Tag Archives: training lawyers

A note of concern about pending proposals to cut funding for major NC legal institutions

MidLaw has learned with concern that the General Assembly is considering cutting the North Carolina State Bar’s revenues to a fraction of their current level and also reducing the appropriation for the UNC Law School dramatically.

MidLaw believes these proposals would be harmful, not only to two key legal institutions but, in the long run, also to the administration of justice in North Carolina and to our economy generally.

If North Carolina is to succeed in national and global economic competition – which is what we must do to create jobs here – then North Carolina’s businesses and its justice system must be served by well-prepared lawyers operating in an effective system. Commerce will not come right if our justice system is not up to par.

The legal profession and broader legal industry are currently undergoing dramatic changes. These include the rise of national and global law firms, competition from Internet and off-shore services providers, and disruptive new technologies. Potentially all of these may be good things, but North Carolina must keep up no matter how things go. We must provide a credible local justice system to support a growing economy. This requires well-trained lawyers, a highly functioning oversight agency, and well-resourced courts and processes.

Proposals to cut State Bar revenues and take funds away from the Law School risk long-term damage to our ability to compete and build North Carolina’s economy.

More on the rise of robots, lawyers advised to get some emotions

robot2Here’s another article predicting that robots and artificial intelligence are getting ready to replace lawyers. Japanese scholar Hiroshi Ishiguro is the principal source.

Two highlights from this piece:

  • Robots are 5 to 10 years away from being able to do what lawyers do. “It’s easy to write a computer program for a lawyer.”
  • People trust robots more than lawyers. They are more comfortable talking to robots.

People simply like robots better than they do lawyers. And the clear implication is that robots have better ethics than lawyers do. It’s not only lawyers. Ishiguro says that in the future “about half of comedians are going to be robots.” (About half?)

Lawyers are advised to develop capacities for creativity, human connections, and emotion. Emotion, connection, creativity.

Or, get a hammer.

And, see Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, and of course, Richard and Daniel Susskind, The Future of the Professions, How Technology Will Transform the Work of Experts.

I hope law schools and bar associations are looking at the implications of these issues for those just entering the profession.Ten years from now is when it will really start to matter.

Let your body talk (a reflection on professional communications)

roosterAttorney at Work reports that

Studies show that 55 percent of your communication is body language, while 38 percent is pacing and tonality of voice. That leaves a mere 7 percent for words.

MidLaw suggests that attorneys consider first making a full display of tail feathers accompanied by a bit of strutting back and forth, then crowing.

Attorney at Work has a different approach.

Berkshire Hathaway’s Munger speaking to lawyers, law firms

munger-modal-ebookgraphic-210x210Charlie Munger, the celebrated vice-chairman at Berkshire Hathaway, has gotten the status of guru, especially among writers about investing.

Many do not recall that he is a lawyer and founded one of the most admirable American law firms, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP; or that he was persuaded to quit practicing law by Warren Buffet. Munger says quitting was one of the best things he did. Aspects of law practice such as measuring out your life in time sheets, did not suit him. Munger has thought and spoken well about the profession —from both perspectivews – as lawyer and as quit-lawyer .

Shane Parrish at Farnum Street, an exceptionally good blog, is a leader among Munger admirers. He recently called attention to the commencement address Munger gave at USC Law School in 2007. Parrish says the speech contains so many of Munger’s core ideas that it represents “Munger’s Operating System” for life.

Maybe so. That address is a string of jewels about career development for lawyers and regarding law firm management.

Here are four nuggets lifted from there. There are more at Parrish’s piece; and more yet in the address itself. But, start with these.

Lifelong learning

[Y]ou’re hooked for lifetime learning, and without lifetime learning you people are not going to do very well. You are not going to get very far in life based on what you already know. You’re going to advance in life by what you’re going to learn after you leave here…if civilization can progress only when it invents the method of invention, you can progress only when you learn the method of learning

Reliability

If you’re unreliable it doesn’t matter what your virtues are, you’re going to crater immediately. So doing what you have faithfully engaged to do should be an automatic part of your conduct. You want to avoid sloth and unreliability.

Work that excites you

Another thing that I found is an intense interest of the subject is indispensable if you are really going to excel. I could force myself to be fairly good in a lot of things, but I couldn’t be really good in anything where I didn’t have an intense interest. So to some extent, you’re going to have to follow me. If at all feasible you want to drift into doing something in which you really have a natural interest

Trust

The last idea that I want to give you as you go out into a profession that frequently puts a lot of procedure and a lot of precautions and a lot of mumbo jumbo into what it does, this is not the highest form which civilization can reach. The highest form which civilization can reach is a seamless web of deserved trust. Not much procedure, just totally reliable people correctly trusting one another. That’s the way an operating room works at the Mayo Clinic.

