Five by Five – Russel Trust

These Five by Five come from reader Russel Trust:

 1.  Law Firms should be limited to no more than 100
 Why have law firms turned into corporations?
Maybe because law firms don’t look like law firms,
they look like corporations.  There is no collegiality
when partners don’t even know each others names; there
is no professionalism when a law firm needs a CEO.  If
law wants to stay a separate, distinct manner of
business, it has to stop doing business like any other

People hate corporations.  People had the anomie, the
isolation, the inhumanity of it.  Sure, it’s useful,
but only to a point.  Why do so many lawyers leave the
practice?  Perhaps in part because they can’t stand
the atmosphere.

True, 100 is still too large a firm size, but at least
it is a start.

2.  Abolish All Mediocre Law Schools.  One of the
reasons the practice of law is so troubled, is that
law firms can always find another monkey to do their
document review/boring research/etc.  There is no
excuse for a Stanford Law graduate to have to look for
a job when a Georgetown grad has a job.  The flood of
lawyers that the sub-par schools deluges the
profession with keeps salaries down and partnership
tracks long.

Thus, we should permanently close all sub-par law
schools.  I’m not just talking about Hastings and New
York Law School, I mean American University, Fordham
Law, Duke Law, et cetera.  Don’t try to tell me
there’s a “top 14” these days.  Face it–there are
good reasons you were rejected by Harvard Law.  You
just are not that smart.

3.  Increase Pay of Government Attorneys.  Big time;
you want the best, you gotta pay for the best.  A lot
of lawyers would love to do work for the public
interest instead of helping some big company avoid
paying its taxes.  Those lawyers who do that should be

4.  Fully Fund the Public Defender System At All
 Ineffective assistance for poor people will
lead to a fundamental undermining of the legal system.

5.  Cap Billable Hours At 1850. In the 1950s, the ABA
said that billable hours per year should be about
1300.  And now, with Lexis, Westlaw and the internet,
billable hours are supposed to be longer?  You’ve got
to be kidding me.

Working longer still does not equal working better.
The money-hungry part of the profession must be
capped, lest it drain out any joy.  Being a lawyer
does not mean being rich; it used to mean being a
member of one’s community, of playing a vital role in
society.  Just because asshole corporate lawyers have
perverted the practice, doesn’t mean we’ve lost
forever the lawyer-statesman.

12 Responses to Five by Five – Russel Trust
  1. toufic
    June 28, 2004 | 1:47 pm

    close all mediocre law schools? yes, because we know the diverse viewpoints that would result from Stanford and Harvard graduates only would be sufficient for all legal needs forthcoming in the next few decades… “Face it–there are good reasons you were rejected by Harvard Law.  You just are not that smart.” Intelligence level aside, apparently the concept of supply and demand is something that has not dawned upon you. The reason there are so many law schools, among other reasons (such as greed), is the at large request for them. The reason they are allowed to flourish is because their graduates apparently fill some sort of need. I don’t understand why you would believe that simple market dynamics would not cull the unnecessary or unwanted schools. People aren’t stupid, and they do communicate. If a school isn’t generating a graduate who is marketable then that school will not continue to flourish. If graduates from a specific school have difficulty seeking employment, maybe they should ask themselves why. Could it possibly be that their school has created a reputation that automatically prices them out of most employers’ hiring budget? And to answer the question, no I do not defend any school in particular, I don’t claim a law school as an alma mater.

  2. kenton
    June 28, 2004 | 2:48 pm

    For real! It’s true; if a firm wanted to hire only the best and the brightest, they wouldn’t hire anyone from American or Catholic! Why do people go to those schools–because they got a C average in college and an 150 LSAT.

    Hence, low quality associates, low quality workplace, and law firms become oppressive to hide the fact that they’re just incompetent. Why work 2500 hours? Because dumb kids need longer!

  3. Carolyn Elefant
    June 28, 2004 | 6:50 pm

    Biglaw hires as many associates as it can sustain because that’s how big firms make money. It’s a pyramid scheme and the more people who are below every partner billing hours – whether from Harvard or Howard, Stanford or Samford – the more money the firms make. As another commenter pointed out, it’s that demand that drives supply.
    I don’t know if people who didn’t get into Harvard simply aren’t smart or what, but I do know for sure that some of the best known people in the profession – and those who are changing the way we practice law – are those who didn’t go to the top 10. Consider people like Mark Geragos and Johnnie Cochran – they both went to Loyola and are probably better known to the American public than a blue-chip attorney like Theodore Olsen (uh, oh – he only went to Berkeley) or Ken Starr. What about the blogsosphere- you have someone like Tom Goldstein (SCOTUS Blog) who went to AU Law School and he’s already argued at least a dozen cases before the US Supreme Court. I think Howard Bashman of How Appealing went to Emory – and he has, in the two years he’s run his blog – disseminated more information about the appellate courts and process than any high-flying appellate attorney from Yale. I could go on and on. Truthfully, I liked your other proposals for change but the one about getting rid of mediocre schools suggests that you’re living in the world of American Lawyer 100 and not the real legal profession.

