Around the Blawgosphere: Proposal to Save Law Students Money on Books; Adjunct Blasts Rankings

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“$150 Million Casebook Challenge”

At the CALI Spotlight Blog, Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction executive director John Mayer, laid out a “$150 million casebook challenge.”

He noted that there are more than 140,000 law students in the U.S. who (according to Public Interest Research Group statistics) each spend an average of $1,100 on books each year, coming out to about $150 million spent every year on law school textbooks. “What if most of the books that students need for law school were free?” Mayer posited.

To this end, he proposes that for three consecutive years, each of the country’s 201 American Bar Association-accredited law school give one faculty member leave from teaching a course or an institutional stipend for one year to help contribute to a casebook. From there, Mayer writes, faculty would form teams to write casebooks. He expects that three years of this effort would yield around 100 electronic casebooks. (Although services also exist to create low-cost hardcover and softcover books.) He says his organization could provide Web-based tools to assist this effort.

“This sends a message to law students that law schools are doing something innovative, serious and substantive to increase the value and quality of legal education and reduce the cost,” Mayer wrote. “This idea leverages the benefits of electronic books and ubiquitous internet connectivity and exposes law faculty to 21st century technologies that are becoming de rigueur to their students.”

How to Measure ‘Scholarly Impact’?

Corrected: University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota) professor Gregory Sisk released a study ranking the scholarly impact of law school faculties over the years 2007 to 2011. (University of Chicago Law School professor Brian Leiter was a consultant on the project.) The rankings are based on mean and median law journal citations for the last five years. Yale University, Harvard University, the University of Chicago, Stanford University and New York University top the list.

But are law journals the best measure of scholarly impact? At Adjunct Law Prof Blog, Mitchell Rubinstein, senior counsel at New York State United Teachers and an adjunct law professor at New York Law School, suggests that It would be better to base this ranking on which law faculties were most cited by courts.

“These rankings are also biased towards more elite law schools,” Rubinstein wrote. “This is because other professors are more likely to cite an article in Chicago Law Review than New York Law Review. You see, they all want to be published in the University of Chicago Law Review because of that school’s U.S. News ranking. Also, if you cite a professor, he is likely to cite you back. So much for quality.”

Not that Rubinstein hasn’t participated in legal scholarship himself. “Don’t get me wrong. I believe scholarship has an important place in the academy. I myself have published 16 articles and am working on a book. But, the focus should be on practice, not theory. Unfortunately, law schools today are literally backwards.”

Show Me the Money

At Attorney at Work, Denver-based law firm consultant Merrilyn Astin Tarlton asked some lawyers and consultants: How much does it cost to start a new solo law firm?

Some respondents avoided citing dollar amounts, but others took the bait.

Washington, D.C., solo Carolyn Elefant said that assuming that one already has a laptop and a smartphone, “your only real costs are malpractice insurance (which can be as low as $500 per year for a newbie), business cards (maybe $10 online) and a domain name ($10 per year). The bigger hurdle is how much you need to earn each month to cover costs like health insurance (if you’re young and healthy, you could find something for a few hundred) and student loan debt (which for many grads starts at $1,000 per month, though there is a deferral period). I’m not saying that starting on the cheap is recommended—it’s not. But if push comes to shove, it can be done.”

Law firm information technology consultant Debbie Foster echoed that having current computer equipment is a plus. “Presuming you establish your new practice from home, start-up costs can be as little as $3,500 inclusive of purchasing a laptop, printer and scanner,” she said. “Cloud-based practice management and billing solutions run about $50 per user per month. Microsoft, via its Office 365 product, provides Microsoft Office 2010 for as little as $22 per month.”

Santa Cruz, Calif.-based law practice consultant Donna Seyle: “You can get started for under $500 per month, with no up-front costs, for a virtual home office practice.”

Updated on July 23 to correct the spelling of Mitchell Rubinstein’s name.


Updated on July 23 to correct the spelling of Mitchell Rubinstein’s name.

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