Reason 19 To Get Rid of the Third Year of Law School

The new syllabus for Professional Responsibility, a mandatory class for all law students, provided that they would no longer study the Model Rules. It announced that it’s perfectly appropriate for non-lawyers to own law firms and practice law; the bar is dead.

It said that lawyers are no longer limited by jurisdictional admission and can ply their trade wherever they want.  It said that the only limits going forward would be how well lawyers could get money out of the clutches of unsuspecting clients, with no duty of zealous representation or honesty.  Deceit was now an outdated concept. It’s all about the money.

If such a class were to be taught, the first law professor to teach it would be Bill Henderson at Indiana’s Maurer School of Law.  While it’s under another name for the moment, he’s already teaching it.  From The Legal Whiteboard:

Is it important to help law students understand the disruptions that are now occurring in the legal industry? Well, let me ask a more fundamental question. How can a law professor efficiently obtain better information on these complex and diffuse changes? None of us legal academics are experts in this area, and that’s a problem in and of itself.

In the process of struggling with these questions, I decided to carve out 15% of the grade in my Corporations class for team-based profiles of NewLaw companies. Here is how I described the conundrum in my syllabus:

The legal industry is changing in dramatic ways, including the creation of new legal businesses that rely upon technology and process design to solve legal problems that have traditionally been handled by lawyers. These businesses are often financed and managed by nonlawyers, which some of you may find surprising. …

Remarkably, very few practicing lawyers grasp the type of industry context described above … Yet, the influx of financiers and technologists is likely going to have a dramatic effect on your future legal careers.

Bill’s claim that “very few practicing lawyers grasp” his religion isn’t quite correct.  To the extent we don’t “grasp” it, it’s because of such nonsense as Axiom Law’s CEO Mark Harris talking gibberish when asked to explain how it’s possible to have a law firm owned and run by non-lawyers.   On twitter, it describes itself as

Axiom is an 900-person legal services firm, specializing in the business of law and serving half the Fortune 100 through ten offices globally.

So it’s a “legal services firm” and it specializes in the “business of law,” but it’s not a law firm because that would be a crime, the unlawful practice of law. Well, maybe it is:

Axiom

While non-lawyers may feel no constraints about the ethical obligations and disciplinary rules under which lawyers function, it’s another matter entirely for a law professor to teach students that this is the future, that ethics are now something to talk your way around no matter how many meaningless words need to be mangled to render an incomprehensible excuse and that their success is tied to adopting whatever new scheme comes along.

It’s not that I have anything against Bill. In fact, I like him, and he can buy me a beer any time he’s in New York. But the fact that he’s set himself up as one of the messiahs of the Future of #Reinvent the New Normal of Law compels me to call him out.

As the legal profession struggles to maintain some semblance of ethical duty, to stop the rampant deceit that permeates the schemes and scams, the vulture industries that seek to suck the life out of a once-noble profession, we have law professors praying at the altar of newlaw, businesses that exist only to make a quick and dubious buck off the carcasses of lawyers.

For the acolytes of this religion, praying to the god Susskind, whose sermon on the mount is that the legal profession is dead so we better put on our hot pants and walk the boulevard if we want to make the big bucks, no amount of gibberish talk, horrific business concepts or wild-eyed preachers puts them off.

But they’re teaching this crap to law students. They’re telling kids with impressionable minds that the ethical proscriptions that made lawyers worthy of public trust no longer apply.  While practicing lawyers may be sufficiently knowledgeable to withstand the onslaught of nonsense, law students depend on their professors to teach them.  And if this is what they’re being taught in the third year of law school, then what hope can there be that the next generation of lawyers will understand, appreciate and adhere to the ethical obligations of our profession?  And there is no need for a third year of law school at all. Indeed, we would be better off without it.

7 comments on “Reason 19 To Get Rid of the Third Year of Law School

  1. PDB

    Scott,

    I’m a student at Maurer Law and am in Henderson’s Corporations class — I just did one of these presentations myself.

    I can assure you that nothing in these presentations had anything to do with avoiding ethics rules. In fact, during the Q&A sessions after some of the talks, questions did come up about how close the business in question came to the practice of law (but since this was in Corporations and not in Professional Responsibility, the issue was not delved into very deeply).

    The point of this exercise was not to teach students that it’s ok to skirt ethics issues. It was simply to raise awareness of new types of legal-oriented businesses out there. I personally am grateful that we had this exercise — I didn’t know about a lot of these companies. And whether or not you disapprove, it’s worthwhile to know about these things.

    “They’re telling kids with impressionable minds that the ethical proscriptions that made lawyers worthy of public trust no longer apply. ”
    –> Not at all true

    I’m a big fan of your blog, read it almost daily, and agree with a lot of what you have to say about the charlatans out there. But this time, it seems like you posted a knee-jerk reaction too quickly.

    Take care.

    1. SHG Post author

      Had this learning process been one of critical scrutiny rather than to “raise awareness” for 15% of your grade, you might have a point. Did you go through the top ten basic legal precepts Modria fails to address while grossly deceiving an unaware public that it somehow offers an viable (for profit) alternative to the legal system? Did anyone come up with a principled basis to distinguish why Axiom can violate pretty much every disciplinary rule and get away with it by double talk?

      Had you told me that Bill was critical of anything about these schemes, I might have been persuaded I was unduly harsh. But you didn’t, he didn’t, and I’m not. Instead, they handed out Kool-Aid, you drank it and, if your comment is to be believed, it tasted good to you.

  2. Sgt. Schultz

    The students aren’t capable of understanding how this influences their grasp of ethics. This is tantamount to poisoning their minds, and they will go on to blindly accept these “ABS”s inability to explain what they do and why it’s not criminal because the English language lacks the words to explain how fabulous they are. It’s academic child abuse.

  3. Betsy Munnell

    Characteristically expressive, and blunt, as always–I do want to compliment you on the following–the high point in the post I feel:

    “For the acolytes of this religion, praying to the god Susskind, whose sermon on the mount is that the legal profession is dead so we better put on our hot pants and walk the boulevard if we want to make the big bucks, no amount of gibberish talk, horrific business concepts or wild-eyed preachers puts them off.”

    OMG.

    Anyway–you raise excellent points, and I share your concerns. Like Bill’s student, I see his course as addressing current events, essentially, in a demographic that has to be aware of the broad range of opportunities, and the full deck of competitors, they will face upon graduation.

    I’m hoping you’ll hear back from Bill!

    1. SHG

      You are kind in your characterization, both to me, Bill and the student. Because I care about the students, I can’t be quite so kind. Whether any of these fabulous innovative businesses will be around in a few years, or at least not in prison or on probation, remains to be seen, but they are no more a part of the legal landscape than SEO spammers and marketeers.

      As much as I have backed Bill on law school issues, he’s been sadly myopic in his adoration of shiny new ABS’s. I would love to hear from him too. Or any of them. But they only want to hang around with people who validate their religion. They want nothing to do with heretics like me who refuse to pray at their altar.

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