  4. John
    July 1, 2004 | 4:02 pm

    Each year, Harvard graduates over 500, NYU over 400, with about 200 each from the rest of the real law schools (Yale, Columbia, Chicago, Boalt, Stanford). That’s about 2000 new lawyers each year. People from other law schools are already two-thousand places behind the best.

    There may be a diamond or two in the rough, but let’s face it; if the second-rate schools have such smart kids, why is legal academia dominated by Yale, Chicago and Columbia?

    Let’s get rid of the thousands of law graduates who had meager college records (C averages and 150 LSATs) who end up flooding the market as doc reviewers and sourceciters. Do you think your J.D. from American is going to help you make Partner?

    A smaller supply of lawyers would make law firm life more enjoyable–the decreased supply would force salaries up and force law firms to give substantive work to associates, hiring paralegals to do the document review and other low-skilled chores.

    How many Supreme Court justices have graduated from Georgetown? How many Senators or Presidents graduated from Fordham?

  5. Russel
    July 2, 2004 | 9:01 am

    This is for toufic, who seemed to miss my point. Ignoring for the moment that because he is not a lawyer he doesn’t have standing on this topic, toufic argued that the market was somehow fair. It is not.

    For perceived notions of institutional diversity, law firms recruit at a vast number of schools. The rare partner who comes from a second-rate law school like Georgetown can force his firm to recruit other from Georgetown (for example).

    Thus, law firms are forced to recruit the unworthy–people who could not even get into the better schools, people who thought drinking their way through college and doing nothing prestigious or glamorous afterward was a-ok.

    The detritus thus employed will never make partner; they litter the halls for a few years and then seek solace at a smaller firm (if they even remain in the law). In the meantime, their presence keeps the work boring and the pay lower than what it should be.

    After all, why are all first-year associates paid the same? Does a bronze medalist deserve the same compensation as a gold medalist?

    July 8, 2004 | 5:55 am

    Ideas from Nonbillable Hours

    Matthew Homann of the [non]billable hour has a good concept: Ask various lawyers to give their five best ideas for improving the practice of law. Here’s one from Russel Trust that met with favor in this corner:3. Increase Pay of…

    July 8, 2004 | 6:00 am

    Ideas from Nonbillable Hours

    Matthew Homann of the [non]billable hour has a good concept: Ask various lawyers to give their five best ideas for improving the practice of law. Here’s one from Russel Trust that met with favor in this corner:3. Increase Pay of…

  8. Pappy
    July 8, 2004 | 1:05 pm

    Shut down all “mediocre” law schools??? Are you kidding me???

    You are one of those pompous people who think the practice of law means going into BIGLAW or government, nothing else. You are also pompous enough to think that schools like Fordham and American are bottom tier law schools. There are much worse law schools in terms of rankings but they still serve a purpose.

    That Stanford grad you mentioned is CHOOSING to be unemployed…’em could go into some family practice if they wanted, or if CA is too rough, head out to another state and practice some kind of law.

    You and your narrow mind seems to think that if Stanford grad can’t get a BIGLAW job, and somehow a Georgetown guy is in BIGLAW, it’s some travesty. It’s not.

    Damn good lawyers come out of low 1st tier, 2nd tier, 3rd and 4th tier schools. Most of them may not be BIGLAW caliber, but they will be good attorneys.

    Your issue on this topic should be directed to those BIGLAW firms. All they want from first-years is a slave to work 90 hours a week sorting and copying docs. Sure most BIGLAW firms might be willing to take a 3rd tier grad who is VERY eager to do the monkey work over an arrogant Stanford grad who might think ’em is too good for this slave work.

    This anger towards bad law schools should be directed at

    1.) firms lowering their hiring standards to take lesser qualified applicants who are more willing to do drone work


    2.) at arrogant yet unemployed grads of your so called “top schools.” No one is entitled to sh*t. Not even Harvard grads. You have to work, and work hard, to be successful.

  9. Your Mother
    July 8, 2004 | 3:28 pm

    Some people choose not to go to–or for that matter, even apply to–Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc. because they don’t want to be surrounded by arrogant pricks.
    And by the way, my student loans are an eighth of what the average Harvard grad owes. So tell me, if I’m at the same Biglaw firm with a top 20 diploma for an eighth of the cost, which one of us is “just…not that smart?”

  10. david giacalone
    July 8, 2004 | 3:40 pm

    Re: Government Lawyer pay: If the government is already getting an adequate number of quality attorneys (viz., smart enough and motivated enough to do the job well), there is no reason to increase salaries in order to attract individual lawyers who won’t enter public service unless they can receive higher pay.

    The “best” lawyer for a government job might not have the same characteristics as the “best” or best-paid BIGLAW or p/i attorney.

