Should small firms be the ones to close the access-to-justice gap? | How to be a great local counsel
Corrected: Last week, the New York City Bar Association announced some new pilot programs: a New Lawyer Institute, which would offer a yearlong comprehensive CLE curriculum for 2014 law grads, and a law firm incubator that would “enable new lawyers to address the unmet civil legal needs of the middle class while developing their own sustainable professional practices.”
Washington, D.C., solo Carolyn Elefant shared some doubts about the programs at Above the Law. The curriculum is “standard ‘Starting A Law Firm 101’ fare,” but Elefant says she’d want such training to focus on “the most cutting-edge practice areas imaginable” to help these new lawyers attract more complicated and higher-paying cases. “I’d train new lawyers on e-discovery and information privacy and implementation of the Affordable Care Act,” she writes.
But the training is standard because of the initiative’s twin-but-not-necessarily-compatible goal of increasing access to justice. Elefant wonders why only solos and small firms are seen as part of the solution to that issue.
“Access to justice is a problem for the profession, but it’s one that all lawyers share,” Elefant writes. “For that reason, I think that we need to divorce our conversation about access to justice from the problem of unemployment and starting a law practice. Not only is it unfair to view solo practice as the solution to access to justice, but we also cheat the entire profession by confining solo practice to low-bono work rather than encouraging them to explore new avenues for growth that in the long run might expand more meaningful access to justice.”
Locals we love
Los Angeles litigator and At Counsel Table blogger Alex Craigie has both hired local counsel and been hired as local counsel. And sometimes, the two sets of counsel don’t have the same vision of a working relationship. Craigie came up with a list of eight “thoughts about what local counsel can do to set themselves apart and, in doing so, make future engagements more likely.” Two of them:
• Ideally, local counsel will have some insight into the judge hearing the case and perhaps some rapport with or knowledge of opposing counsel. “Does opposing counsel have a pattern?” Craigie writes. “Are they lazy until the last 90 days before trial? Do they always fight hard and then settle? Are they competent in front of a jury? Do they know the judge well? Even if you don’t know the answers to these questions, you should have the resources (i.e., connections within the local bar) to ferret them out.”
• “Don’t friggin’ poach the client,” Craigie writes. “The idea behind taking this work is not as an angle toward poaching the client away from lead counsel. If you see it otherwise, you’re not doing anyone, including yourself, any favors.”
Where is the ‘dead weight’?
Greg Lambert wrote at 3 Geeks and a Law Blog about an Am Law Legal Intelligence survey that two factors which contribute to bad law firm morale are too much “dead weight” in the firms and too much weight for current staffing levels.
“I think that most of us would agree that the more-with-less approach has weighed most heavily on the supporting staff at law firms,” Lambert writes. “The trends have been to reduce secretaries to 4:1 or higher ratios, hiring freezes, or reduction in staff by natural (or encouraged) attrition has caused changes in the lawyer to staff ratios at most firms.”
What have these changes meant for staffers? Have they been given new, additional responsibilities, and “if so, have firms stepped up to actually train and support these changes?”
Lambert wonders “if what the survey is defining as ‘dead weight’ is really those people within the firm that have been expected to take on new roles and responsibilities, but haven’t received the proper training or support to actually succeed in those new roles. Great plans without actual changes in structure and support through training is doomed to fail.”
We stand corrected
At Legal Blog Watch back in 2007, Robert Ambrogi surveyed the blawgosphere and concluded that Overlawyered, which launched in 1999 (right around the time the term “blog” came into being), was the oldest legal blog. We have repeated that assertion ourselves.
But Ambrogi reconsidered that position this week at Robert Ambrogi’s Lawsites.
“Yesterday, in the course of searching for my 2007 Legal Blog Watch post, I came across an even earlier post of my own—one that I’d forgotten about entirely—addressing this very question. That 2003 post, The First-Ever Law Blog?, cited immigration lawyer Greg Siskind as the self-declared first-ever legal blogger.”
Updated on Nov. 25 to correctly attribute the 3 Geeks and a Law Blog post quoted in the third blurb to Greg Lambert.