Most of my services involved working with dissatisfied lawyers, helping them become aware of the wide range of options they have within the practice of law (and, to a limited extent, outside of the legal community). The fundamental goal of my advice and guidance is to convince my clients that they should be committed to taking positions that are consistent with their professional goals and their personal values. For details of my services, go to My Services.
OUTPLACEMENT – When law firms decide to lay-off an associate or a partner leaves a firm, I contract with the law firm to provide one-on-one services for the associate or partner. My fee is the same hourly fee I charge to clients who come to me on their own. We agree in advance that the law firm will pay no more than a fixed amount for the term of the contract. The services are no different from that provided to the individual clients. The advantage that I have is that I have been working exclusively with law students and lawyers for the past 25 years. I am aware of the process by which many law students were funneled to law firms, the sources of their dissatisfaction, what they were not taught and what they do not know about the legal community. Based on that, I know what assumptions, concerns and fears they bring to any career planning sessions and am able to more effectively and efficiently help them to make a thoughtful transition. .
CONSULTATION - On one occasion, I consulted to a large law firm which perceived a significant problem within a department. I am not going to provide any further details but, needless to say, there was a dysfunctional relationship among the partners, associates and staff. What I did was to interview all the partners in the department and provide a report to the management summarizing what I heard (much of it provided in confidence on the condition that it not be attributed). The complaints of the partners were often about situations in which their development as professionals was seriously compromised; for example, such as not: being trained; respected; given work; having autonomy; allowed to do pro bono; assigned associates.
I have had the pleasure of designing and presenting workshops for bar associations including the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. on How to Locate and Search for Satisfying Positions in the Law. The one or two hour sessions were likely helpful to those who attended. The drawback is that each lawyer has his or her own unique situation (an integral part of my work is devoting at least an hour and a half telling that story) which is a key to deciding on the path to take. There is no opportunity to share that at a workshop. Another disadvantage is that dissatisfied lawyers presently employed do not attend such programs since they fear being seen and thereby jeopardizing their positions at their law firms.
I first began to work with law students at Harvard Law School in 1983. While my title was Public Interest Adviser, I was the go-to person for anyone who was reluctant to be funneled by the insidious on-campus interviewing owned and operated by the large law firms. At least 40% of each class either came to me for advice or participated in public interest programs or summer positions. (Unfortunately, I only had at most one hour a year for each student seeking advice.) I also estimate that another 30-40% would have preferred, if shown their options and taught how to practice law, to be in small firms representing small businesses or individuals, or might have opted to be entrepreneurs.
Each year 95% of the graduates took positions immediately upon graduation or after the traditional clerkship (I don’t want to go to the firm now. I’ll take a clerkship and maybe a positive option will miraculously appear.) with large law firms. In addition, of the 2500 Harvard Law School graduates from 1984-1988, only four (4) did NOT become employees, two started City Year and two started a legal services program.
One of my major efforts was to work to increase the perception by students of the range of options they had. When I arrived, there were two – large firms or public interest (government, legal services, public interest litigation like the ACLU). I added a new category to the Public Interest Directory I edited entitled “Private Public Interest Law Firms”. Students learned that there were thousands of lawyers doing meaningful work as solo practitioners or in firms of five or less lawyers representing individuals in areas such as family law (divorce and custody) tenants rights, education, healthcare, discrimination, civil rights, criminal defense, gay rights, the injured (from products liability, toxic torts, etc.) Soon they were taking summer positions working with these lawyers and eventually going to work permanently in these fields.
Finding similar concerns among law school career officers, I helped to start a Public Interest Committee of the National Association for Law Placement.
Upon being involuntarily relieved of my position by the new Dean of Harvard Law School who had little interest in providing support for students not interested in large law firms or academia, I continued to be involved in advising law students. Over the next 4 years I consulted over two years at Boston College Law School and Cornell Law School. In addition I presented workshops for students, often joined with a limited number of individual counseling sessions, at twenty other law schools and regional law school job fairs.
LAW SCHOOL FACULTY
I thoroughly enjoyed the three occasions I had to present workshops on career planning and professional development for the faculty of Northwestern Law School, Tulane Law School and Syracuse Law School. At the first two I talked more about the six cancers of legal education (the law schools’ lack of a mission, failure to teach skills, failure to teach values, failure to present options along with its use of on-campus interviewing, the failure to teach career planning and its charging too much) and how it had led to the dissatisfaction of their graduates. By the time I consulted to Syracuse Law School I had prepared and presented a proposal for the creation of a Professional Development Department for the law school headed by faculty. The object of the proposal was to reduce the career planning office to a minor role and transfer all aspects of professional development as an integral part of the curriculum. The department would be responsible for: insuring courses made clear what skills and values were taught; for helping all students choose a direction; advising on which courses to take; and providing students mentoring, contacts, networking and other advice for term-time work as well as summer and permanent positions.
I was invited to speak to a regional meeting of college pre-law advisers. Sadly, what I found during my short foray into this world was nice people clueless about law schools - what they did, what they taught, what they didn’t teach, what effect law school attendance had on law students, what the difference was between law schools, etc. What seemed to be important was that college students be advised on how to get into the law schools ranked the highest by the US News & World Report’s annual issue. There seemed to be no concern that the rankings did not have a criterion for how well the law schools prepared its students to practice law. I distributed a list of twenty questions that could be directed to the dean of a law school which would allow a prospective student to compare schools based on their teachings of the fundamental skills and values of the legal profession. That list can be found attached here. I was later invited to speak to the pre-law advisers at a prominent university in the Boston area. To my knowledge the list has never been sent by a pre-law adviser to the dean of a law school.
My conclusion is that there is an inexorable process of miseducation in this country that begins in high school when students are pressured to go to the “best” college to bring “prestige” to their schools (and alumni/ae donations.) In college, students are pressured to go to the “best” law school to bring “prestige” to their schools (and alumni/ae donations) and in law school they are pressured to go to the “best’ law firms to bring “prestige” to their schools (and alumni/ae donations). It does not seem to be relevant whether these paths and choices are in the best interests of their students.