Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Are We Seeing the Real Multidisciplinary Practices Emerge?

(thanks to nierodzim)

EY Law has hired partners from Baker & McKenzie and Weil Gotshal & Manges to join its financial services practice. They combine with lawyers from Freshfields, BLP and Addleshaw's.

It makes sense, and since the SRA is easing its rules on forming ABS and therefore becoming an MDP, that the big accounting firms are resurrecting earlier ideas about becoming multidisciplinary practices. Despite Enron and the debacle of Arthur Andersen's implosion in the early 2000s, the Big 4 accounting firms realise legal services are too important to be left to the lawyers alone.

EY Law's website shows their imperial ambitions with the sole exclusion of North America (but for how long?). They have a neat and colourful graphic (which needs recolouring drastically--awful) detailing how legal services form a core element in their work.

The other Big 4 are plucking lawyers from law firms to build capacity in their own legal services units. Deloitte Legal has over 1300 lawyers but is not becoming an ABS, which is odd. PwC Legal,  KPMG and EY Law have received ABS licences from the SRA. Even in Ireland KPMG has taken on six lawyers from the Dublin law firms.

I presume that gaining the ABS status is a precursor to moving out into the market as an independent entity in the way that BT has done with BT Law. And why not? One of the main complaints of clients of law firms is that their lawyers don't understand their business. One could argue that accountants ought to have great insight into the running of businesses and so offer significant value to legal clients. Despite noises from accounting firms that they don't intend to challenge law firms on their core services, which I don't believe, it's inevitable they will compete. One of their strengths is in their global networks which lawyers can only dream about.

Years ago when the senior partners of Clifford Turner and Coward Chance, two somewhat insignificant London banking law firms, held secret merger talks on park benches they imagined they could form a law firm so big that they could merge with an accounting firm. Of course they didn't but now that would be impossible. No law firm could merge; it could only be taken over.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Law Set Free...?

Liverpool Street Station Installation

Several years ago when I began tracking the changes in the legal services market, new types of law firm (or practice) were forming. Some were virtual, others were dispersed without formalised, central offices and some were not even law firms in the traditional sense but companies that offered legal services.

One of these I looked at was Keystone Law. It's idea was to get rid of expensive offices and use technology to coordinate its dispersed expertise. Lawyers would control their own workflow rather than being set targets, illusory or otherwise. The entity would deal with the administration and compliance.

To promote this way of working Keystone is running an installation in Liverpool Street Station called "Law Set Free". The central idea is that legal careers ought to be more responsive to personal needs than those of an organisation. It's a simple concept that speaks to enterprise and self-actualisation in these days of precarious careers.

Keystone foreground their move with a "Lifestyle Calculator", which asks you to input billable hours, salary, and more, then presents you with a pie chart of what your professional life looks like in order to compare it with their alternative. Apparently over 2000 lawyers have used it.

There is far more discussion and academic analysis now of the stresses of professional careers and especially lawyers. Depression isn't rare: what is difficult is how hard it is to talk about it without being seen as weak or inefficient. See, for example, Patrick Schiltz, "On Being a Happy, Healthy, and Ethical Member of an Unhappy, Unhealthy, and Unethical Profession" for a discussion of the importance of this topic. The legal profession is trying to face up to this but it's only made baby steps. Law schools have yet to tackle this. They tend to present legal careers in rosy terms as do most law firms. Just look at the publicity material they publish on how attractive legal careers are. For more on this see Richard Collier's fascinating work on well-being in law as well as this article on representations of trainees.

Traditional models of legal careers still hold sway and will continue to do so for some time. But during the Great Recession the legal profession ruined the trust it built with those who worked in law. Indiscriminate layoffs and increased financialization have have pushed the business philosophy way ahead of the professional ethos. They are not necessarily incompatible, but they do need to co-exist.


Saturday, May 09, 2015

The New World Order for Lawyers and the Legal Profession(s)

(thanks to softpedia)

When you google "new world order" you find weird stuff. This was among the least weird and I do like the film, V for Vendetta.

I've written a piece for Jotwell on Ronit Dinovitzer & Bryant Garth, "Lawyers and the Legal Profession" (UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No 2015-19). It opens thus:

"One of the main concerns of the authors is the structure of the legal profession in which perpetual reproduction of hierarchies forms a contest among different elements of the profession. The configuration of the profession shapes its research which places corporate lawyers and firms at the top of the hierarchy. This seems to stem from the early Cravath idealisation of law firm development. Even though the Cravath model dates from the late 19th century, it reverberates still in the 21st century and has captured scholars’ thinking. It appears difficult to shake off these established idealisations and models when discussing the legal profession. Dinovitzer and Garth (D&G) endeavour to show how these cleavages rip through the study of legal professions.

