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January 08, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To My Law Office Management Class - It Was Cancelled!

http://www.centerbrook.com/Assets/qclaw-x05.gifTonight, January 8, 2008, would have marked the beginning of my eighth year at Quinnipiac University School of Law teaching law students how to open their own law practice right out of law school. Yet, effective immediately my Law Office Management Class has been cancelled.  But the reasons might surprise you. 

First, the facts.  My class has been wait-listed for years because it was very popular even though labor-intensive.  The most I would accept was 30 students.  It also included a guest panel of new solos up to three years out from Quinnipiac who would tell their stories and the students could ask any number of questions. Now 30 students out of under 400 total student population is a sizeable percentage of students opting to take this little 'ol adjunct's elective two credit course.  A practical skills course. And therein lies the problem. 

I was informed tenured professor's elective classes were being cancelled because they would get just 2 or 3 students signing up. Now they are TENURED professors which means they get paid no matter what. This unexpected shortfall of registrants in tenured professors' classes was due to 1) a deliberate reduction in the admitting class to up the LSAT scores of the entering class and 2) the decline in overall admissions making the class size even smaller than anticpated and 3) students opting to take my course instead of the courses they 'ought' to take. It's called 'credit envy.' 

By eliminating my class 30 students are now forced to take classes they 'ought' to take instead of the classes they would like to take to meet their credit requirements.  This way the approved 'ought to take' courses taught by tenured professors can be run and the course offering can remain in the school's catalogue and satisfy the ABA accreditation committee.  See, once a class hasn't been offered for so many semesters it must be removed from the catalog. Not good.

So, even if Joe Student wants to take Susan Cartier Liebel's Law Office Management course which will teach him the business end of practicing law he will be forced to take tenured Professor X's arcane offering instead because it is taught by an academic who has been feeling threatened nobody wants to take her course.  And these are the very people who run the committees who decide which courses should or should not be offered. 

But to make 'credit envy' not look so obvious, after eight years they decided to tell me my class was not 'academic' enough....no case law, no socratic method. It doesn't matter the course I taught does not lend itself to case law analysis or this style of teaching. It's their right and privilege to offer the courses of their choosing.

If you think I am making this up, however, and there is another story I'm not telling, there is no 'spinning' going on here. It's the truth. It was told to me directly from the horse's mouth.  But just in case you still question me, a generous and thoughtful reader forwarded the following article dated yesterday, January 7, 2008 from the Chronicle of Higher Education. highlighting this past week's Association of American Law Schools (AALS) annual meeting. I give you the horse's mouth:

While many people at the annual meeting spoke with excitement about the chance to "revolutionize" legal education, others questioned whether some of the proposed changes, particularly the emphasis on practical skills, were feasible, or even desirable.

How Adjuncts Could Help—or Hurt

Bringing in an adjunct to team-teach a course is a relatively affordable way that a law school could bring the real world into the classroom, participants suggested. Retired lawyers and practicing alumni would be likely candidates.

But even that idea drew skepticism.

"That strikes me as something that might be threatening to faculty members," said Brad Saxton, dean of Quinnipiac University School of Law.

The impression students might get, Mr. Saxton said, is "The dean here doesn't really know because he hasn't done it in a while, but here's how it plays out on the ground."

Martha L. Minow, a professor at Harvard Law School, said her institution had its share of skeptics when it overhauled its curriculum last year.

"There seems to be an amazing ability to cover the waterfront with two sentences," which also shoot down any possibility for change, she said. The first sentence, she said, is "We've tried that before." The second is "We've never tried that before."

The supremacy of faculty autonomy is another barrier. There's a feeling that "we are kings and queens of our classrooms, and we don't have to consult with anyone, thank you," Ms. Minow said.

Another challenge of more closely integrating theory and practice is getting beyond biases that faculty have about each other: that clinical faculty aren't as intellectually qualified and that theoretical faculty are out of touch with the real world. "As long as we're looking at each other with these biases it's hard to have respect for each other and work together," said Suellyn Scarnecchia, law dean at the University of New Mexico.

