Around the Blawgosphere: Prof Crunches Law Schools' Employment Numbers; Do Web Startups Offer Value?

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Rank Misrepresentations

At The Faculty Lounge, University of North Carolina law school professor Bernie Burk decided to seek out information on law school websites to see what percentage of graduates are holding temporary positions funded by the law school at graduation. He promises to mine more schools’ data and post something more extensive in the next week or two, but in the meantime singled out a few high-ranked schools that had grads in these temporary positions.

Washington & Lee University Law School (praised just this week at Legal Skills Prof Blog for having adopted significant educational reforms) reported that 89.4 percent of the class of 2010 had jobs at graduation and 90.2 percent were employed 9 months post-graduation. “But according to W&L’s own website, a full 41 percent (yes, 41 percent) of the graduating class held temporary positions funded by the law school at graduation, and 10 percent of the class still did 9 months later,” Burk wrote. “Take out the temporary positions funded by the law school, and the actual employment numbers are 48 percent at graduation and 80 percent at nine months.”

And Vanderbilt University Law School (just this week defeated in an Above the Law reader poll asking which law school should be ranked 15th on the U.S. News list) reported 89.6 percent of graduates employed at graduation and 91.6 percent employed within 9 months. But “over 20 percent of the class of 2010 held temporary positions subsidized by the law school at graduation, and 11 percent still did 9 months later. Take out the temporary subsidized positions, and the actual employment numbers are 68 percent at graduation and 80.6 percent at 9 months.

One of Burk’s big takeaways? That U.S. News & World Report, which doesn’t factor these temporary positions into its employment data, “has screwed the pooch again. Since we can all agree that any rational decision-maker would consider the prospects for a temporary school-subsidized job to be much less valuable than the prospects for a permanent full-time law job, U.S. News’s investiture of 18 percent of its entire ranking in a statistic that fails to distinguish between the two when the former will sometimes be 20 percent or more of the latter inevitably results in some pretty serious distortions.”

Are Startups Really Bridging Justice Gap?

At My Shingle, Washington, D.C., solo Carolyn Elefant is skeptical of the premise of a VentureBeat post asserting that websites that let users search for lawyers based on their fees or provide legal documents for a charge are really helping to meet the undisputed need for affordable legal services.

LegalZoom isn’t always much cheaper than hiring a lawyer, Elefant writes. “Take a look at the $99 incorporation package. Many lawyers—even those without support staff—could easily bang out three LegalZoom incorporations (total = $300) in an hour and wouldn’t even require a 7-10 day turn-around. … Truth be told, if clients don’t want to pay for full service, many lawyers will direct them to incorporation forms available online or give them necessary forms for free.

(Indeed: For instance, three years ago, Wilson Sonsini came out with a free online tool to draft term sheets—documents that outline the terms and conditions of a business contract—for preferred stock financing.)

Elefant also targeted services offered by Shpoonkle (not mentioned in the VentureBeat story) and Rocket Lawyer “that force lawyers into bidding wars, or [cap] legal fees at $89 for traffic ticket defense or $275 for a divorce. “By spending so much time braying about the high cost of legal services and pitting lawyers against each other to lowball fees, the tech start ups make the problem of access to justice even worse. After all, a lawyer who’s getting $2,000 for a murder trial isn’t likely to blow $1,000 on an investigator or an expert witness. Rather, he’ll dispense with those services to the detriment of his client.”

Who’s Doing It Right?

Lawyerist has announced its third-annual Best Law Firm Websites contest. In past years, a marketing-consultant judge just chose her favorite six or seven sites (in 2011, she named one site she designed to the list). This year, the site’s bloggers will choose their favorites from among those that readers nominate by adding a comment to the post seeking nominations.

But before you act on that instinct to nominate your own site, take heed: “We’re looking for websites with great design and great content, so don’t nominate your Geocities page,” Lawyerist writes. “We reserve the right to make fun of nominated websites, if we feel it’s necessary, although we won’t go looking for websites to pick on.”

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