“Lawyers and the Legal Profession” draws on the research done on the structure of the legal profession, its divisions, lawyers’ backgrounds (gender, ethnicity, class), law firms and globalisation. The range is broad but there is one caveat, which is most of the work referred to is based on research done within the US. It is legitimate to question this given the global differences between legal professions, regulatory systems and the like. Although the Cravath model might have been the blueprint for law firm organisation that was exported by American lawyers—and its residues are apparent—whether it remains the dominant model is open and contested, even, perhaps, within the US. See, for example, the rise of the “smart” law firm. "

Continue reading here.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Harvey Miller RIP

(thanks to New York Times)

The New York Times reported the death of Harvey Miller at 82 from Lou Gehrig's disease.

E.H. Carr who wrote a little book called "What is History?" years ago in the 1960s argued against the great man version of history or otherwise the theory of Cleopatra's Nose (on the basis that no man including Mark Anthony could fail to be attracted to Cleopatra therefore it couldn't be a cause). Yet for those of us interested in the scholarship of the legal profession, it's difficult not to look on Miller's death as a cataclysmic event.

Back in the 1990s by twist of fate I involved myself in a project on the globalization of bankruptcy. No one was researching this area then. Nor did I know much about bankruptcy and insolvency. As I ventured through my research interviews the name of Robert Maxwell cropped up many times as did that of the Reichmann Brothers.

Maxwell was a crook who through financial manipulations of shady trusts ripped off the Daily Mirror pension fund and had the decency to throw himself off his boat. (Who knows? Maybe somebody pushed him.) Maxwell's death started multiple simultaneous bankruptcy cases, especially in the US and the UK.

The Reichmann Brothers built Canary Wharf in London and went bankrupt. But then developers always do. What was remarkable about both was that banks would open their coffers to them and lend them huge amounts of "other people's money" without inspecting their books. This was the heritage of the Thatcher era.

Harvey Miller wasn't in the Maxwell case (although the protagonist of Mitt Regan's book, "Eat What You Kill" was and I interviewed him too about the same time), but he was in the Olympia & York case involving Canary Wharf. What brought the cases together was that they were multinational, required courts in different jurisdictions to cooperate with each other, and necessitated professionals from different countries and backgrounds to try and understand each other. None of this was easy.

In the case of Maxwell the development of the Protocol--a document that attempted to bring together lawyers and accountants from the US and UK in a mediated peace process thereby avoiding litigation--its success led to it being adopted by others such as those in Olympia & York.

I had arranged to interview Miller one afternoon in New York. My morning interview surprised me because that lawyer had had a bit of rough and tumble with Harvey in court one time and he gazed on me as if I would get the same treatment.

Harvey Miller had his own conference room and although I had "booked" only an hour with him he gave me around two to three hours of his time. It turned out his wife, Ruth, was a sociologist.

I learned so much that afternoon: about how bankruptcy eventually became respectable, how Jews had dominated the field because of exclusion from mainstream fields of law, and how these very bankruptcy lawyers were the ones who helped create Chapter 11 in the US. It was one of those stories that sweep before you.

I was so lucky to get that interview, which started me off on some new tracks, despite feeling vertiginous looking out of Miller's window (above) down at Central Park.

Harvey Miller always provided. On his return from the investment bank, Greenhill, he was plunged into Lehman Brothers chaos. In his 70s he was pulling long, long working days.

He created the bankruptcy field and he dominated it. And he's one of those people you can't help admiring.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Fully Funded PhD Positions in Environmental Governance and Compliance

(thanks to esg)

My colleague, Suzanne Kingston, has just won a €1.5 million grant from the European Research Council for five years. Within it are three PhD positions and one post-doc.

Here's a brief description:

This is an exciting opportunity for talented students to play an important role in a cutting-edge project at the intersection of law, governance, psychology and economics, investigating the way that laws influence our decisions to engage (or not to engage) in environmentally compliant behaviour in Europe.

Non-compliance with the EU’s environmental rules is one of the key weaknesses of the EU’s environmental policy, and the EU has over the past decade brought in rules to encourage decentralised, society-led governance by local private actors, including environmental NGOs but also private individuals and companies, in an attempt to improve compliance levels.  Yet surprisingly little is known about the extent to which this major change in environmental governance rules has actually influenced compliance levels in practice, and why.  The central question of this project is therefore: Can the design of environmental governance rules influence us not only to comply with the letter of the law, but also to go further?