(I encourage you to read the entire article here.  It really tells you why the law school's are incapable of any meaningful change in my lifetime. Personally, I suggest they get rid of tenure completely.  Nobody should be that secure.  It breeds complacency and arrogance and destructive self-interest.)

In all fairness to Brad, he is a good man, a good educator, a good dean and very forward thinking.  His heart is really in the right place. But he does answer to many who are self-proclaimed "kings and queens" who definitely feel threatened by any change. A few years ago I was invited to participate on a committee looking to create a solo and small firm practice center starting with a concentration in the same. The Dean was very supportive of this idea. However, this is an example of a progressive idea that died in committee destroyed by internal fighting and egos and blatant self-preservation by the royalty.

There are numerous faculty members I deeply admire for their dedication and committment to the students and the law who recognize and actively promote and fight for progress. But the needs of a narrow and small-minded few seem to overpower the majority and eventually spirits and passions die. 

I was given an offer, however, to teach my course non-credit to new graduates during the time period after they take the bar exam and before they learn whether or not they've passed.  I will decline this offer.

In case you are wondering, I don't regret writing this post or publishing it on the internet. I'm also not even remotely upset. Teaching at Quinnipiac offered me many opportunities to advance to my current position and for that I'm grateful.  But my run there has ended and it was a good run. I will continue to educate law students and lawyers alike from a different, more exciting platform, not one confined to a classroom or even one law school. This truly energizes me with the possibilities.  As a matter of fact, I've been working with someone for a while now to make 'Solo Practice University' a reality, bigger and more expansive than Solo Practice University E-zine.

This year promises to be very exciting!


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Chuck Newton

First, more as an aside feel good thing, Quinnipiac has a very beautiful campus. If I didn't like the cold, I would have to move to your neck of the woods.

Second, and more importantly, I am very sorry, not for you, but for the students of Quinnipiac. It is there loss.

There has been much written of late of law school reforms to make legal education more practical. Yet, I tend to think it is mainly misplaced. It is reform from the vantage point of academics, and the reforms do not go far enough and are often just window dressing. It is very disheartening. Schools raise tuition because they seem totally unable to control costs. There are no priorities. They spend like a high school student with a new MasterCard and then expect the students, that the school slights with ineffective education and training practices, to bail out the school with higher and higher tuition. Worse, they add useless fees to hide their lack of leadership, which punishes students because it limits their financial aid.

Maybe you should demand a tenure track!

David Carson

That's a HUGE loss for the school and its students. I know this firsthand, as a former student in your course.

But your Web audience (including myself) is happy to know that you'll be able to write that many more blog posts.

And Chuck...62 degrees up here today...go figure.

Grant D. Griiffiths

I would echo Chuck's comment. The loss is to the law students who will not have the opportunity to take a quality 'how to' class such as you were offering.

However, bigger and brighter things are waiting for you. And your Solo Practice University sounds like a wonderful step. I can't wait to hear more.

Carolyn Elefant

This is the most ludicrous thing that I've ever read. (And I'm not even a huge fan of extensive practical law school training). You taught an elective and a wildly popular one at that. Still, students were not FORCED to sign up for it. Those students who preferred to focus on legal doctrine were free to do so. How a single and well liked practical course constitutes a threat to scholarship is beyond me.

Sandy Slaga

Susan, as this door closes, new ones are opening, as evidenced by, among other ventures, Solo Practice University.

I look forward to it!



I would feel not one ounce of regret. I believe that many law schools will realize the danger of trying to become "more competitive" when they are not situated to "compete" in the US News ranking game.

In addition to the matter of the professor's egos, this is a situation where a law school is trying to "up" its status by limiting its class size, which had the consequence of limiting course offerings---courses that students (their consumers) clearly want, I might add. What this plan to "up" status assumes, however, is that status can be "upped" without the permission of those who establish the criteria. The problem with playing a ranking war is that you have to be one of the parties whose interests the system was designed to assist in the first place in order to successfully manipulate that system...without their changing the formula when they realize that you have manipulated it.

If this law school aims to replace HLS, it may as well shoot to compete against Princeton Law in an invitation only moot court competition. The point is that professors' ego's are at play here. Nobody but nobody likes to be in last place. But, competing in a race that tests speed, when what you offer is strength and endurance...is not very well-reasoned now is it?

