Friday, February 27, 2009

D.C. Voting Rights on the Horizon?

Not if the Constitution has anything to say about it, according to Professor Althouse. Constitutional deficiencies aside, today was plainly a monumental day for the D.C. voting rights movement. The Senate, as the New York Times Blog reports, voted 61-37 to pass a bill providing Washington D.C. with voting representation in the House of Representatives.

According to the Times, the measure is expected to pass in the House and be signed into law by President Obama. As they report:

The measure, if it became law, would increase the size of the House of Representatives to 437 from 435, adding not only a seat from the District of Columbia but also one from Utah. The Western seat was added in a compromise deal a few years back, to help attract Republican support and because officials contended that the state was deprived of an additional congressional district through an undercount in the 2000 Census. (Also Utah’s Republican lean would also help balance out the normally Democratic tilt of the district.)

The House has yet to take up the measure this session, but is certain to repeat its passage of the bill in previous years. (Representative Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, indicated that his chamber would take up a similar measure next week.) And President Obama has indicated his support for giving the district representation.
This measure, however, is expected to be challenged on constitutional grounds. And you don't exactly need a J.D. to understand the argument against D.C. voting rights. As Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution provides:

The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states, and the electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature.

Since D.C. is not a "state," how could it possibly be entitled to voting rights in the House of Representatives? One obvious counterargument is that Article I, Section 8 grants Congress with plenary power to "exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over [the] District." Relying on this clause, a plurality of the Court, in National Mutual Insurance Co. of the
District of Columbia v. Tidewater Transfer Co., 387 U.S. 582 (1949), held that Congress was allowed to confer diversity jurisdiction to the federal courts to adjudicate federal claims between residents of the District of Columbia, and those outside the District even though the District was not a "state" under existing precedent. Id. at 590. Significantly, then, Congress was functionally able to treat D.C. as a "state" for the purposes of diversity jurisdiction despite Article III's prescription that diversity jurisdiction extend only to controversies "between citizens of different states."

Tidewater, of course, is not dispositive on the question of whether the "District Clause" gives Congress the power to grant D.C. representatives voting rights in Congress. In fact, the different opinions suggest that the Justices on the Tidewater Court would hold D.C. equivalent to a "state" (based on the "District Clause" or otherwise) only for purposes of determining federal court jurisdiction in diversity cases.

Nevertheless, given the fact that the Tidewater plurality could be read to allow for a flexible definition of "states" in the text, I'm not sure I agree with the pundits that this bill is "flagrantly unconstitutional" despite the fact that the bill could, as Professor Turley explained to The Swamp, open the door to Congressional voting rights for all U.S. Territories.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Supplementing your legal education with...supplements

A recent e-mail asked us to comment on our favorite law school supplements. Given my slavish obsession with supplements, I am happy to oblige on The Blackbook's behalf. There's a wide array of supplements to choose from, and I have, despite the fact I'm only halfway along my law school journey, literally seen 'em all. And not just because I really "needed" to review every outline, hornbook, case summary or nutshell. Rather, I'm a card carrying member of the modern day analog to the hunter-gatherer in our law school bubble: the "supplement collector."

If you know what I’m talking about, you’re probably a supplement collector yourself. Every semester, you seek out the best supplements to purchase, and buy the lot. But then you realize there may be a really useful point of law in another supplement you didn’t buy, so you just need to have that one too. Eventually, you have your own personal library collection of supplements.

I've been hooked since 1L. Before first semester started, I bought all of the "Examples and Explanations" series for every class I was enrolled in, along with the "Emmanuels Outlines" and the "Hornbook Series." Succeeding in law school, I thought at the time, was expensive and I was willing to pay the proverbial price. After barely using any of my supplements to prepare for finals, I vowed never to go on a supplement binge again. But I've since done it every semester since, and I just can't stop myself. Maybe this has something to do with the law school personality we've talked about?

All things considered, this is a pretty good vice to have. Sure, it's expensive, but at least I've never had to worry about having insufficient resources to figure out confusing legal doctrine! And, in some cases, I have actually used my supplements to, er, supplement my education. So without further ado, here's what I recommend based on my past experiences…I'm only addressing 1L supplements for now:

Contracts: The Emmanuels Outline was most useful for me. I found the Examples and Explanations more or less worthless.