Funded by the European Research Council, you will form part of an interdisciplinary team of six people, comprising the Principal Investigator Dr. Suzanne Kingston, a postdoctoral researcher, the 3 Ph.D. students and a research assistant.  Specifically, we are looking for:
  • 1 Ph.D. candidate with a degree in Irish law or the law of another common law jurisdiction, or cognate discipline.  Where the application is for this position, the applicant should be proficient in English;
  • 1 Ph.D. candidate with a degree in French law, or cognate discipline.  Where the application is for this position, the applicant should be proficient in French and English;
  • 1 Ph.D candidate with a degree in Danish law, or cognate discipline.  Where the application is for this position, the applicant should be proficient in Danish and English.
You can find more information at the UCD page. They are for 4 years and funded at €18,000 per year.

This is a great opportunity.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What Happened to the Law School Class of 2010?


(With thanks to Legally Drawn)

Deborah Jones Merritt of Ohio State's Moritz College of Law has written a fascinating paper on what happened to the graduating class of 2010. Her study uses data from Ohio and compares it to the After the JD (AJD) study which used the national graduating class of 2000. Merritt's sample includes all those who passed the Ohio Bar examination in 2010. Another paper that treats some of these issues is The Economic Value of a Law Degree by Simkovic and McIntyre, which rates the lifetime value of a law degree at around $1 million.

 Merritt's use of Ohio appears to match national attributes (see Table II) but the single state approach means she can capture almost the entire population for 2010. She discloses her methodology fully and I won't discuss it here yet it's worth reading for both its successes and its limits.

The first key finding is how few lawyers got jobs that required a law licence (68%) and within that only a small proportion (40%) found jobs in law firms. And a year after graduating 10% remained unemployed. Four years later in 2014 the situation was little better. One per cent more had law firm jobs while the same proportion had jobs that required no licence (18%) and the unemployed came down to only 6.3%.

In contrast the AJD cohort showed more success. Nearly 80% had jobs requiring law licences and nearly 50% had jobs in law firms. Only 10% had jobs not requiring a licence and a mere 6.3% were unemployed.

The Ohio group changed jobs more frequently and their employment was episodic whereas the AJD group seemed to show continuing progress in the labour market. The AJD group worked in bigger law firms while the Ohio group appeared to gravitate to solo practice and small firm work. The economic pickup in the post-recession years didn't create jobs for the Ohio class in the bigger law firms. The consequence of this is that the Ohio class earned considerably less than the AJD group and didn't receive the same mentoring opportunities by virtue of working in small firms which engaged in less of these types of activities. Many of the Ohio cohort started their own, not very successful, solo practices. These tended to close down early on.

Government jobs showed equal numbers between the Ohio and AJD groups but after four years the Ohio group was disproportionately located in non-law government jobs. A similar process occurred with business jobs where Ohio ended up with a greater proportion of non-law posts in business than the AJD group.

Gender differences lived up/down to expectations as men were more likely to be in private practice while women were in state and local government and business jobs. In the AJD group the differences were never so marked.

Merritt points to the usual suspects or culprits for these results: disaggregation of legal work; disrupting technologies; deskilling of legal work, e.g. non-lawyer compliance officers; oversupply of lawyers; and global competition from,e.g. legal process outsourcers.

The consequences aren't good for law schools who are dealing with declining enrolments and squeezes on tuition levels with flat employment prospects for their graduates. Merritt argues that law schools will have to think creatively about future legal education. She asserts the changes occurring are not temporary but systemic and law schools will have to work out how to cater for law related jobs as well as those requiring law licences.

As a last thought I can't help but wonder if this is a particularly American phenomenon or whether we might see similar changes in Europe and Asia, for example. It doesn't appear so yet. Maybe the regulatory freedoms enjoyed by the legal services markets in the UK and Australia (and potentially other countries) are liberating the markets from old, hidebound, traditional ways of doing business that are generating new opportunities for law graduates. I see this in the UK. Perhaps then the US legal profession (and its regulators) is its own worst enemy.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Value of Uncertainty--Luciano Floridi at UCD CITO

The UCD Centre for Innovation, Technology and Organisation (CITO) hosted Luciano Floridi, an Oxford philosopher interested in information and the internet, to talk about the value of uncertainty. I, Donncha Kavanagh and Niamh O Riordan reflected on Luciano's talk afterwards from the perspectives of our own disciplines. I should add that the seminar was devised and organised by the indefatigable Gianluca Miscione, director of CITO.

[There are two videos here and the link to this blog post is]


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Slideshare on Lawyers' Lack of Business Insight?


Monday, January 19, 2015

Power, Practice and Privilege...New Conference