    I spent over a dozen years working for the federal government, and many more working around state and county lawyers. In general, the worse government lawyers are the ones who could NOT make significantly more money by going into the private sector.

    The skills that make a good lawyer are not very special — being able to think and write well. One reason lawyers nonetheless often get paid extra-special salaries and fees is there willingness to suspend moral judgment and do the client’s bidding. It’s their Guilt-Money Bonus. There is no reason to pay such a bonus to lawyers who have chosen instead to do public service. Having a clear conscience and the satisfaction of serving the public is its own reward.

  11. Andy
    December 22, 2004 | 1:40 pm

    I think Mr. Trust needs to spend some time in the real world. From what it looks like Mr. Petit has some good ideas about bringing our guild into the 21st century. Attorneys should have a national system of regulation and performance standards.

    What I can not understand is Mr. Trust’s desire to eliminate 97.5% of law schools on the basis that all graduates of these law schools are incompetent and unsuited to the practice of law. If this were the case why would any graduate of Harvard fail the NY Bar (let alone the 3 times of JFK junior) while the majority of CUNY Law and Quinnipiac students pass the NY bar with flying colors.
    Statements like:

    “Don’t try to tell me there’s a “top 14” these days. Face it–there are good reasons you were rejected by Harvard Law. You just are not that smart.”


    “Why do people go to those schools–because they got a C average in college and an 150 LSAT.”

    Show an intolerance and desire for homogeneity which should be flatly rejected within our profession.

    Admittedly I attended a 2nd Tier law school, partially because of my 2.9 Undergraduate performance (but boy did I have fun earning that 2.9), but mostly for family reasons (yes some law students actually have families when they attend law school). Regardless of my LSAT score (174) none of the top 5 schools would have touched me with a 10 foot pole. On the other hand, my need for an affordable education eliminated my desire to attend any of the 1st tier schools (let alone the top 5).

    If all those “mediocre” law schools like NYU and Georgetown (let alone the University of South Carolina) were to be eliminated where would all the “normal” lawyers come from. Who would defend DWI cases in Spokane, or incorporate a mom and pop business in Toledo, or fill out an IRS 1023 for a NPC in Tulsa, or negotiate a divorce in Bakersfield, or represent a creditor in a chapter 7 in Charlotte, or litigate a personal injury case in Buffalo?

    My point is, the vast majority of law in America is NOT practiced by the federal government and Harvard (or Yale, or Bolt, etc.) associates from the mega firms. Medium to small market law is practiced (and dominated) by the top students from the “mediocre” schools so criticized by Mr. Trust.

    What about the L.L.M. programs which allow attorneys (like myself) o specialize in complex areas of the law. The top tax program in the country (with the leading tax scholarship I may add) is operated by a “mediocre” school (NYU). Harvard does not even have a tax program. I suppose Harvard’s reasoning is that the training of America’s ruling elite should avoid areas of taxation wherever possible. If Harvard’s wealthy WASP student body majority thought about the 15% rate on dividends or the impending repeal of the estate and gif tax (let alone the GST) they could develop some sense of economic justice and even a conscience. I mean, Harvard law students are suposed to be “the best and the brightest”
    Anyway, it sound like this Mr. Trust is just one of the pompous attorneys who give our profession such a black eye in the public view. Just don’t let one bad apple spoil the bunch.

  12. Jay
    May 1, 2005 | 11:08 pm

    While I’m not big on pissing contests with one’s GPA and LSAT score, I would like to point out that I had neither a C average in undergrad nor a 150 LSAT, and yet I somehow found my way to American’s Washington College of Law. Gasp! How can that be?? It’s so…so…mediocre! Give me a freakin’ break. Some people choose their law school beyond mere rankings/prestige/where their daddy went. In fact, some of us chose our school based on the fact that we didn’t want to attend classes with pompous assholes who feel superior to anyone in law schools “below” them, and the posting here as well as some of the comments certainly support that decision.

    Some people don’t have the money to go to big-name law school, some don’t have the connections. Some chose for other reasons, and yes, those reasons might include their undergraduate resume. But I would still argue that the best students at American, Howard, Duke, Fordham, Catholic, etc., could hold their own with the best students from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc. And the top 10% from those “mediocre” schools would mop the floor with the trust fund babies in the bottom 60% of the “elite” schools.

    When we graduate, we’ll all have a law degree. Sure, yours might have the name of a more prestigious school on it, and hell, it might give you a leg-up on the hiring process, but any firm that’s going to hire you solely based on where I went to school isn’t the type of firm I want to work at in the first place.

    Why are we taking some of the jobs that a Stanford grad “should” have? Because we’re more qualified. We don’t feel like anyone owes us anything and we’re actually working hard to get that job in the first place, while you sit around dropping the name of your school. “Oh, but I went to STANFORD! That means I had a 4.0 as an undergrad and 95th percentile LSAT!” Get over yourself. Quit blaming “mediocre” law schools for your failures to land a great job.

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