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The 1980s were great years if you were law firm associates—but if you were clients, not so much

Posted Dec 13, 2013 9:49 AM CDT
By Sarah Mui

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Both Indiana University law professor Bill Henderson at the Legal Whiteboard and Ohio State University law professor Deborah Merritt at Law School Cafe examined the state of the legal profession in this country a generation (or more) ago.

Henderson crunched some data that he says tells "an absolutely remarkable story. Associates were most integral to the large law firm model over 25 years ago. Although large law firms went on a hiring spree at various points during the 1990s and 2000s, the firms themselves were simultaneously adding a new layer of human capital that was neither associate or partner/owner. And in the process, associates were gradually being marginalized."

Merritt, who looks back 50-plus years to explore why law practice has changed, also remembers the 1980s, and the role of associates in firms at that time. "The law practice I knew in the 1980s was remarkably inefficient," she wrote. "Highly paid associates proofread briefs, reviewed documents, and continuously reinvented the wheel. Clients of all types paid more for legal services than they should have; they had no other options." Increased competition in the present day means clients have more choices at lower rates—and the quality of the work isn't any worse, she writes. "Indeed, competition may have spurred some lawyers to provide higher quality services."

Preach, in-house counsel

Has anyone ever called Aon chief counsel Mark Herrmann a difficult client? In a first-person post at Above the Law this week, he asks a series of rhetorical questions to outside counsel, and then answers them to demonstrate how the outside counsel is the one being difficult. A couple of highlights:

• "Do you think I want to nag you about the stuff that’s sitting on your desk? No way! I pester only because I’ve learned from long experience that if you ask the average person to do something, he doesn’t. When I write a week later asking where you stand on Project X, and you tell me that you haven’t yet started it (but you appreciate the reminder), you’ve earned yourself nagging for the next few years, until you convince me that you’re responsible."

• "Do you think I won’t notice when you substitute out the associate who actually knows our case and substitute in some new lawyer who doesn’t know bupkis about our situation? How am I supposed to avoid noticing that? I’m getting emails from some new person. I’m seeing bills that record endless days of 'file review' as the new person struggles to get up to speed. If you want to change lawyers on the case, ask in advance and tell me why it’s necessary! I’m being logical, not difficult."

Standing your ground against protected species

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Image from Shutterstock.

In the latest in his series of Legal Crap My Kids Ask Me posts, Bitter Lawyer editor Gregory Luce fields the latest from his son Max: Would it be legal for him to kill a bald eagle if it was in self-defense?

The short answer? "Given the rarity of an unprovoked bald eagle attack, the facts likely won’t line up in your favor. And that’s the bottom line: can you establish the general legal requirements for using deadly force in defense of yourself?"

The law regarding using deadly force in self-defense in Minnesota, where Luce is, has a primary requirement that you can establish that you did not provoke the attack against you. "You’d probably be answering plenty of initial inquiries from federal officials about what provoked the bald eagle to attack you and how you happened to kill it," Luce wrote. "Ultimately, you’d probably end up in a plea deal and paying a fine, doing time, or negotiating something in between."

Second thoughts

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Google Glass. Joe Seer / Shutterstock.com

Last week, Droid Lawyer blogger Jeffrey Taylor was seeking PayPal donations to help him purchase a Google Glass.

And his goal was met, he writes this week. But he had second thoughts, and sent all of the donations back.

Why? Mainly because what Google Glass can do now isn't quite worth $1,500, he reasons. "Glass simply can’t, and probably, to be more specific, won’t for a very long time—at least until Google releases the device for consumer use, or developers get on-board with some killer apps—be more useful than my smartphone and tablet." He thinks he might wait for it to go down to $500.

He also notes some observations that Lawyerist's Sam Glover had after sitting in on a webcast about Google Glass.

"From what I can tell, one of the main features of Glass is the fact that it is a new thing, and people are curious about it, so they will talk to you," Glover wrote at his blog. "In other words, it's a really expensive ice-breaker. One social media consultant (big surprise) even said he got some work because he was wearing Glass. (Lawyers will look for the networking angle in anything. News at 11.)"

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