Torts: The Gilberts Outline was really helpful, although my Professor's idiosyncratic style made any secondary source more or less worthless (naturally, though, this didn't stop me from buying more!). I didn't like the Examples and Explanations, but some friends raved about it.

Civil Procedure: The conventional wisdom is that Glannon's Examples and Explanations is the supplement to use, and I couldn't agree more. I also consulted the Hornbook Series which I found helpful, albeit much more detailed than necessary for my purposes. You should be aware that owning (and using) a hardcover supplement like the Civil Procedure Hornbook Series is almost a surefire guarantee that you'll be made fun of by your friends; I was no exception to this.

Constitutional Law: Erwin Chemerinsky's book was fantastic. Even if you're not an avid supplement reader, you need to have a copy of this one. It's one of the few supplements I didn't sell back on after using.

Property: The Emmanuels Outline was my favorite for this class. I found the other popular supplements to be pretty unhelpful in most instances.

Criminal Law: Dressler's book from the Lexis Understanding Series was my favorite. I pretty much love everything Dressler has out there, and also looked at his Black Letter Series outline.

Happy shopping...

Our Site Policy - Blogging at the Blackbook (Redux)

On February 13, we clarified The Blackbook's blogging policy to preemptively ensure that comments received accorded with our mission. As we explained:
While we intend to continue discussing general issues affecting the legal industry, we do not want to include any discussion of specific law firms. It goes without saying, then, that we will not discuss anything about our own legal employment or experiences—this summer and onwards. Additionally, we ask our commenters to speak in generalities when sharing their work experience with the blog (e.g. 500-750 person firm in NY).
In monitoring the site, we have found some deviations from this policy which we have removed. We appreciate the wide reception to our efforts thus far, but intend to keep the discourse intellectual, and on-point at all times.

So, to clarify (again), we will not--to the extent that we talk about the legal market at all--post any information relating to specific firms or the like, nor will we allow such material to remain posted in the comments to our posts.

Additionally, we ask readers to refrain from sending us any information pertaining to specific law firm actions or the like. We will not read, and we will certainly not publish, any such "tips." We do, of course, appreciate the tips we have received recommending article topics. For example, I will be publishing a post later this afternoon regarding law school supplements that was suggested by a reader.

Sorry to be draconian on this point, but we continue to believe it integral to our mission.

Finally, we want to clarify that what we write is based solely on our own opinions, observations and experiences. The opinions expressed on this blog do not--and will not in the future--represent those of anyone else.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Send us your tips

We want to thank those of you who have sent us tips on various issues of interest to the legal community.  For clarification, please send all tips to  While we cannot guarantee publication, we will review all tips in detail.  Should we decide to incorporate your tip into a post or a story, your anonymity is assured and your identity will be protected.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Note to 1Ls: Quit Complaining

Ah…first years. Craig's article below triggered a memory from this fall semester. It was mid October and Fall Recruiting was grinding to a halt. As I closed in on accepting an offer for summer employment, I thought it'd be a wise move to run everything by a career counselor. Judging by the line, it looked as though many others had the same idea.

"Can I help you?" asked the receptionist to the person at the head of the line.

"Yes. I'd like to make an appointment for early November," the student nervously responded.

"What year are you?"

"I'm a first year," the student answered.

The student must be lost, I surmised, thinking he had accidently stumbled into the CDO looking for the fabled rooftop swimming pool. The receptionist would surely correct him and send his dejected soul back to the library.

"And this concerns what?"

"Summer employment," the first year announced.

Summer employment? Clearly, I thought, this must be the class gunner. Gotta get a leg up on the rest of the class, right? There's always one of 'em. But to my astonishment this series of questions and answers continued through the line until I finally made it to the front.

I didn't know what to think. Are all first years this annoying…er, ambitious? Was I like this as a first year? Well, I'm currently writing as a contributing editor to a legal blog, so I suppose I must have been.

But, nonetheless, I couldn't help but be frustrated. Fall recruitment wasn't kind. I know of many exceptionally intelligent law students who were left disappointed. They deserved better, but this economy simply chewed them up and spit them out. And yet these first year law students, who weren't much beyond learning how to tie their shoelaces, were gunning for firm jobs? It just seemed preposterous.

I realize Craig's article focused on summer employment in general and was not limited to summer associate positions. Nonetheless, securing a firm job certainly seems to be the main focus for many first years. Apparently (and unsurprisingly) there are many who, despite donning their finest Brooks Brothers suits and splurging on the fanciest of resume paper, failed to secure a summer associate position. Hey, everyone can't be "nervous t-10 1L" of the Above The Law fame.