If a bunch of lawyers were to introduce a lot of process, the patients would all die. So never forget when you’re a lawyer that you may be rewarded for selling this stuff but you don’t have to buy it. In your own life what you want is a seamless web of deserved trust. And if your proposed marriage contract has 47 pages, my suggestion is do not enter.

That last one is the key to operating a law firm. True law firms are professional associations whose members share professional values out of which grow a kind of trust that cannot be achieved by policies, rules or procedures.

Trust among law partners creates real law firms. The rest are “legal services organizations”.

The algorithims are coming! The algorithms are coming!

baby-CROWS-PERCHING-BIRDS - Copy

Respected sources are newly reporting that lawyers “are facing greater disruption and transformation in the next two decades than we have had in the past century.”

The algorithms are coming.

Artificial intelligence is set to replace associates. Robots will replace junior partners. They may replace senior partners.

This is disruptive? Maybe it is Nirvana.

We are told, credibly, that what’s coming “will give rise to new ways of sharing expertise in society and will lead to the gradual dismantling of the traditional professions.” OK, but maybe this is an opportunity for lawyers to return to what they were meant to be – not technicians and managers, but counselors, advocates.

Surely the services lawyers provide in the future will evolve. But surely also clients will continue to value, perhaps in new ways, a sense of context and level of judgment that they themselves do not have – the last level of counsel and assurance. And in the end, there will be occasions when only a lawyer can bring the last level of conviction and passion needed in complex and ambiguous circumstances. Algorithms are coming, but ambiguities are not going away.

For law firms, the work of the future is to understand what’s coming, to manage the timing of it, and to learn how to develop new lawyers with the professional judgment and skills they will need.

In the end, law firms must deliver to their members, organic culture, authentic experience, and opportunities to fail. Those are what develop great lawyers.

In the end, the great lawyers will be the ones who learn to bring hammers to the coming computer fights.

 

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The once and future legal profession – 10 things (plus 4) lawyers had in the 19th Century they should get back

Coming out of the 19th Century, practicing law was an almost unimaginably great way to live.

  • Orginal-SinThe work was knowledge work and, by and large, it was challenging.
  • The practice entailed a craft to be mastered – both in terms of knowledge and experience, and also in terms of analytical and persuasive skills. Lawyer skills enhanced life skills. They developed judgment.
  • The work was meaningful. It made a difference in the lives of clients who had personal connections with their lawyers.
  • The profession itself was set apart. Its members had attended the same or similar schools, and had read and studied the same literature and culture. There was a high level of trust among practitioners.
  • Many lawyers practiced by themselves, controlling their own comings and goings, while regularly associating fellow lawyers as needed. Others practiced in small, personal partnerships. Experienced lawyers helped new lawyers learn the practice, regardless of firm memberships.
  • Lawyers’ work contributed in a vital way to the system of justice, and also to a growing system of business and commerce.
  • Lawyers were compensated based on value delivered and the clients’ ability to pay. There was a grounded sense that lawyers had an obligation to render services for the public good without pay in appropriate cases.
  • There were no timesheets. There was no billing software. There were no hourly rates, and no billable-hours quotas.
  • Lawyers commonly earned a good living, often by investing alongside their clients in new ventures and being involved in the operations of those and other businesses; or, more simply, by farming while they also practiced law.
  • Commonly, lawyers played leading roles in the civic and cultural affairs of their communities, both as a matter of interest and perceived duty, and also because it promoted their law practices.
  • The technologies used in legal work imposed a slower pace on professional life.
  • Lawyers’ public and private roles were not separated. Few perceived a need to balance different aspects of their lives.
  • There was little need for lawyers to get up early in the morning.
  • For the most part, lawyers were not called upon to lift or carry heavy things.

Why would anybody screw that up?

Current developments in the legal profession and in the broader workplace offer the hope that a 21st Century version of what was lost can be recaptured.

Legal services technologies and artificial intelligence, alternative legal services providers, networking capabilities, and communications technologies – these are tools that relieve practitioners of the need to perform high-volume, routine tasks. They enable new forms of collaboration. They can support newly envisioned, smaller, more cohesive, and more creative professional associations.

This will require differently trained lawyers, and new kinds of legal services providers. For lawyers and the schools who prepare them, it will require rethinking legal education, and a new understanding of organizational development, talent management and professional development.

Those things will come, albeit not rapidly. Some heavy lifting may be required.

 

21st Century law practice: multi-jurisdictional and cross-border practice

Simply put, there is no way to hold back multi-jurisdictional and cross-border law practice, and that is reshaping traditional structures and the economics of law practice. cross-border

When there are many small local markets, there can be a ‘best’ provider in each, and these local heroes frequently can all earn a good income. If these markets merge into a single global market, top performers have an opportunity to win more customers, while the next-best performers face harsher competition from all directions. Brynjolfsson & McAfee, The Second Machine Age

Geographical boundaries, even political and jurisdictional ones, have less and less grip on law practice every day. This is thanks to:

a)      the digitization of more and more information, goods, and services,

b)      the vast improvements in telecommunications and, to a lesser extent, transportation, and

c)      the increased importance of networks and standards.

