Category: In The News
UCLA School of Law, Pepperdine University School of Law and Southwestern Law School have been awarded a one-year grant from the State Bar of California’s Commission on Access to Justice to establish a modest means incubator, a pilot program to help new attorneys launch and develop viable law practices serving modest means clients.
A New York consulting firm recently conducted a survey and found that eight of the top 10 companies that no longer provided extraordinary support for their products and services for technology companies. Companies like Samsung, Apple and others apparently are appealing to a younger audience that is not accustomed to having handholding as an element of value.
Dunkin’ Donuts was one company that was more traditional and not technology based. Apple, while no longer enabling you to make an appointment at their “Genius Bar” online nevertheless still had a service component by opening more stores in more cities with more personnel to help those with operational issues. Apple found that the Genius Bar is better left for hardware and software glitches; other issues can be addressed by the consumer taking a class in either their store or their phone provider. But, Apple did not forsake its consumer who needed technical assistance.
Nothing replaces human contact, even for the youngest generation. A very astute technology company called “www.gethuman.com” build some of the gap for older folks by finding phone numbers of the very same companies who seek to hide their presence from consumers.
Companies, even technology companies, must realize that customer service is a marathon, not a sprint. Consumers, myself included, recently have left Samsung and purchased the new Apple iPhone 6. Why? because Samsung refused to connect with their consumer to solve the consumer’s issues. Apple does. And while Samsung’s commercials suggest that Apple 6+ is nearly a copy, it is a “copy” that works and carries with it a service component.
Within the last few days, a major law firm’s (Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP) Los Angeles office has been severely impacted.
One of the largest fires seen in the Los Angeles area (Da Vinci Apartment project) also damaged 8 of the adjoining building’s 16 floors that housed the firm’s Los Angeles office with 250 lawyers and staff. The office’s managing partner, Timothy R. Graves, put the best face on the situation by saying their experience in New York (Hurricane Sandy) gives them some advantage in dealing with the Los Angeles experience. Technology further helps alleviate potential damage that might otherwise have been experienced. Remotely working, however, does not remove the consequences of significant water damage to paper files and client unease … When one goes to sleep, one doesn’t expect a 1 a.m. fire to change your life, but it can happen.
A member of the California State Legislature announced that he will ask for “…a financial and operational audit…” of the State Bar. In his press statement, the Assemblyman said he wants the State Auditor “…to investigate, study, analyze, and assess the financial practices and the performance” of the bar. The politician said “… “(m)andatory bar dues should be spent on regulating our profession and improving legal services to the public,”
This utterance is not the only one arising from the recent turmoil resulting from the dismissal of the Bar’s Executive Director. The seriousness of the charges and counter-charges cannot be underestimated. But, the seriousness is heightened by the fact that the State Bar must get permission from the State Legislature to assess and collect annual fees from its lawyers. One might question whether this is a true separation of powers required by the Constitution, but it’s been the standard in California since 1927.
Perhaps the California Bar should be segmented, as is the New York Bar, into a regulatory/licensing function and a member benefit function. California lawyers had their opportunity during Gov. Pete Wilson’s reign and let it pass. Perhaps the issue should be revisited.
Those who are worried about there being too many lawyers may have their wish come true. The reports (LA Times, Dec 8) are that, for the first time in nearly a decade, the pass rate of the bar examination is less than 50%. And, there are fewer candidates. And law school enrollment is declining. This certainly will decrease the number of lawyers in the future … especially with the Baby Boomers retiring in greater numbers as each year passes.
However, as noted before on the LawBiz Blog, this is the wrong issue to focus on. Rather, we need to look at how to get our law school graduates and lawyers positioned to earn a living by serving the currently under-served population.
With the turmoil escalating in California by the firing of the Bar’s Executive Director and charges/counter-charges flying all over, the image, reputation and credibility of the bar and its constituent members continues to decline. No wonder people find it difficult to trust lawyers. As an aside, I was in a store yesterday and overheard a customer say to the employee, “I’m a lawyer, be careful what you say.” How arrogant! I felt the need to later apologize to the employee for his comment. She apparently is accustomed to that behavior.
When an organization is arrogant and ignores the best interests of its members or customers, there will be no support for the organization in challenging times. The State Bar of California finds itself, once again, in a time of challenge with little support from its members, the attorneys of the state pay dues to keep the organization afloat. This time around, however, should there be a move by the State legislature to abolish the State Bar and convert it to a licensing agency only, there will be little or no opposition from members of the bar.
In what is the scandal of all time, the Board of Trustees summarily fired its executive director, Joe Dunn. This followed an internal personnel complaint filed by the bar’s chief trial counsel, Jayne Kim. The exact nature of the charges and counter-charges are yet to be disclosed, though the Board said they were reacting to “… serious, wide-ranging allegations … ” of mis-deeds.
Dunn, a former state senator, was hired four years ago to shepherd the transition from a bar governing board comprising mainly of lawyers elected by other lawyers to one with members primarily appointed by the Supreme Court of the state and state officials. While a primary goal of the bar was to protect the public, a secondary goal of earlier boards was to help lawyers become more effective and more efficient in relating to clients. The bar never achieved this secondary goal because 75 to 80 percent of the State Bar’s budget was and still is directed to the disciplinary system.