So, what are they to do? Crawl into the fetal position and hope for the best? Personally, I think any 1L upset that they were unable to procure a summer associate position needs to step back and put things in perspective. Quit complaining and be proactive. Judging from recent events, a coveted firm job might not be waiting for you next summer, let alone this one.

Be willing to work for…here it comes, get ready for it…FREE. Land a judicial internship. Work for the DOJ. Research for a professor. You'll find something. It's all about getting the experience. Write. Research. Watch a trial. Learn. Make yourself as marketable as possible.

I propose that you focus on three goals for the summer. First, produce a top notch memorandum/brief that will make a strong writing sample for you to use in fall recruitment. Second, make sure to network. Form at least one connection with an attorney who is willing to act as a mentor and as a reference. And, lastly, make sure to have some fun. Find interesting work that you enjoy. Stop stressing out, and relax. It's the summer we’re talking about here!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Reports from the battlefield: the fight for 1L jobs

My 1L job search was a pretty mundane experience: I sent out resumes and went on some interviews. I did my best, and was never concerned about being unable to find a job. Naturally, I had doubts about whether I would get offers with my first choice employers, but I ultimately knew there would be something waiting for me at the end of the process. If nothing else, I knew I could at least rack up a collection of cool trinkets from my travels. My nostalgia abounds thinking of the good ol' "hustle-less" days. Boy, have things changed.

In the midst of a floundering legal market, 1Ls seem far less optimistic about their job prospects as they interview for summer positions this year. As anxiety increases, so too--inevitably--does the competition. Don't believe me? Listen to what one tipster from "the" collegial law school has to say:
As a 1L, I don't know what the job search has been like in previous years, but it is definitely intense this season. Our OCI schedule included like 3 firms, some of which interviewed 30 students for one SA spot. Even though everyone goes out of their way to avoid looking like a gunner in class, it's unabashed gunnerism when it comes to the job search. All anyone wants to talk about is jobs, and people are just desperate to get an edge.
But how far are desperate 1Ls really willing to go? As the tipster reports:
During an interview, a partner asked me about my favorite TV shows. Not wanting to admit to the trash I really watch in my free time, I randomly named a show that seemed a little more in line with what a law student should be watching. Unfortunately, it was the guy's favorite show, and I had actually never seen it. I pulled off a several minute long conversation about the show based on what I'd seen in previews and hearing my friends talking about it.
Unfortunately, the tipster didn't mention what the more "lawyerly" show was, but we're guessing it was Law & Order or Shark. Apparently, other students were even willing to undertake more extreme measures to bolster their job prospects. As the tipster went on to say:
Other 1Ls are going just as far. I know a guy that lied about being engaged so that he would have a "legitimate" tie to the area to impress a local firm.
The times are surely a-changin. But how bad could things really get? We shamelessly admit we want to know more. Much more. Share your stories, and things can get interesting...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Musings on the mind of a law student

Law school has done something to me. Alas, it seems—at least superficially—that I have lost some of my creative abilities. In fact, I know that merely writing this post will be an arduous chore. It already is. My use of the word "alas" suggests that I am expressing my unhappiness with the (apparent) departure of my ability to not "think like a lawyer." Don't understand yet? Let me explain.

I am sure that at least a few law students can relate to this phenomenon—that is, the incarceration of most of your thoughts and actions in the abstract penitentiary of legal reasoning. Please don’t let my flowery language shield you from my point: everything is law to me, and it may well be the case that you’re a victim of the same phenomena. It’s not for nothing that the only metaphor I’ve used in weeks employs legal jargon.
Since we’re on the topic of legal jargon, let me shell out the “test” for you to “apply.” You know you’re hooked when you're walking down the street and you think about the concepts you learned in torts as if they transcend everything else. You strive to fit everything you hear within a logical framework of some sort. This cycle can get nasty, and worst of all, it may even interfere in your relationships with "non-law school" pals. Is this what "thinking like a lawyer" really entails? Maybe. The truth is, I can’t answer the question definitively because it really can go either way; and that’s why W&L’s practical approach has to be crazy—right? I will resist the temptation, at this point in the essay, to give you three concise, logical reasons as to why my deliberately vague contention is correct.
I had a teacher during my 1L year who told me that "thinking like a lawyer" is akin to breaking free from the chains of ignorance. No, I'm not kidding—he really said this. Assuming that there is some freeing aspect to learning how to think in this way, I hope I find it soon. Unfortunately, I doubt it will come so quickly. So, in that vein, I want to provide you with three general recommendations on breaking free of this cycle—at least from time to time. I think you will find that these recommendations are a logical outflow from my initial premise that law school captivates your mind. Err...
The truth is that I don't need to give any recommendations, because everyone is different; we all have our own escapes. But we forget, at times, to use them. It just takes some refreshing. Take your mind off of the minutiae for a minute, relax and remember how creative you were before you came to law school—you can still use those skills if you want to.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Open Thread - Law Firm Compensation

