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April 02, 2007

National Law Journal Discusses How Law Schools Fail The Entrepreneur

The National Law Journal interviewed me a few weeks ago regarding an article on how law schools are failing the entrepreneur, "When Hanging A Shingle, Solos Are Reluctantly Solo". And I also suggested they speak with Melanie Jester and Bill Conger at Oklahoma City University School of Law who teach a course called Introduction to Legal Practice. (Melanie and I had e-met as well as talked on the telephone a few years ago discussing our frustrations as well as (dis)similarities in course content.) 

What I'm proud about (please indulge me one Cheshire cat grin) is the mention of Temple University's Career Counseling Office's ridiculous postings regarding solo practice right out of law school.  I had posted about this earlier here (without mentioning their name) and as a result the NLJ interviewed the school and they are going to change their current 'presentation' regarding solo practice as an option, claiming they were unaware of the website's content." Huh?

In furtherance of this failing, at the Ms. JD conference this weekend, an assembly of women from every corner of the legal profession, a few 'in the know' little birdies whispered in my ear something I know they would never admit publically.  There were many Career Counsel Officers present, having flown in from across the country.  When one was questioned 'why the resistance to providing support for solos within law school?"  The answer, "you will always have an uphill battle because our agenda is driven by ranking with U.S. News & World Reports.  If we turn out too many solos instead of placing within employment it impacts our all-important ranking." (Yes, sodium pentathol was flowing freely at this conference.) 

So, it will take a lot of chutzpah, blogosphere amplified conversation and a conscious decision by the law schools to toss out the U.S. News & World Reports ranking in order to create a curriculum that addresses the paying customer's real needs. In some bizarro way I understand the reason for the enslavement to a magazine's annual 'list' but I don't applaud it, I rebel against it and this sacrifice of multiple thousands of students on the altar of the false god of artifical lists. I would strongly suggest other magazines start creating more informative rather than competitive lists tailored to students' individual successes based upon quality of their education combined with after-graduation success as practitioners which would give rise to intelligent and thoughtful lists that actually matter in the real world.

Regardless, if you are unable to read the whole article (as it is by subscription), here it is:

When Hanging a Shingle, Solos Are Reluctantly Solo

Lack of business training in law school is decried.

Sandhya Bathija/Staff reporter
April 2, 2007

Luz Hererra opened her solo practice in Compton, Calif., she had no idea how to bill or create a retainer agreement, what to charge clients for consultation, where to drum up business — or who to ask for help.

"It took me two years before I felt comfortable running my practice," said the Harvard Law School graduate. "It shouldn't take that long, and I don't think it does for people who have support from their law schools."

It's a complaint of many solo practitioners, who claim their law schools failed to prepare them to "hang a shingle."

And while some law schools are beginning to address the problem with courses on law practice management, most schools aren't catching on, said Susan Cartier-Liebel, a solo practitioner in Northford, Conn., who teaches a course called "Law Office Management" at Quinnipiac University School of Law in Hamden, Conn.

Solo practitioners make up 48% of the private-practice lawyers, according to the American Bar Foundation's Lawyer Statistical Report. But only 5% of graduating law students immediately go into solo practice following graduation, according to a separate 2004 American Bar Foundation study. This is because schools aren't encouraging students to believe they're capable, Cartier-Liebel said.

"Law schools aren't preparing their students to take the bar and immediately hang a shingle," she said. "That's a significant portion of people in law school who are not recognized for their ambitions."

Discouraging words

On the career Web site of Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia, students are told that solo practice means lawyers who are "generalists or practice in the personal injury area. It is difficult for someone to establish a solo practice immediately upon graduation after law school."

Louis Thompson, assistant dean for career planning for Temple's law school, said he was unaware that this was on the Web site and that the school will change it because it wants to encourage students to go into solo practice. The school introduced a course this year called "The Business of Law," he said.

" 'Difficult' may not be the right word to describe it," Thompson said. "But realistically, going into solo practice requires thought and planning, more than just doing a passive job search."

Which is why students are starving for help from their law schools, said Bill Conger, a professor at Oklahoma City University School of Law who teaches the course "Introduction to Legal Practice."

Students in Conger's class create a business plan, where they create a law firm, a Web site, lease office space and draft a lease agreement.

The course also addresses malpractice insurance, how to enter into a fee agreement with a client and how to set up trust accounts.

Tim McKinney, a solo practitioner in Guthrie, Okla., took Conger's class in law school and opened up his solo practice in 2005, immediately after graduating.

"The class helped me know what to expect," he said. "And it helped me refine some of the business."

Yet career development offices at most first-tier law schools only cater to students who want big-firm jobs,
Herrera said, explaining that she approached her alma mater, Harvard, to set up a program for students wanting information on going into solo practice.

"They told me students weren't interested in that," she said. "But then I worked with several student organizations to plan a session on it, and at least 40 students came."

Mike Armini, a spokesman for the school, said that when Herrera contacted the career services department, the school was very interested in working with her but the schedule was booked.

"It was a timing issue," Armini said.

Harvard Law School will start a course in professional services in spring 2008, which focuses on how to run law firms and law practices, Armini added.

It's seems when schools are called on the carpet and there is negative publicity afoot, they sing a different song.  Quite frankly, I don't care why they change as long as they change!

(Update:  You can see the whole article on Law.com where it was picked up.)


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