The current scandal is now not only an internal matter within the bar, it is in the court system, Dunn having sued on being terminated. High-powered lawyers have been retained by all principles involved. It is clear we have not seen the last of this. It is also clear, however, that lawyers should expect no help, education or sympathy from the governing body they must join on entry to the bar.
Jeffrey Toobin, legal writer for the New Yorker Magazine, notes the following in this week’s edition:
“… As with law firms, the top law schools are doing fine. Graduates of the most highly regarded institutions may not have the cornucopia of options that their predecessors enjoyed a few years ago, but few, if any, will go jobless. These students have large loans, too, but they’ll be able to repay them. As in days past, they will migrate to the big firms, where, by and large, their prospects are bright. And the cycle will continue: the rich (in credentials, at least initially) prospering, and the poor struggling. So it goes for lawyers—and, it seems, for everyone else…”
But even the top law schools are reporting that their graduates are not getting placed as quickly or as high on the totem pole as in past years. Yet, the law school still seems to be a mecca for many students. Perhaps it is the image of being a law school graduate (a lawyer); perhaps it’s the Socratic method of learning that enhances performance in even non-legal endeavors.
But, the economics of legal education, its ups and downs with the rest of the economy, suggests one more piece of evidence that The Business of Law® is no different than other areas of economic endeavor.
When I first heard the news, I was surprised that Baker Hostleter accepted the assignment from the Republican Party to sue President Obama for allegedly overstepping the boundaries of Executive Power. Why? The first reason that came to mind was that such a high profile assignment would identify them as a Republican oriented law firm. This likely would alienate half the population. Why would one willingly toss away one-half of your prospective market?
Of course, some believe that any publicity is good publicity. For example, Baker Hostetler was lampooned earlier this month when Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show ran a fake commercial for the law firm. “At Baker Hostetler, we specialize in one thing: suing the president,” the parody ad said. “For instance, have you ever been forced to pass Obamacare, even though you didn’t like it? We can help you waste thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to fight for what you sort of believe in.” For their target market, the business world, I do not think this is the image they want.
The second reason is that, at least in my mind, the case to limit Executive Power is likely not to be won despite a Republican-oriented Court. This essentially is a political issue that can be addressed in the political arena of electioneering. Elections will be held in the near future. Executive Power has expanded with each President, including Republicans. Any curtailment would apply to future Presidents, including Republicans. Why, as a Party, would they want to do this?
Of course, this is a suit against the Executive being brought by the Congress … and therein may lie the answer for the suit. That does not answer the question, though, as to why a law firm would want to be so identified. Baker understood its business base and perhaps had second thoughts. Quinn Emanuel, having recently won some big lawsuits, may be feeling its oats and believe they are impervious to such considerations … or perhaps they want to be so identified.
Congratulations to Craig E. Holden, the new president of the State Bar of California. Among other attributes, Mr. Holden is a partner in the major law firm of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, a person of color, a former member of the executive committee of the CalBar Law Practice Management & Technology Section, and the youngest person to be elected president of the California State Bar. Each of these attributes is sufficient to give Mr. Holden a sensitivity to the needs of the average lawyer. However, taken together, they provide an appropriate backdrop for one of his major goals during his tenure: to help lawyers succeed. Success in this context means helping lawyers be more effective in dealing with their clients, be more efficient and encounter less stress in their practice.
Not since Jim Heiting was president years ago as any California State Bar president suggested anything but a regulatory and enforcement goal for the State Bar. Mr. Holden is even suggesting that State Bar funds might be used to support this goal. He seeks to expand his concept by creating a system of mentorship for young lawyers. Personally, my hope is that he expands this idea to include all lawyers in the state of California.
Adopting Mr. Holden’s perspective can also be financially rewarding for the State Bar as well as its lawyer members. The current budget for the State Bar includes approximately 80%, or $32 million for disciplinary activities. If the education that Mr. Holden envisions enables lawyers to avoid future discipline, even if only to the extent of 50%, the State Bar will save $16 million. These funds could then be used to meet other goals of the State Bar.
“The proposed initiative is part of Holden’s broader goal to re-examine the State Bar’s mission of public protection. Ever since the Bar radically reformed its governance structure four years ago (in response to legislative mandate), many lawyers have come to believe that ‘all we do is regulate,’ he said…. ‘That is the core function… But I don’t agree that that’s all we do.’” He continued by saying that “‘… My ultimate goal is to broadly define our mission and what it means to protect the public… Our mission should be retooled… To ensure that public protection is not viewed myopically… As a punitive machine.’”
Mr. Holden clearly has his work cut out for him. As noted in my recent writings, the State Bar has wrapped itself in the cloak of regulation and punitive enforcement. While the recent vote in Scotland was to remain part of the United Kingdom, I am sure that a similar vote among California lawyers would not be so favorable; based on recent actions and non-actions of the State Bar, I am convinced the overwhelming vote of California lawyers would be to separate public protection activities from lawyer education and improvement. Perhaps Mr. Holden will persuade a sufficient number of Board members to see the world as he does. This will be a tough challenge and one that I heartily endorse.
Lawyers from around the country continue to call me, asking for information on how to sell their practices. In response,we recently opened our LawBiz® Registry. Visit the archives for articles about buying and selling law practices and other ways to monetize the goodwill that you have spent so many years to build. In addition, you may want to buy one of our books or tapes in our store on the profitable law office exit strategy or planning for your next 6000 days.
Contact me at any time if you have additional questions.