In response to an earlier article, a commenter had an interesting proposal for "Big Law" compensation:
Here's what my proposal to the ABA would be: Find a way to create a mandate of a 90/110/135 scale for each of the V100 firms. After 3 years, the firm and the experienced attorney can negotiate on a personal basis, such that the compensation package would reflect what the attorney actually brings and would bring to the firm. In return, the BigLaw firms would be able to cut costs and still harbor and nurture their talent.
Putting the specific numbers the commenter suggests, which are on the low end, this proposal actually makes a lot of sense as a way for firms to protect their interests while avoiding mass layoffs in this economic climate. And there are other conceivable benefits, too.

Would you be in favor of such a policy? Be sure to specify whether you are a law student, current associate or otherwise.

Decisions Looming for Future 1Ls

Commenters on this blog, as well as others, have expressed their amazement that anybody would choose to attend law school in this economic downturn. Some have gone so far as to say that anybody incurring debt in this economy is a “damned fool”. One thing is for sure: attending law school today is a riskier proposition than ever before.

Even in a stable economy, deciding whether to attend law school is difficult. One cannot possibly choose to subject themselves to three years of rigorous study, and the debt that comes with it, without serious contemplation. It has been two years since I chose to apply, and, although I am as pleased as ever with my choice, it goes without saying that the legal market has been dramatically altered since I sent in my applications.

Unlike others, I don't think anyone who truly wishes to study law should be swayed away from doing so based on the state of the economy. Sure, there is currently much uncertainty in the legal market, but this "uncertainty" pervades almost all professions. Spending the next three years of your life growing intellectually, while building your resume, is definitely not a bad route to take.

The major question, however, shifts to which law school a prospective student should attend. I received contradictory advice while I pondered which school was right for me. Some adamantly told me to attend the highest ranked school possible. Others, with equal vigor, explained that I should ignore the rankings altogether and consider only the schools that provided the most significant scholarships.

Although the prestige-scholarship dichotomy was difficult for those who, like myself, entered law school in a (seemingly) more secure economic environment, the choice looms larger than ever for future 1Ls. Is it more important that they receive their JD from the most prestigious institution possible, no matter how much debt they may incur? As the competition for jobs increases, prospective law students and future attorneys would be wise to get whatever advantage possible. The name of one’s school, unfortunately, may play the decisive role in determining future employment.

However, with the questionable future of the legal market, it may be wise to avoid debt at all costs. Apparently, even Harvard Law students were struggling to lock down a summer associate position this year due to the economy. No matter how prestigious your law school is, future employment in the legal profession is, by no means, a guarantee. Should a law student risk amassing debt when they may be struggling to secure employment after graduation?

I don't propose to have the answer. The fact of the matter is that future law students have difficult decisions to make. The question is no longer whether to get the fillet mignon or lobster as a summer associate—the age of entitlement is, and must be, dead. Thus, the decision for pre-law students about whether to stay out of debt at the expense of prestige is more pressing than ever before. My advice? I say forget the prestige, accept your scholarships, and work hard to prove to employers that you deserve a chance. Don't be afraid of a challenge.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The misguided emphasis on 1L grades?

“All that stuff about grades is true. You gotta work like hell. No kidding. No one jokes about grades. I mean try getting a job without them. It’s all stacked against you if you don’t have the grades.”
-The Paper Chase

Sage words from Mr. Hart’s Resident Assistant—in law school grades are everything when it comes to jobs. The system is fairly simple: employers have grade cut offs based on the candidate’s school, and make threshold hiring decisions by weeding out those who do not “make the grade” (pun intended).

