Mobile attorney to lead American Board of Trial Advocates in 2014
November 26, 2013
Cooper C. Thurber has been named president of the Alabama chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates for 2014.
Thurber, a partner with Phelps Dunbar LLP, will lead the organization’s Alabama-based members as they “work to preserve the civil jury trial in today’s legal system and advocate for the Seventh Amendment.
The board aims to educate its membership in ethical and technical standards of practice through continuing legal education events, leadership training, and local, regional and national meetings to address issues in trials and litigation.
Thurber, whose career spans more than four decades, focuses his commercial litigation practice on product and professional liability, insurance coverage, bad faith, trucking, toxic tort, premises liability and banking law. He also represents businesses and insurers in significant commercial and tort litigation.
In addition to his involvement with the board, Thurber also serves as a member and leader of a number of professional legal organizations, including The Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel, Defense Research Institute, American Judicature Society, the Mobile Bar Association and the Alabama State Bar.
With more than 270 attorneys, Phelps Dunbar is a regional law firm with offices in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La.; Jackson, Tupelo and Gulfport, Miss.; Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas; Tampa; Mobile; Raleigh, N.C.; and London.
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Program Designed to Place Grads in Southern Public Defender Offices
Karen Sloan, The National Law Journal (reg. req.)
A new initiative aims to make it easier for law graduates to become public defenders in the South.
Gideon’s Promise—an Atlanta-based non-profit that trains and advocates for public defenders throughout the South—has launched its Law School Partnership Project, whereby law schools commit to funding a recent graduate to work in a Southern public defender office for up to a year. The office, in turn, commits to hire the graduate for a permanent position within the year.
At the same time, the new graduate receives three years of training and mentorship through the Core 101 program run by Gideon’s Promise. That training program, which emphasizes legal skills as well as the values of public defense, got a boost in October when the U.S. Department of Justice offered up a $1 million grant to help fund it.
The new Law School Partnership Project so far has three law schools lined up: The University of California at Los Angeles School of Law; New York University School of Law; and American University Washington College of Law.
“The vital work of improving the quality of public defense is completely consistent with the law school’s mission of pursuing access to justice for all,” said American law dean Claudio Grossman. “This partnership will create a concrete pathway between law students and public defense work upon graduation and will be a significant service to communities in need.”
Jonathan Rapping, the president and founder of Gideon’s Promise, said he hopes to have as many as eight partner law schools in the coming months and place a dozen recent graduates in public defender offices by August.
“Much of what we’re trying to do is identify really good, young public defenders who want to work in the most challenging places,” Rapping said. “These are lawyers saying, ‘I want to be a public defender, but not in New York or D.C. I want to do it in Mississippi.’”
The Law School Partnership Project aims to solve a logistical problem that many Southern public defenders offices face, Rapping said. Most of those offices don’t have the structure or resources to recruit on law campuses in the fall, as do some of their more established counterparts. Public defender offices in the South typically don’t have the budget to hold a job open for months while a student graduates and takes the bar. Because they tend not to hire ahead of time, potential candidates can’t choose where to take the bar based on the offer of a job.
By letting students know they have a school-funded position in a public defenders office before the bar exam, those offices will be more attractive options for students from around the county who may not have considered applying otherwise, Rapping said. Plenty of law students complete internships at Southern organizations dedicated to access to justice, such as the Equal Justice Initiative and the Southern Center for Human Rights. But permanent jobs at those entities are few and far between and local public defenders offices are a logical option for those students, Rapping said.
Public defender offices in the South, more so than other regions, need passionate, energetic young attorneys who understand the importance of a robust indigent defense system, he added. Rapping worked in the highly regarded Public Defenders Service for the District of Columbia before relocating to Georgia in 2004.
“I started to see that the high standard of representation in D.C. was the exception rather than the rule,” he said. “In the South, the expectations for representation are embarrassingly low.”
In response, Rapping formed the Southern Public Defender Training Center in 2007—which was recently renamed Gideon’s Promise—to offer better training to public defenders and create a regional network of attorneys dedicated to improving indigent defense. The organization has widened its scope over time and administrators believe partnering directly with law schools to place students in public defender offices is an important next step.
