Friday, December 20, 2013

Wisconsin Legal Task Force Comes Down on the Side of the Reformers

Almost two weeks ago Dupednontraditional did an excellent post on the differing conclusions that the ABA's Task Force on the Future of Legal Education report compared to the Illinois State Bar Association's "Special Committee on the Impact of Law School Debt on the Delivery of Legal Services" report.

Then, last Thursday, dybbuk123 took down the self-interested New York City Bar Association Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession's 135 page report.  Though it purported to be broadly representative of both the New York and national legal profession, dybbuk123 reported that the makeup of the Task Force was almost completely made up of elite lawyers (BigLaw, General Counsel, Chief Legal Counsel) or law school employees (including eight law school deans).  Dybbuk deserves a nod for holding his nose and making it through the whole report, which was so out-of-touch with reality that it could only have been the result of a collaboration between law school deans and BigLaw partners.

Though we often feel (rightly) that us average folks in the legal profession are not getting the support we need from the top, whether it is the ABA, NALP, or state bar associations, things have been starting to change.  In June, as covered by Dupednontraditional, Illinois put forth a report that looks like something that OTLSS contributors could have come up with.

Not to be left out by their neighbors to the south, the State Bar of Wisconsin created the "Challenges Facing New Lawyers Task Force" to address the serious issues, which they did in the "Special Task Force Report".  
The members of the task force, unlike the NYC task force, includes a healthy mix of law school employees, non-profit lawyers, and representatives from small to medium-large firms.

The "origin story" of the task force was when the State Bar's President published concerns about new lawyers entering "the job market when it was at an all-time low while trying to support an unprecedented debt burden" last year.  There's no mincing the words here.  Instead of the overindulgent and self-aggrandizing manner that the NYC task force employed, the CFNLTF (Wisconsin Task Force) simply stated that it's goal is to "make preliminary recommendations to help alleviate concerns," as it believes that "any changes to the structure of the legal education system . . . must be led by a united effort on the national level, with the ABA leading such efforts."  While most of us do not have much faith in the ABA, the ABA will have to eventually come around if issues are to be solved, and pressure from Illinois and Wisconsin can only get the ball rolling.

Among the actions the CFNLTF pursued were "listening sessions" at the law schools of Marquette and the University of Wisconsin Madison, where law students and newer lawyers aired concerns.  The special report actually noted that some of the job opportunities for recent law graduates "paid even less than one might expect to earn as a barista . . . (or didn't) offer basic benefits such as health insurance."

The CFNLTF also compiled a survey of 599 young lawyers (about 70% have graduated since 2008), most of which whom worked in smaller firms.  The survey found that more than half had found their loans to have majorly impacted their lives, while a quarter expected to not pay off the debt for 6-10 years, and about a third expected to be stuck with their loans for more than 20 years.

I'm not going to continue to summarize the survey results much longer; it's exactly what you would expect: most found their pay and benefits to be lower than they expected, most didn't learn about the difficulties facing lawyers until they were already enrolled in law school, and most who went to law school "wanted to help others or serve justice."  It's encouraging that the State Bar of Wisconsin is paying attention to the future of the legal profession, and while many in the legal ed reform movement have been beating these particular drums for a few years, it is clear that the momentum is clearly in our favor.

Another survey the CFNLTF reported on was the "2013 Economics of the Law practice in Wisconsin Survey Report," and though they note that the subsamples are small, it replicates what we know: that generally people in larger firms are paid more, and generally people with more experience charge more per hour.

The report has some good ideas on how to positively affect young lawyers in the short term, such as giving bigger discounts to young lawyers for CLE, the bar exam, and dues, as well as creating mentorship programs and enhancing law school curriculum to focus more on practice management (the report noted that one participant in the listening sessions didn't think that "classes were offered in law school that addressed client relationship and lawyering skills", and I thought it was called "Law" school!).  

However, we all know that the long-term health of the legal profession is at stake, and band-aids that don't only slow the bleeding are not enough.  This is where the CFNLTF began to show its limits (as it candidly admitted in the beginning of the report).  

Most of its long-term suggestions are general, are not especially novel, or are potentially not helpful at all.  For instance, a small paragraph describes a "Legal Match Program" which would steer younger lawyers to "find jobs in more rural or other outlying areas," without addressing the underlying issues of such a program: there are a limited amount of paying clients, the local attorneys are firmly entrenched, and salaries and benefits would be too low to adequately handle typical law school debt.  The "Law School Funded Court Clerk Position" apes the Massachusetts Bar Association Task Force's proposal that law schools pay students to be law clerks for the courts, which in theory could be helpful to many parties if done well.  The report is on stronger grounds when it addresses using the third year of law school as a "residency" year or addressing student loan repayment, but they do not go as far as the Illinois report's suggestion that the funding mechanism of law school be radically altered.

The report ends with the recommendation that a permanent body be created in order to keep consistent oversight.  While this should have always been the case, it gives a little more momentum.

After reading the whole report and summarizing parts of it, it is apparent that its best contributions are the "listening surveys" and getting a good cross-section of the states' lawyers to participate in the task force, rather than its specific short and long-term proposals.  However, by no means does that alter the fact that Wisconsin has started something that they can build off of, and it is another thumb on the scale on the side of the law school reform movement.