Of course, the system does not care about all grades—the premium is placed (almost) exclusively on 1L grades. At least in the law firm context, interviewing for coveted “summer associate” positions takes place in the fall of 2L year, comfortably before any 2L or 3L grades are accessible to employers. Permanent offers, at least before the economy collapsed, have generally been a sure thing. At worst, summers could ensure they snagged a post-graduation job by producing good work product during the extended interview that “summering” at a firm fundamentally is.

So 1L year has been, and remains, the most important year of law school as far as employment prospects are concerned. Those who escape “1 Hell” unscathed have their pick of firms, while the lower end of the curve scrounges to get a job; a feat that, depending on the reputation of the school attended, could be fruitless. There is instinctive appeal to this process: law school does, after all, take every opportunity to separate, divide and classify. Why should the implications of 1L grades be any different? Firms need some basis to distinguish, and surely first year grades are as good a barometer by which to do so as any.

This answer is not satisfying, though, because the current system entails employers making important decisions on the basis of one-third of the total data. This does not benefit any interested party. The employers who, based on the fact they're looking to grades in the first instance, must believe that grades are a good indication of ability to perform (more on this later) are forced to make important hiring decisions without knowing all the facts. Students, by contrast have their hopes and job prospects compressed into one, high stakes year.

This latter fact is particularly troublesome in light of the current hiring system's structure. Indeed, the fact that students face the pressure they do during 1L makes 1L grades an even weaker predictor of future performance. Grades, as a general matter, can be volatile at the margins. Add a little pressure during a time of immense adjustment, and all bets are off. Firms thus make hiring decisions based on incomplete data that is often corrupted by the hiring process itself.

As with many things, it is easier to state the problem than to solve it. However, I offer the following as potential solutions to be ironed out:

1) Firms can strongly consider 2L grades when deciding whether to give permanent offers. While this would entail firms losing money by investing in candidates that they would not ever consider hiring, it could open up slots for people who performed well in upper-level courses after a poor 1L year.

2) Make all law school courses pass/fail, and allow students to distinguish themselves through practical skills-based competitions. This would accord with the more pragmatic approach Nima suggested. Obviously, one (potential) downside to this proposal is that it would exacerbate the emphasis firms place on school reputation. To try to address this problem, schools could make 1L grades pass/fail, and have graded upper level courses using the model most schools currently employ (e.g. students selecting their own classes, with a relaxed or abandoned curve).

3) Make 1L courses pass/fail, and impose mandatory 2L courses on students with the rigid curve that is a staple of 1L year. This proposed solution would let students ease into law school, and take the pressure off of grades initially. Hiring decisions during fall OCI would (presumably) be made based on school reputation and skills competitions. While employers would care a great deal about 2L grades, they would likely not, for fiscal reasons, choose to refuse offers to summers who performed poorly during 2L. This approach would, however, likely lead to reduced summer classes thereby allowing additional slots for those who performed well during 2L year. An obvious problem with this potential solution is that it still emphasizes looking to one-third of the grades package. But it is better than the current approach in that the grades to be depended on would not be detrimentally influenced by students adjusting to a new environment.

Of these options, I think option #1 is the worst and option #3 the best. Ideally, however, there would be a better way to handle this problem than any of the proposed solutions I list. Perhaps the reason it is so hard to find a satisfying solution to the problem is that there is no problem in the first instance? My entire discussion assumes that grades are heavily depended on by employers because they are a worthwhile tool for distinguishing how candidates will ultimately perform as attorneys. It may well be that, as alluded to above, grades are utilized simply because employers need to draw the line somewhere. If that is the case, does it even matter that the statistics depended on are (probably) unreliable and (definitely) incomplete?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

On a "Medical-Based" approach to legal education

We need innovative solutions to some of the emerging problems facing the legal industry.  I sat down and began to think of a way that legal education may be able to adapt and better serve the needs of law firms, other legal employers, and students themselves.  A good model after which the legal educational system could be framed (at least in theory) is the medical school model.  I often sit through class and wonder why theoretical matters are emphasized ad nauseam in various legal courses.  Granted, I think that it is worthwhile to understand (at least to an extent) the underlying policies behind the law; this is particularly true in courses where policy forms the fundamental basis of the rules.  But this only extends to a point, and it must be remembered that, in order to be marketable, students need to understand how to apply the law coherently and logically.