The participating law schools will determine how much to pay their fellows for the first year, Rapping said. After that, the fellows will be hired on as permanent public defenders, initially earning between $40,000 and $55,000 a year.
“This exciting new partnership ensures that talented NYU students committed to public defense work secure their dream jobs, and that some of the nation’s neediest communities receive the high quality representation that our Constitution promises, and that every defendant deserves,” said NYU law professor Erin Murphy.
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Seeing enrollment slide, Penn State halves in-state law school tuition
By Kim Lyons and Bill Schackner, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
November 26, 2013
With declining law school enrollment and a shaky job market for attorneys, Penn State University announced Tuesday it was cutting the price for in-state students to enroll in its Dickinson School of Law by almost half.
The university's "Commonwealth Scholars" program for Pennsylvania residents offers an annual $20,000 reduction off the $41,088 tuition for in-state law school students at Penn State's Carlisle and University Park programs. It is renewable for three years, bringing the potential value to $60,000 for students.
"We have a superb academic program with some of the nation's finest classroom teachers and experiential learning opportunities," interim law dean James Houck said in a prepared statement. "Yet our research shows that some individuals are unable to take advantage of it because of cost. This program will increase access to legal education for well-qualified Pennsylvania residents who otherwise may not have considered us."
The grant is available to all prospective law school students that Penn State admits for fall 2014 enrollment, university officials said. They must be able to show that Pennsylvania is their primary residence. Grant recipients will continue to be eligible for other scholarships and need-based financial aid.
Across the nation, applications for first-year seats in law schools is off this fall by about 12 percent, according to the National Law Journal, the third straight year applications have been off.
The number of students taking the Law School Admissions Test in October was off 11 percent from a year ago and was the smallest number of students taking the test in October since 1998, according to the Law School Admission Council, which administers the exam.
Penn State has felt the sting a bit more sharply. Its first-year enrollment in Dickinson School of Law for fall is 17.5 percent below last year at 132 students, Ellen Foreman, law school spokeswoman, told the Post-Gazette in September.
The University of Pittsburgh has taken a different tack in response to the slumping law job market, reducing the number of admitted students to 175 from 211 a year ago, a 17 percent reduction. Pitt spokesman Ken Service said Tuesday that while the law school is doing more to help enrolled students, it's not planning other immediate changes.
"If the long-term demand is not there, then it makes sense to limit the supply," he said.
Law school tuition for in-state students at Pitt is $29,660, according to its website.
Penn State is hardly the first law school to reduce its tuition in response to flagging enrollment.
Earlier this year, the University of Akron School of Law announced it was changing its tuition structure, so that in-state and out-of-state students pay the same rate. The University of Cincinnati followed suit a few months later, reducing the nonresident tuition rate by 30 percent. According to the National Law Journal, the number of new students enrolling in Ohio law schools has dropped 28 percent since 2008.
"This is something we have seen more of over the past nine months," said Karen Sloan of the National Law Journal. "And if you read the tea leaves based on the most recent administration of the LSAT, I think we will see more announcements of tuition reductions."
She added it was likely that Penn State's law school enrollment decline could be attributed partly to the school's plan to separate its two campuses.
Proposed as a way to better market itself to potential students, the plan called for the Dickinson School's University Park campus to try to attract national and global applicants, offering joint degrees and joint study options with other Penn State graduate programs. The Carlisle campus, meanwhile, would target local students seeking to pursue community and public-sector law who would benefit from easier access to law firms, courts and government agencies in nearby Harrisburg.
One perhaps unintended consequence of the tuition reduction may be the lowering of Dickinson's rating in the U.S. News and World Reports rankings of best graduate programs, which Ms. Sloan noted was "huge" for law schools. One factor taken into consideration when calculating the list is how much is spent per pupil, a number affected negatively by a tuition reduction.
Dickinson ranked 64th among 218 law schools on the 2013 list.
Officials at Penn State are banking on the price reduction drawing more attention to the school's selling points. According to the university, Penn State had the highest first-time bar pass rate of law schools in the state on the July 2013 bar exam.
