students to propose a change in the way we all experience our profession,” the email begins. “We are working to ensur[e] that practicing law does not mean giving up a commitment to family, community, and dedicated service to clients.”

What makes this request different from all others (yes, it's Pesach, so the phrasing is intentional) is that the law students have indicated that they're willing to take a pay cut as part of the trade-off for more reasonable hours.

Quixotic? Maybe, given the immense budgets that large law firms have structured. But these students' request has recognized the relationship between high salaries and long hours. It'll be interesting to see which firms, if any, sign on and which signatories, if any, actually follow through on a change in the pace of work.

Francis Stokes is brilliant!

My new guilty pleasure is watching the episodes of God, Inc. on YouTube. Francis Stokes directed these The-Office (US version)-style mockumentaries of what's really going on in God's domain. Give 'em a shot....

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

My bad--and thanks to "anonymous" and my dad for finding glitches in my USNWR spreadsheet

Here's the updated one (with some charts added)--sorry for the glitches.

Most numbers don't speak for themselves

We're now in phase 2 of the annual USNWR rankings reaction: the PR machine's touting of the numbers for those schools that are highly ranked or that have moved up in the rankings, and the explanations for those schools that have stayed where they were ranked last year or that have moved down in the rankings. Bravo to Gordon Smith for this post: Law School Deans & the US News Rankings. He gets it exactly right.

At MoneyLaw, Paul Caron has posted Biggest Moves in the 2008 US News Law School Rankings, and I've posted a comment there, suggesting that--until we know where the natural "groupings" of schools are--the "numbers" don't mean much.

USNWR's rankings are, at best, useful for isolating trends, but they're not absolute measures of anything. In a way, they're exactly like curved grades for a course--they demonstrate a student's relative ranking against his peers on the test given that day, but they don't demonstrate absolute mastery and, at best, indicate trends that the student might want to investigate.

For each school that uses this year's rankings to say that the school itself is demonstrably better than before, perhaps that school could also list the changes that it has made--changes that the voters might know about through PR, for example--that have altered its inherent quality for the better. Houston has been doing great things for several years now (some say in spite of the "numbers") and perhaps the cumulative effect has had a change in its overall reputation. Peter Hoffman's work there--along with Jim Lawrence's work and the work of all of the folks in the Blakely Advocacy Institute--has certainly been paying off. But Peter and Jim have been doing their work without playing to the rankings. Their recognition in USNWR is a happy side effect, not their main aim.

In a way, phase 2 of the annual USNWR reaction reminds me of George Carlin's old bit about partial scores and sportscasters: "This just in.... [School X], 7."