At least plausibly, they get this crucial skill by outlining, reading cases, discussing the gleaned concepts in class, and by simply taking exams.  As it stands now, however, all of this is still done within a paradigm of theory, and there are not many opportunities for law students to, while in the course of their studies, gain practical knowledge--the kind they need to actually thrive in the workplace.  Legal clinics exist, but in most cases, are not mandatory.  And if you've ever tried to get into a clinic, at least at a few schools, you might know just how difficult it is.

A good initial idea would be to keep the first year curriculum much the same as it is now, but to provide different "hands-on" opportunities to apply the concepts learned in class.  For example, students in a civil procedure course could be required to participate in bi-semester externships focused on brief writing.  Further, perhaps the entire third year could be spent in clinical programs that would include rotations between different practice areas so that a student could gain a feel for the area of law he or she is interested in.  Washington & Lee Law School has adopted such a program.  As they state:
The new third year at W&L is entirely based on learning through engagement - combining practicum courses, practice simulations, client interactions, the formation of professional identity and the cultivation of practice skills. Third year students will now move beyond the learning process of the first and second years of law school to prepare for the transition to professional practice.
Students will build on the lessons and law of the first and second year curriculum to pursue a mix of courses that engage them in lawyering, legal clinics and externships. This emphasis on lawyering and expressing professional judgment will serve as a true capstone for a W&L legal education, producing future lawyers that will be ready for practice from day one.
This program would make the third year of law school somewhat tantamount to the residency requirement for physicians, only in the variant described in this post, it would include the ability to rotate.  By producing attorneys who are skilled upon entering the workforce, training would no longer be the employer's sole responsibility.  Hours would be better spent, and clients better served if law schools across the nation were to adopt an approach similar to Washington & Lee's, and provide tomorrow's lawyers with skills they actually need to thrive.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Blogging at The Blackbook

Welcome (back) to The Blackbook:

With the recent increase in traffic we’ve experienced over the past few days, we wanted to briefly clarify our policy with regards to the blog’s discussion of legal employment.

While we intend to continue discussing general issues affecting the legal industry, we do not want to include any discussion of specific law firms. It goes without saying, then, that we will not discuss anything about our own legal employment or experiences—this summer and onwards. Additionally, we ask our commenters to speak in generalities when sharing their work experience with the blog (e.g. 500-750 person firm in NY).

The goal of this blog is to offer the law student’s perspective on the legal profession and legal education, while also discussing a variety of intriguing legal issues. We want this blog to add its own unique and permanent contribution to the legal blogging community and expect that these ground rules will ensure we are able to achieve our goals.

Will you clerk in this economy?

Between the four or so letters I have received from my law school urging me to clerk after graduation, I have come to understand that clerking for a judge is a great (presumably, pre-firm) opportunity. Clerkships, I am told, are "to lawyers what post graduate fellowships are to doctors." Okay, fine. Like many of my peers, I was interested in clerking before the heavy sell; I was fortunate enough to have a great 1L summer working in a judge's chambers, and I saw firsthand just how valuable the experience is.

But the benefits of clerkships extend beyond the intangible experience everyone raves of. Indeed, as it stands today, most firms pay qualifying one-year clerks a $50,000 bonus along with class standing. While this monetary benefit is not enough to "make up" for the money lost spending a year working for a judge instead of a firm, it is a benefit that many undoubtedly consider when weighing whether to pursue a clerkship or not.

Let me be clear at the outset that I am not aware of any firm that has modified its policies with respect to judicial clerks. However, given the events discussed earlier, it seems conceivable—although, perhaps unlikely—that the market may change the way law firms treat judicial clerks.

There are, of course, compelling reasons for firms to do everything in their power to maintain the status quo. First, as noted, the experience is very valuable. It hones legal writing and reasoning ability immeasurably and thus brings associates to the firm who are better able to contribute. Second, clients love to have former clerks working for them; the positions are competitive, prestigious and former clerks have an "inside knowledge" of the judicial process.

Yet, with firms laying off by the dozen and swelled profits drying up, can anyone comfortably state that clerks will continue to receive BigLaw's "most favored associate" status? Probably not. In fact, it is entirely conceivable that clerking could pose an affirmative disadvantage for students with respect to firm employment: offers can be revoked, bar expenses unpaid…the potentially adverse consequences of choosing to clerk rather than go straight to a firm are plentiful.

