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Today Law Students Building A Better Legal Profession was featured in the Wall Street Journal law blog, sparking a wave of commentary there and in other sources across the blogosphere. Many of the comments were thoughtful and we were glad to see passionate debate about these issues. We hope it continues and welcome your thoughts at refirmation (at) gmail.com.
In all the back and forth sometimes motives and methods are lost or just assumed, so we wanted to write with a few additional thoughts.
In our presentations across the country we’ve noticed that law students are tired of the usual “private firm vs. public interest” divide. Sure, there are students that are all about going to a large law firm to make a lot of money right away, and students equally committed to working for a nonprofit or the government immediately upon graduation. That’s great – they know what they want, don’t need a lot of extra information, and this organization probably won’t be of much interest to them.
A significant group of students lives between these extremes. They went to law school for a combination of reasons (not just to make a lot of money, not just to become a public defender), and are leaving with a wide variety of overlapping feelings:
I don’t know exactly what kind of law I want to practice, and a large firm will maximize my options.
I have a lot of debt and need to pay these overwhelming loans.
Attorneys have told me that the most interesting and cutting-edge work is done at the largest law firms.
What I really want to do (go in-house, be a federal prosecutor) requires me to go to a firm for a few years.
I might want to be a tax partner, but I don’t want to kill myself en route.
Through a combination of these reasons (debt, prestige, uncertainty), many students graduate feeling like they have fewer professional options than when they arrived in law school. They head to one of a number of large law firms and perceive that they can’t leave for a few years. Maybe this is irrational, maybe not, but it happens to thousands of people every year.
This decision is a choice, yes, but that doesn’t mean our aspirations for the legal profession end with that choice. Most of the students in Law Students Building A Better Legal Profession are headed to firms, but they keep a positive vision of what they can do in a law firm and of how their choice of firms impacts the sector and profession. The same is true of many current associates and partners we’ve spoken with.
In short, we’re concerned about the billable hour escalation and its impact on personal and civic life. We have enormous law school debts but still want to do more than just make money for three to five years. We believe that there is a business case for moderate reform that will make large law firms more sustainable and profitable. And we believe that large law firms have tremendous impact on the lawyers they shape, other organizations in the legal profession, and the role our profession can play in the community.
“Yeah, but what will this organization do?” We’ve started with presentations at a few top law schools, and are branching out over the next few months. We’re assembling a Pre-Interviewing Packet for students, containing research and information about the profession and large law firms. It will use the most reliable data available to highlight best practices and suggest areas and firms where progress can be made. And there’s more to come.
Stay tuned and be in touch – our email is refirmation (at) gmail.com.