Law schools need to recognize the power of niche marketing. Ooops. If they valued business, we wouldn't be having this internet conversation in the first place. Nevermind.

In any event, I am sure that this was the universe's way of saying....Susan, you have outgrown this. Time to take it to the next level.

Meanwhile, if everyone were going to get the same opportunity after law school and do things the same way, we could adopt a uniform legal education structure based upon nothing but the traditional methods. However, if we are going to have law schools who will grant the degree that the ABA accredits only to have them not be able to participate in the presumed structure of development, then we need an educational system that reflects that diversity of outcome.

Meanwhile, the Universe is waiting for your next move. I look forward to it.

Joel Beck

Wow. How tragic that the desires and insecurities of other faculty members and the academic regulators at the ABA trounce the desires and needs of students. More importantly, it will be the legal profession that suffers, as schools continue to churn out folks who can find a case, but don't know how to deal with a client.


Perhaps my perspective on this is colored by recent things I have been reading on changes in the global marketplace (e.g., The World is Flat), but my thought is that the professor who is concerned about threats to the ivory tower approach to law school is at heart also concerned about the the practical approach to legal education lowering the barriers of entry to the profession. Where the mystique of the profession is reduced, the competitive advantage and market value of a law license can be greatly reduced. If you are a solo with modest overhead, you don't mind making 1/3 (or less) of a partner in a traditional firm. You make a good living and you have the chance to make a life at the same time. There will of course always be a place for the conventional approach to law--Citibank isn't going to turn to me for representation through their financial crisis--but lowering barriers to entry (read: teaching something useful) is a threat. It makes the ivory tower less necessary and the gray-haired partner in the medium to small firms less necessary. What you have then is a proliferation of lawyers with no real difference between them but price. The forces of history and the market favor the solos. Assistance with the practical aspects of the legal profession will spread in one way or another and the barriers to entering the profession will be lowered. There is no stopping the spread of information now. The only questions are when and by whom the profession will be transformed and how best to position oneself in light of this reality. Maybe the old professor will keep the game going into retirement. For those of us with more time to put in before retirement, these questions have a far greater urgency.

Susan Cartier Liebel

Jerry, thank you for joining the conversation. Your points are well considered. The only issue I part ways with you on is as there is a proliferation of attorneys the only difference will be price. I'm not so sure.

What determines my choosing one lawyer over another may have price as a consideration but so does their reputation in the community, whether or not I trust the source of referral to that particular attorney and the value I place on resolution to my legal matter. Price will always be a consideration but certainly not the only consideration. Demystifying the profession does take away some of the cache, but I would like to think it may attract different minds to legal education which in turn may in fact improve the practice of law for the the pracititioner and the public.

Is it lowering the bar for entry or just putting it in a different position? I don't know.

Garrett Worley

My law school never offered a class on starting a solo practice or law office management and I think it has been a loss to the community at large more than anyone else. While a few of us have been tenacious enough to seek out resources like your blog, the majority of law students view solo practice as a nearly impossible feat.

This is unfortunate because I think that solos are better-suited to meet the needs of most individuals and small business clients. It's disturbing that in age where technology has significantly leveled the playing field for solos, law schools are cutting back their course offerings in this area. The passion, determination and entrepreneurial spirit that drive a lawyer to begin a solo practice are traits that law schools should encourage, not sweep away.

Best of luck in your current endeavors.

Kimberly Thompson


it is a shame that they canceled a class that actually provided hands on learning and information, especially now when many graduates will be forced to hang their own shingle because of the limited jobs available in this economy. I enjoyed your class, learned a lot and am in the process of opening my own practice. Quinnipiac is a nice school but it lacks hands on learning. When I first graduated I was mortified at what they never taught me (ex. how to write a motion!). Your class and Sandy Lax's Family Law were the only two classes where I actually learned more than theory. Good luck with everything you do.


Susan Cartier Liebel, Esq.

Kimberly, thank you for being in my class and for commenting and congratulations on going out on your own!

It's exciting, scary times but you will do well if you make up your mind to do well. I hope my class played some small part in giving you the confidence you will need to succeed.

Keep me posted!

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