LEGAL – Thoughts inspired by AALS 2015


I was minding my own business, live-tweeting a session at AALS when I got this response:

So angry! So assumptive!  So missing the point! I never quite know what to make of responses like this.  Am I supposed to stop the presentation and say, “Excuse me, Madame, but this guy on the Internet would like you to know you’re an idiot.”  Am I supposed to stop paying attention to the conference so that I can educate this soul on the context of the statement as well as, perhaps, some grammar advice?  After the events of the past few years, I’ve come to realize that life is too short to engage in 140 character debates with confrontational strangers, but it did get me thinking.

(As a side note: He also tried to pull at least one notable legal Twitter critic of legal education and the 21 century into the #aals2015 Twitter stream to harass attendees too. So I feel safe in assuming he wasn’t there for a polite conversation about the subject and was just there to troll. Although this attorney decided to show his ass like this on social media, I decided to protect his identity mainly so I didn’t get hit with the “Shamer!” label.  ANYWAY…)

I am deeply suspicious of anyone who presumes to tell someone how to do their job while simultaneously insisting that no outsider could possibly understand how to do theirs. There seem to be many people who assume that legal educators are out of touch and deliberately scamming people out of thousands of dollars. If only – IF ONLY – some “real” lawyers could get on the podium at AALS, things may finally change!

For those of you who have never been, the AALS of which I speak is the American Association of Law Schools Annual Meeting.  The best way I can think to describe the sessions is that it is a law review come to life.  Much of what comes onto the stages are discussions of substantive law.  Yes, some of it may be a little esoteric like “comparative African law” (as my Twitter friend above pointed out), but it’s primarily an academic conference and that’s what academics do.   Honestly, sometimes I think the criticisms of the academe are less about frustrations with the current state of affairs in the legal world and more about the rising tide of anti intellectualism in our country.  But I digress…

So yes, there were many pointless discussions like, oh I don’t know… a current sitting member of the Supreme Court of the United States discussing his philosophies that guide his decisions.  WASTED TIME, AMIRITE?  But there were several sessions on pedagogy, new teachable skills and tools to incorporate into curricula that employers want and, yes, what’s happening economically to the legal industry and law school graduates.

Success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.   The failures of the legal system, on the other hand, are like an episode of Maury Povich where a series of potential fathers have accused and we are all waiting for the results.  Some people expend more energy pointing fingers and waiting to find someone at fault instead of actually working to solve the problem.  And when someone does present a possible solution – such as saying there’s a way for lawyers to out LegalZoom LegalZoom – they’re called idiots.

To be clear, in speaking of this particular problem, I am not talking about the “Law School Scam” or “Access to Justice Crisis” or the “rise of technology in the practice of law” which, inexplicably, some people consider a problem.  I consider all of theses to be pieces of the same puzzle.  And like a puzzle, a solution is possible, but only with the use of all the pieces.

Like many of you, I got engrossed in the podcast Serial.  And, I’m sure like a good portion of you many, I spent many an hour going over the facts, assumptions and presumed mistakes made in the case.  That’s how I feel about Legal too.  So many ideas and questions and seemingly “facts” keep rolling over and over in my mind.

* you must go to law school to become a lawyer
* no one learns how to become a lawyer in law school
* lawyers possess some special something that non-lawyers or computer programs could never replace
* is is possible that it cannot be taught in a classroom setting?
* when was the last time most critics of legal education actually stepped foot into a law school? Could their memory of their education be faulty or not representative of ALL legal education today?
* how much did the “salary arms race” for first year associates in the 1990s/2000/s contribute to law schools’ feeling justified to increase tuition?
* what is the motivation of law professors and the academe at large for turning out unprepared students? Could they really be that uncaring or are other factors out of their control at play?
*If law graduates were so terrible, why did law firms continue to hire them at six figure salaries?
*why is it presumed that academics have no idea about “real world” practice if that is what they study? Isn’t someone who studies an industry and has broad view of trends and practices as capable of discussing the issues as someone who only sees their one personal experience?

And so on and so on.

Me  now.  And this is just part of my "legal education" list.
Me now. And this is just part of my “legal education” list.

I’m tired of thinking about it.  Personally, I plan to stop looking for blame and start doing something about it.

By the way, here’s how law students could train their law students to out Legal Zoom Legal Zoom.

LegalZoom isn’t *just* forms.  Although forms don’t just come from the Form Fairy…someone needs to create them.  And update them.  And make sure their are appropriate for the jurisdiction.  And let’s stop calling them “forms” like some thing you fill out in a DMV waiting area and call them what they are – basic transactional document boiler plates and model court filings.

So LegalZoom does all that and also offers a review post-completion to make sure it’s sound. They could actually do so much more, but unfortunately antiquated and protectionist bar rules are preventing them from making the step into an automated expert system that could better guide individuals through the process.  Bad news for LegalZoom and the people that desperately need their services but good news for attorneys that want to sell their services to an eager market.

Law schools could add courses in basic small business management, virtual law office skills, beefed up legal research and writing, and the use of expert systems.  With this tool kit, a new attorney could create a jurisdiction specific library of materials that people want and need.  Since they are an attorney, they can go father in the legal information/legal advice continuum than LegalZoom or a library could.  These materials get people into the (virtual) front door and serve as lead generation for either more complex legal issues within this matter that require hands on assistance or as a self referral for the client’s later legal issues.

So that how that would work.


  1 comment for “LEGAL – Thoughts inspired by AALS 2015

  1. January 18, 2015 at 3:56 am

    Well, everything can go crazy in the internet. I feel yah sister! I hate netizens being wired up and all judgmental.

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