(Brynjolfsson & McAfee, again, but not them alone.)

These are not changes that can be held back for long by local rules, especially as business has crossed borders in a fever, and because federal and uniform laws have cleared away field after field of what once were domains of state law.

Law firms – no, legal services organizations – of the future will be shaped by these changes forevermore. They already have been.

The only real question is how to take advantage of these changes? The opportunities available to small and mid-size firms are unique to them – different from those open to large firms, and not the same for all small and mid-size firms. This requires knowing who you are and identifying your opportunities. And, focus. Not following, not copying.

The Trouble with Lawyers — new book identifies the challenges, suggests responses

Rhode bookThere’s a new book, another book, about the trouble with lawyers. It’s called The Trouble with Lawyers.

The National Law Journal has published a short interview with the the author, Stanford law professor Deborah Rhode. In that interview, Professor Rhode makes two points that have been made here before.

NLJ: What is the biggest challenge that the American bar is facing today?

Rhode: I think it’s a shameful irony that the nation with one of the world’s highest concentration of lawyers does such a poor job of making their services available to those who need help most. Over four-fifths of the legal needs of poor individuals are not being met. And that’s a problem with enormous social costs.

NLJ: Are law schools part of the problem or part of the solution?

Rhode: I think the one-size-fits-all model we currently have fails to address the diversity in what lawyers do. It just makes no sense to train in the same way someone who’s going to be doing divorces in a small town and the person who’s going to be doing financial mergers and acquisitions on Wall Street. We need to recognize the diversity in legal tasks and to have corresponding diversity in legal education. The book argues for having one-year, two-year and three-year degrees.

Deborah Rhode is a Stanford law professor, said to be the nation’s most frequently cited scholar on legal ethics. She’s a past president of the Association of American Law Schools.

If nothing else, it’s instructive to see which issues are rising to the top: the two identified above and others also addressed in the book.

Millennials as lawyers, a delicate and touchy topic

The Millennials, we are told, move frequently from job to job, seemingly at a pace that, for lawyers, would obstruct professional development and frustrate the efforts of legal employers seeking to recover investments in professional development. This is a challenge.Baby-Owls-l (1)

And then there are the Millennials themselves. Yes, Millennials as a group can be characterized along various dimensions. They are said to optimistic, team-oriented, and tech savvy. And, they are achievement-driven, pressured to succeed and distrusting of organizations. The lists go on.

But for all the things that can be said about Millennials as a group, what is true of the group may tell you nothing about any individual member of the crowd.

In the weeks since Brooks Pierce’s terrific discussion of generational differences, led by Wake Forest University’s Rogan Kersh, I have sat with Millennials who affirmed the broad characterizations of their kind and urged that our law firm structure itself to manage them accordingly – and I have sat with others who, even as they accept the general insights about their generation, at the same time vigorously (and very credibly) deny that the same conclusions apply to themselves as individuals. They even resent the assumption that they can be lumped in that way.

This learning about generations, and Millennials in particular, must be applied with caution and a delicate touch.

 

Millennials as lawyers and their professional development – can the center hold?

These peripatetic Millennials, slated as they are to move from job to job. Seemingly, there’s no economical way to train and develop Millennial lawyers. No way to foster the development of seasoned legal judgment – what with Millenials moving as often as we are told they will do, from employment to employment. Acquiring professional judgment takes time and experience. For my money, it also takes models.baby owls

Hard as they are trying, law schools simply cannot turn out practice-ready lawyers. There will ALWAYS  be a gap between school and the moment of taking responsibility for real-life clients and their problems. And it takes experience to develop the judgment that’s required to handle what’s new, uncertain, ambiguous.

My theory has been that, in the 19th Century, practicing bars provided the needed bridge for new lawyers from school to practice – as a matter of shared culture at a local bar. Later, in the 20th Century, the bridge was provided in large degree by law firms as a matter of firm culture.

Today, increasingly, the center does not hold. The fabric of shared legal culture is very thin. Law schools seek to provide clinical programs. Law firms sometimes hire and sometimes don’t; and firms may emphasize productivity over professional development. Alternative service providers displace young-lawyer functions altogether. And the profession is splintering into an ever widening array of limited-purpose and specialized practices.

Into this soup come the Millennials. They move from job to job at a pace that would seem to obstruct professional development and frustrate the efforts of employers seeking to recover the costs of their training.

This is a system yet to find its equilibrium.

But, I come to it with a bias: There was never a time or a place where valuing learning for itself did not pay off. That must be the response.

Learning is a universal value. A learning culture must be at the center. It must always hold.

A law firm must be a learning organization.