The "listening surveys" performed at the states' two law schools need to be expanded to include the rest of the law schools.  Politicians do town hall meetings in order to keep a thumb on the pulse of their constituents, and people with power in the legal profession need to be doing the same.  Imagine the look on the law deans and professors if their recent graduates are lining up in front of a microphone telling them about their $1200 monthly loan payments and $45,000/year law job, or someone with $200,000 in student loans making $18,0000 a year without health insurance in a "JD (dis)Advantage" position.  For that very reason I think that it would be unlikely, but one can only dream.

In conclusion, the CFNLTF has made an important, if too-short, contribution to the growing number of State Bar task forces.  Hopefully it continues the trend, and puts pressure on the NYC task force and the ABA to change their tune.


  1. This is a nice development, which would not have come from an ABA task force.

  2. Is it really surprising that New York lawyers don't care about non-elite lawyers? I say this as a former New Yorker.

  3. Excellent article on reform attempts. Do you have any data compiled on which state bars have actually issued reform reports? In Washington State, it appears that the answer to fewer law jobs is to increase the bar passage rate from the 60s to the mid-80s and throw more lawyers at the problem. I wonder where the reform states are.

  4. What is so scary about this is that Wisconsin ranks 20th among the states in population and has only two law schools, both of which are well-established rather than being Johnny-come-lately TTT cash cows.

  5. Still a lot of mystery.

    We all know that the total outstanding student loan debt is 1.1 trillion or so.

    But is there a figure for the amount of current outstanding debt from law school?

    Surely there are public databases that can compile that number and which should be available to the taxpayers/public.

    If Senator Reed is eventually successful, you can bet there will be a lot of scrutiny of University Financial aid offices and the default rates of the graduates.

    1. In Failing Law Schools, Tamanaha estimated that the law schools collectively bring in about $3.5-4 billion anually, and Paul Campos' Crisis in the American Law Schools estimate was similar.

      I'm sure the ABA is right on it!

  6. My reply to this article:

    1. Thank you for the reply. Perhaps I was more positive than I should have been, but after the BS that the NYC task force tried to pass onto us I felt that Wisconsin's report was overall a plus. I also noted the weaknesses of the Wisconsin report and I'm hoping they have a follow-up that tries to get more into the meat of the problem.

    2. First thing on JeffM's post is that, unlike this blog author, he did not even bother to read the report.

      I believe this author's point is that while far from perfect, there is perhaps a change in the wind direction afoot due to IL and WI having reports that did something other than classically gloss over that there is a problem. I certainly hope this is now true.

      Think of it this way JeffM: the IL and WI reports are clearly too long on talkathon. However, the IL report had a HUGE amount of listening sessions and a credible body makeup. The WI report was actually light on listening sessions but had a HUGE leap forward in using a professional survey of its members to build data of irrefutable statistical significance and accuracy, i.e., not anecdotes and not extrapolated second hand data, and also had a more balanced body makeup.

      As I think I saw described elsewhere, at least we are moving into two clear camps of those who are right and simpleton reality-deniers, who will become wholly incredible along this trend if a new one has taken hold finally. Cause for optimism at this point is that the tip of a new iceberg has been spotted at all, admittedly. I agree that solutions remain undone.

  7. Give the market a decade or so to recover.

  8. Interesting. If you go here:

    Follow the instructions and the PDF form you will be asked to fill out if you so desire will have a link to a resource with the US Dept. of Ed. where you can supposedly download your entire student loan history info.

  9. There's really no "sides" anymore, just "right" and "in denial."


    I was opening today. For the first hour after we open there aren’t many real customers but there is a steady stream of regulars who come through and spray themselves with cologne for the day. Some are employees, some are weird old people who come here every day, some are homeless. The old biddies who work here will yell at the homeless ones sometimes and tell them this isn’t a homeless shelter. I don’t think they really know what a homeless shelter is because homeless shelters don’t usually have a big Armani fragrance selection. I never say anything to them, I figure its a net positive to society to have the homeless smell better.

    This morning a homeless guy came in, stuck a bottle of Chanel Allure down his sweatpants and soaked his balls in $84 cologne.

    Then he took the Bleu and sprayed it approximately 16-19 times on his White Sox beanie. I really wanted to ask him how he decided on the different scents for his hat and his balls but he left quickly after that. I guess those were the only two areas he was concerned about.

    I wasn’t sure what to do. It seemed like destroying the bottle would be the right thing to do but I don’t think I am empowered to make those kind of judgement calls. I haven’t seen a manager all day.

    At 10:30 the Chanel rep, a very sweet middle aged blonde woman from Russia or the Ukraine or some shit, came in. I told her what had happened to her bottle.

    "Down heez pants?" she asked.


    "Deed eet touch?"


    "You know. Deed eet touch heez tezteecles?"

    I couldn’t be 100% sure, I told her, but the bottle was definitely in disturbing proximity.

    "Hmmmm." She thought deeply. "Vell eef eet didnt touch tezteecles I theenk iz ok."

    It’s definitely not ok, but hey its her call. So for the rest of the day I will be playing a game counting how many people catch a disease from handling the cologne that was down a homeless dude’s pants.

  11. Problem is that most experienced lawyers are struggling with unemployment or temp work. The Wisconsin report is asking people who for the most part cannot making a living in a vastly overcrowded profession to help young lawyers make a living?

  12. But wait. If law school needs to be reformed because the course of study fails to prepare one to practice law, then why would law school be seen as advantageous by non legal employers? What's this JD advantage garbage anyway?

  13. The special report also took notice that some of the recent law graduates are getting paid less as they might expected

    Andrew Felix

  14. The law school actually needs reform but that does not mean that the situation will be a flop.