Ms. Sloan said if it becomes a trend, lower tuition rates may represent something of a course correction for law schools, which have seen steady tuition increases over the past 15 years, significantly higher than the rate of inflation.
At Temple University in Philadelphia, another state-related university, in-state law school tuition is $19,722, according to its website.
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To Apply or Not to Apply? That’s a Tough Question
By Jacob Gershman, The Wall Street Journal (Law Blog)
November 27, 2013
As law school class sizes shrink and the legal job market shows signs of life, some industry observers are wondering whether it’s a smart time to apply to law school.
It’s a debate that pits optimists against pessimists, both of whom make good points.
University of Washington law professor Ryan Calo proclaims himself squarely in the first camp.
“Schools are competing feverishly for good students. An applicant who, a few years ago, would have been wait-listed at a top twenty school, may now find herself with a scholarship,” Mr. Calo wrote in a recent article for Forbes.
Fewer students also means less competition in the entry-level job market.
Let’s start with the assumption that Ohio State University law professor Deborah J. Merritt has made: that class sizes will decline by an average of 8% a year from 2013 through 2017 — a projection based on shrinking enrollment figures over the last two years.
And let’s also assume, using National Association for Law Placement figures, that the number of graduates who get full-time legal jobs — a number that hasn’t changed much since 2009 — stays flat at around 27,000.
And let’s project ahead to the Class of 2017, composed of students who are just now applying to law school. Again assuming an 8% annual decline in class sizes, the number of graduates that year would fall to about 34,000 — or around 7,000 more than the number of 2012 graduates who landed full-time legal jobs.
That would be a substantially higher employment rate compared to Class of 2007 graduates. Roughly 70% of Class of 2007 graduates obtained a full-time job requiring bar passage — right before the industry took a nosedive.
For those with a more skeptical outlook, the response to such speculation is that we really don’t know how many and what kind of jobs are going to be out there four years from now.
“Changes in the quality of law positions, however, may counterbalance any optimism bias. Staff attorneys, contract attorneys, and document reviewers have replaced many conventional associates,” writes Ms. Merritt on her blog.
Matt Leichter, author of the Law School Tuition Bubble blog, adds another note of caution, writing, “Because of the large backlog of JDs out there, secure jobs and compensation are along way off, even if the number of graduates falls below the number of jobs created annually.”
So is it a good time to consider law school? The jury is still deliberating.
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Online Matchmakers Offer New Way to Find Legal Help - Small firms can connect with lawyers for complex jobs
By Jennifer Smith, The Wall Street Journal (reg. req.)
December 2, 2013
There's a new option for small companies seeking legal advice: online matchmaking services that promise to connect clients with lawyers in their price range.
Many small businesses can't afford to keep a law firm on retainer, so some consult with attorneys only when a crisis hits. Others turn to the Internet for quick legal fixes—downloading cheap legal forms to fill out themselves or paying a small fee to ask lawyers simple questions.
Now a handful of services let small businesses hire lawyers for more complex jobs, like drafting a lease or filing a trademark or patent, through Internet marketplaces.
UpCounsel Inc., for instance, lets clients post jobs and field bids for work from a screened group of lawyers, and handles billing and other tasks for those attorneys..
The average transaction is about $1,000, for things like advice on buying a franchise or writing up a complicated lease. Jobs can run to $7,000 for more complex tasks such as preparing and filing a patent application.
Entrepreneur Tristan Pollock says he logs on to UpCounsel about once a week for his San Francisco-based startup, Storefront, an online marketplace that helps artists, designers and brands secure short-term retail space.
Small-business owners used to find lawyers largely by word-of-mouth. But that's changing, as more people search for legal help online, says Jeffrey Van Winkle, a lawyer and chair-elect of the National Small Business Association's board of trustees. The new services propose to simplify that hunt—while tapping into what they say is a potentially lucrative market. Small and midsize businesses spend an estimated $100 billion a year on legal services, according to market research commissioned by UpCounsel.