I know I will still pursue a clerkship regardless of how the economy shapes the legal market in the next few months, but I am inclined to think that many who would otherwise want to clerk would be driven away by a change in the market. In these uncertain times, it is only natural to anticipate some degree of change in the priorities of ambitious law students.

Am I wrong to assume as much?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Open Thread - Black Thursday

Feel free to comment generally on today's news of massive law firm layoffs.  Thoughts? Apprehensions? Suggestions for the future of the profession?

Technology and Your Legal Education

How times have changed since our law professors were themselves law students. For starters, the wheel was invented. And, seemingly against all odds, the Earth was discovered to be round.

Ok…in all seriousness, legal education, fueled by rapidly developing technology, has drastically changed since even the youngest of our professors received their JD’s. While they undoubtedly spent long nights in the depths of a library flipping through pages of statutes and case law, our generation has the luxury of having such material easily available with the click of a mouse. One of the most controversial changes, however, has been the introduction of laptops in the classroom. Although there are obvious advantages (e.g., the ability to take well organized and detailed notes), many law professors are insisting that laptops, coupled with the availability of wireless internet connections, are adversely affecting our education. Some have gone so far as to ban the use of laptops in the classroom.

To be fair, their arguments are not without merit. We do surf the internet. Chatting on Gmail is a regular occurrence. Facebook? It happens. And, perhaps worst of all, some are too busy transcribing every word the professor says to actually understand the concepts being taught.

These are undoubtedly serious problems, but banning laptops in the classroom is not the right answer. In my opinion, there are two reasons professors should refrain from enforcing such a strict rule. First, the benefits of laptop use are great. If I don’t understand a concept or phrase, a simple Google search can often provide instantaneous enlightenment. If I remain confused, a short message to a classmate asking for clarification does the trick.

Second is the fact that education is a service industry. Law students pay enormous amounts of money and take on much debt. In today’s struggling economy, discussed earlier, those who do not excel in the classroom are having increasing difficulty locating a job. If students believe that using a laptop furthers their education, they should be allowed to do so without undue burden from the school.

Unfortunately, this is not an issue that will go away anytime soon. Professors are increasingly placing restrictions on laptop use. Those that have done so are proclaiming the ban a success and emphatically announcing that intellectual discussion in the classroom is more prevalent than in recent years—back like it was when they were in law school.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Welcome, again, to the Blackbook!

Now that we're up and running, it's worth laying out some brief ground rules--both for our readers, and ourselves. We'll all benefit from the structure, I'm sure.

Our objective with this blog is simple: we want to facilitate discussion about the (legal) issues that interest us. We expect to address anything and everything--from actual legal issues, to musings about law school, legal employment and everything in between. We'll (likely) each be posting two-to-three times a week.

We want readers to be able to freely express their thoughts in responding to the points we discuss and, accordingly, will not censor critical comments--anonymous or otherwise. We will, however, delete inflammatory comments that do not add anything constructive to the discourse.

This is not to say, of course, that comment discussion must always be "on point." Indeed, we encourage our readers to express themselves; but in a polite, non-derogatory manner. Remember, this is not AutoAdmit!

Time for a change?

As suggested earlier, changes in the legal industry may create a need for changes in the legal education system as we know it. Let me propose one such sweeping change: abandoning the rigid adherence to “publish or perish.” Academia, in general, places a premium on publication; the legal academy, however, is particularly fixated on publication. Indeed, hiring, retention and advancement all depend on publication—the extent to which one is published, as well as the journals one is published in are almost certainly the most important factors utilized in determining who gets to teach the next generation of lawyers.

But why place so much emphasis on publication? The purpose of law school, as we are constantly told, is to “learn how to think like a lawyer.” Ostensibly, classroom performance—how engaging the professor is, whether the professor can relate to the students, and whether the professor inspires his or her students to work hard—is a better barometer by which we can gauge a professor’s capacity to impart these (crucial) skills. In fact, it is probably the best means to do so. I have never selected a class or thought to select a class based on a professor’s publication pedigree; I, like almost all of my peers, pick classes based on the professor’s ability to teach.

The focus on publication is a fixture of legal academia, and some 918 journals have sprung up to facilitate it. Perhaps a change in priorities is in order?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

And we're off

What do you get when you put two over-zealous law students in the same city? And a few others from other cities? A blog, naturally. And one about legal issues, to boot.

Expect more in the days to come...