lukegilman.com : The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at www.lukegilman.com

Sign of the Times: “My whole practice is sitting on a 2-inch thumbdrive.”

National Law Journal has a remarkable story of a lawyer getting a deal done in the worst of circumstances in Heller Ehrman Vet Closes $3 Billion Deal Despite Firm Closure. My favorite line:

Outside of a few boxes of mementos, “my whole practice is sitting on a 2-inch thumbdrive,” Tonsfeldt says. “It holds 15 gigabytes, and I’m sure I didn’t even use a fraction of it.”

Quantifying The State of the Legal Market

West Law Peer Monitor Economic Index (PMI) is a comparative business intelligence reporting for law firms. Mark Medice has a description of the product and the data it provides on the Westlaw podcast.

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Managing partner of K and L Gates derides U.S. News and World Report Rankings

Peter Kalis, the chairman and global managing partner of K and L Gates challenges the efficacy of the U.S. News and World Report Rankings in Gripes About Law School Rankings From a Law School ‘Customer’ in the National Law Journal.

I’d like to take up the cause of “nondesigner” law schools. I’ll focus on the University of Pittsburgh School of Law but there are many “Pitt Laws” in our markets — law schools with dedicated teachers and researchers, fine student bodies and solid market reputations that, alas, do not rank them with Yale or Harvard.

The real Pitt Law was hammered this year in the U.S. News ranking and dropped 16 places, from 57 to 73. Other law schools experienced abrupt movements up and down this year’s ranking as compared with last. Such sudden changes among stable institutions reveal more about the ranking than the law schools themselves. If change comes slowly to law firms, it comes even more slowly within academia.

I am a graduate of Yale Law School. It was and is a great place — but it’s no Pitt Law. Yale Law is the same tiny size it was 50 years ago — about 165 students per class. The 50 largest law firms in the country now employ about 65,000 lawyers. Yale Law today, sad to say, is quantitatively beside the point to most of the country’s leading law firms. And, of course, “Yale Law” is merely a metaphor that embraces Harvard, Stanford, Chicago and the other “designer” law schools whose entering class sizes are frozen in time like the fetching smile of a prom date you haven’t seen in 40 years.

Consider the impact of the real Pitt Law on my firm. We have 29 partners and 60 lawyers overall who are graduates of Pitt Law. It has supplied us with a global development partner, a global general counsel, a global head of litigation and the managing partner of one of our largest offices. It trains great leaders as well as great lawyers not only because ideas matter there, but also because emotional intelligence and analytical intelligence go hand in hand. It doesn’t sit well with me when Pitt Law is unfairly maligned.

It’s fairly easy to see from the numbers: 33 lawyers from Yale Law School and 61 from University of Pittsburgh Law School (not to mention 7 from the University of Houston Law Center despite not having a Houston office). Some of this is obviously choice, see Law Professor Hiring: Statistics on JD Placement, but of course the beauty and the disease of rankings is that they sell simplicity rather than explanation.

Kill the Billable Hour

Evan Chesler, presiding partner at Cravath where he was head of litigation, has rather unsubtly suggested that we all Kill the Billable Hour:

I’m a trial lawyer. I bill by the hour. So do the associates who work for me. I have lots of clients, so I can pretty much work, and bill, as much as I want. This needs to be fixed. Yes, you read that correctly.

I might be more inclined to believe that Chesler was on to something if he didn’t simultaneously brag of his exorbitant rates (“We don’t make numbers public at Cravath, but you can assume I’m not cheap”) and compare his work to that of “Joe the Contractor”.

So what am I proposing? For reasonable periods of time during the life of a lawsuit, say three months at a time, I should do what Joe does: identify the client’s objectives, measure, calculate, build in a contingency and come back with a price. Once the price has been agreed upon, the billable hour should be irrelevant. The client will no longer be surprised by a whopper bill and met by the standard (albeit true) explanation that “litigation is unpredictable.”

The WSJ Law Blog interviewed Chesler in “I’m a Trial Lawyer. I Bill by the Hour . . . This Needs to be Fixed.”

Somewhere, someplace, once upon a time, somebody said to a client, “I’m going to charge you for each hour I spend on your matter.” And that client said, “OK.” And from that a seed was planted, and a tree grew. I believe it’s time to plant new a new seed.

I’ve written on this subject in previous posts, The Death of the Billable Hour, Wishing Does Not Make it So and More on the Billable Hour, Charting Your Own Course

I won’t be holding my breath.

Empirical Study of Civil Bench and Jury Trials in State Courts from 1992-2005

Some interesting statistics on trials were released recently in DOJ, Bureau of Justice Statistics: Civil Bench and Jury Trials in State Courts, 2005. Some of the findings significantly undermine the popular mythology of large awards runaway juries that fueled tort reform.

  • In 2005 plaintiffs won in more than half (56%) of all general civil trials concluded in state courts. The plaintiff was significantly more likely to win in a bench trial compared to a jury trial. Among all plaintiff winners the median final award was $28,000. Approximately 4% of all plaintiff winners won $1,000,000 or more. Contract cases in general had higher median awards ($35,000) than tort cases ($24,000).
  • The total number of civil trials declined by over 50% from 1992 to 2005 in the nation’s 75 most populous counties. Tort cases decreased the least (40%) while real property (77%) and contract (63%) cases registered the largest declines.
  • In the nation’s 75 most populous counties, some tort case categories have seen marked increases in their median jury awards. This was particularly the case for product liability trials, where the median awards were about 5 times higher in 2005 than in 1992 and for medical malpractice trials, where the median jury awards more than doubled from $280,000 in 1992 to $682,000 in 2005.

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