Another new entrant is Priori Legal LLC, now beta-testing a matchmaking service that also helps businesses track and manage legal spending. Would-be clients fill out a detailed form outlining their legal needs, then are sent a list of vetted lawyers with at least five years of relevant experience. Fixed fees and hourly rates are prenegotiated—typically 25% below what that lawyer would otherwise charge—and if a match results, the client pays Priori a fee.
Over the summer, San Francisco's LegalReach Inc., a social-networking site for law-school alumni, opened its 10,000-lawyer network to small businesses and consumers who want quotes on legal jobs. Attorneys whose bids find favor with clients pay $50 for the introduction.
Meanwhile, Atlanta-based IP Smartup connects startups with patent attorneys who charge discounted rates for intellectual-property advice.
The sites say there are protections in place for users. For instance, they check to make sure lawyers they list have valid bar licenses and are in good standing with their state bar associations.
Some of the sites go further than that. UpCounsel, for instance, says lawyers must disclose whether they have insurance, and to remain active on the site, they must maintain a minimum average rating of four out of five stars from clients.
But the services come with caveats. For one thing, attorneys on the sites are often solo practitioners and small law firms. That means they often have less overhead than a big firm, so they can afford to give discounts. But they may not have the same resources or pull to help clients.
What's more, says Tracy Kitts, a senior adviser to the National Business Incubation Association, business owners who seek out attorneys to perform specific tasks may not be alerted to other potential legal issues that also need attention.
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Why Young People Are Rejecting Law School
Jeremy Paul, The National Law Journal
Let's just come right out and say it. Although our profession will rise again, right now being a lawyer just isn't quite as cool as it used to be. Of course, people have thrown darts at lawyers since Shakespeare. But consider where things stand in today's popular culture. Twenty years ago, Aaron Sorkin in "A Few Good Men" gave us Tom Cruise as a heroic JAG officer whose brilliant legal skills famously cracked Jack Nicholson on the witness stand. Now Sorkin, in the HBO hit "The Newsroom," has created a lawyer who cares only about her billing rate and is described as part of a "godless, soulless race of extortionists."
Such observations would be suitable mostly for entertainment magazines if they did not correspond with double-digit declines in the number of people applying to U.S. law schools during each of the past three years. This trend is expected to continue in 2014, and the dip is even more pronounced among applicants from elite universities.
Why are so many college graduates deciding to pursue other careers? The familiar explanation is an easy one. Job prospects for law school graduates have dwindled as economic conditions have pummeled private law firms and government-funded legal services. Clients have balked at paying firms to train junior associates, while governments have slashed funding. Who wouldn't pause before applying to law school when anticipated incomes may prove insufficient to enable graduates to repay their education loans?
Blaming the recent collapse in demand for a legal education solely on economics, however, is too easy. Initially, it's not clear what other lucrative options are available for the nonscientifically inclined. (Not everyone can be a hedge-fund manager.) Moreover, the best recent study conducted by Seton Hall University School of Law professor Michael Simkovic and Rutgers University economist Frank McIntyre demonstrates substantial financial return for those earning a law degree. They estimate the mean pretax lifetime value of a law degree at about $1 million, and conclude that its present value exceeds its cost by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Such figures should in no way diminish our zeal to reduce the cost of legal education and to find jobs for our graduates. Yet we can embrace the moral obligation to help struggling graduates without denying that a law degree remains a sound investment. Moreover, the promise of financial reward has never been the best reason to attend law school. Historically, lawyers have earned a living billing by the hour, a model that will never produce the sorts of income available in high tech, real estate, finance or industry.
The reason to become a lawyer is because you love it. And one reason to love it is the thrill of solving problems, helping people work together, and contributing to a society in which justice is of preeminent value. Yet what do today's college students see in our culture as the accomplishments of the profession? Congress, our highest lawmaking body, has become tangled in partisan trench warfare. The U.S. Supreme Court, where law reaches a pinnacle, refuses to allow cameras. For today's young people, if it's not on video, it doesn't exist. Extreme commercials with subtitles warning against the on-screen behavior convey an image of lawyers shadowboxing with imaginary scenarios while serious problems go unaddressed. And who was it who came up with the idea for drug advertisements that listed all potential side effects? Surely lawyers deserve credit for pushing the country to recognize the justice in same-sex marriage. But too much of what those considering a legal career see today does not communicate the opportunity the profession affords to steer society in good directions.
The problem is particularly profound as a result of the technological environment. We trust judges to impose coercive sanctions because they are guided by rules written down in advance. Indeed, our archetypical laws were literally etched in stone. Today's students, however, have been raised in an era of plasticity. The idea that we should be guided now by decisions others made back then is a much harder sell to a generation that has grown up in an era of continual change.
Losing faith in the guiding hand of law, however, poses grave risks. The rule of law is one of our country's most significant sources of moral strength and competitive advantage. Winning the allegiance of the next generation will require the invention of regulatory techniques that move faster and allow those regulated to adapt to change. Creative problem solving must remain at the root of how we present our profession.
As long as law deans accept the conventional wisdom that our struggles are solely about money, legal education will never recover the national standing it deserves. Instead, legal educators and professional leaders must tackle directly public perceptions of the value lawyers add to everyday life. Twenty-first-century lawyers will write rules that enable people to work together to grow the economy, allocate resources more fairly, battle environmental threats and preserve notions of privacy in an Internet age. If we communicate clearly a vision of lawyers as the architects of a just society, plenty of aspiring lawyers will sign up for the ride.
Jeremy Paul is dean and a professor at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston.
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Maryland Judiciary produces 'courtroom behavior' online videos
By Don Aines, Hagerstown Herald-Mail (Maryland)
November 11, 2013
A courtroom can be an intimidating and confusing place, so the Maryland Judiciary has produced a series of online videos to help those who represent themselves know what to expect and how to prepare for their day in court.
“The judiciary is dedicated to providing fair, timely and equal access to justice for everyone here in Maryland,” Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera said in a news release. “These videos help us meet those goals by providing vital information to help people become more familiar with how courts operate and how they can help themselves in court cases.”
The four videos are: “Tips for Your Day in Court,” “Service of Process,” “Defending a Small Claim” and “Finding Legal Help,” according to the release.
Running just less than five minutes, “Tips” is common-sense advice often not commonly observed, including dressing appropriately and professionally.
“Dressing appropriately shows you have respect for the court ... and respect for your case,” said Hagerstown attorney Andrea Cheeatow of Cheeatow & Lobley Attorneys at Law.
“Your case is serious to you, and should be serious to the person judging you,” she said.
“One of my pet peeves is ladies ... they come to court in tank tops,” Cheeatow said.
On some occasions, she has given a client her jacket to wear during court appearances.
Men with pants hanging down and underwear exposed is another peeve, she said.
“I’ve had clients tell me they don’t own a suit,” Cheeatow said.
A decent pair of pants and a clean shirt will do, she said.
Dress requirements are more lax in Washington County District Court, but in circuit court, people wearing shorts, flip-flops and other inappropriate attire are not allowed in the courtroom, said Cheeatow’s law partner, Victoria Lobley.
“Tips” also advises people to be on time for court, leaving enough time to find a parking spot, clear security and review case materials before having to go before a judge.
“I’ve seen defendants get incarcerated because they were late for court,” Cheeatow said.
In a civil proceeding, such as a person seeking a protective order, the case can be dismissed by a judge if the plaintiff is not present when the roll is called in court, she said.
The video advises people to speak clearly and concisely when presenting their cases.
“People can harm themselves by not being concise,” Lobley said. “Sometimes they veer off course a little bit and perhaps share too much information.”
“Finding Legal Help” has advice on finding and hiring a private lawyer, options for free or low-cost legal help, and self-representation.
“Lawyers can look for things in your case you’re not aware of,” said Lobley, noting that low-income defendants in criminal cases can qualify for representation through the Office of the Public Defender.
“It’s a valuable investment in your case and your future, no matter which side you’re on,” she said.
The videos and other self-help materials can be viewed by going to the Maryland Judiciary website at http://mdcourts.gov and clicking on Video Library.
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