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I am a lawyer. I am married to a lawyer. I am the friend of hundreds of lawyers and hold thousands more in great regard. If you're a lawyer (or love them), welcome. I invite you to share your thoughts and ideas in this space.

La Verne Law School Shoots Straight

La Verne Law School, is doing well. That is a turnaround from 2011 when La Verne, the only law school in the Southern California Inland Empire, lost students and, temporarily, lost its solid reputation for training lawyers. In that year the ABA denied La Verne Law its final accreditation because of a low first-time Bar pass rate.

Since then the school recruited a dynamic new Dean from the University of Baltimore, Gilbert Holmes. Dean Holmes, the faculty, and the staff resurrected La Verne Law. It is again viewed as a significant developer of young lawyers, many of whom stay in and practice law in the Inland Empire, an area with a dearth of lawyers. The school encourages local practice.

The school confronted its ABA accreditation problem head-on, partly by creating a Center for Academic and Bar Readiness within the law school. The Center operates during all of the law school years, and specifically teaches third-year students subjects and methods to pass the bar. It worked: La Verne’s most recent first-time Bar pass rate was 87.5%. Based on that Bar pass rate, La Verne Law should receive final ABA accreditation on its next evaluation.

Of greater interest, to attract students from various economic backgrounds, the school now has a “True Tuition Model”. Tuition is a flat $25,000, fixed for three years. No scholarships are granted. Moderate legal tuition (without scholarships for the most desired students) allows graduates to repay law school loans with moderate salaries. That in turn helps clients with moderate incomes get the legal help they need. Fully half of La Verne Law graduates choose to live and work in the Inland Empire following graduation.

A flat, moderate tuition also promotes diversity in the student body. Dean Holmes has said “disparity promoted by a rankings-driven merit scholarship model that leans on students with a sub-median LSAT performance [skewed in some instances by race, ethnicity and socio-economic factors] to fund advantaged, historically higher-scoring students, is something that we can no longer perpetuate.”

Why does this matter to those of us not involved with La Verne Law School? (I am not involved with the school, except as an admirer.) It should matter to us as citizens, even if it does not matter to us as lawyers. Who becomes a lawyer? Whom do they serve? La Verne Law has a historic de facto mission. For the most part the school trains lawyers who serve their local community, and, within that community, people who would not otherwise have access to lawyers.

I am in a position to know that sometimes lawyers who work with elite clients want an elite sort of practice. But working with a large firm or at least well-heeled clients is also often simply something a young lawyer must do to repay his or her loans. Moderate and fixed legal tuition means graduates can repay their law school loans doing what they want, and sometimes receiving a moderate salary. That, in turn, helps people of moderate income get the legal help they need.

Most of the lawyers with whom I work are very well paid professionals who work with financially successful clients. Although most of those lawyers would want that life regardless of their need to pay back school debt, some of the best paid lawyers I know would have happily taken lower paying jobs or opened their own practice within a smaller community if they knew they could do so and not default on their debt.

La Verne Law’s difficulties inspired solutions that have created a win-win for La Verne and the Inland Empire. Dean Holmes addressed the issue as follows. “We are, undoubtedly, seeking to increase enrollment. But it’s not solely about driving numbers. It’s about enrolling more and more students from diverse backgrounds who embrace the values of social justice and equal opportunity, and who will not only be good law students but also upstanding guardians of society.”

A March, 2014 ABA study documented the perhaps obvious fact that lawyers are happier when they practice in an environment they like, . Reasonable tuition creates more opportunity for lawyers to like their work. Maybe we can all use a good professional crisis.

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Whistle While You Work

There is a silver lining for lawyers in the storm cloud of the legal world’s continuing recession. Lawyers, law students, and people considering law school are paying more attention to what makes them happy. Because law school is no longer a sure road to a financially comfortable life, lawyers, and people contemplating a life in the law, are focusing more than they have since the 1960s on whether they will be happy as lawyers.

How precise are you, how thoughtful, how careful? Without those qualities, diligence and creativity are not sufficient for a happy and successful legal life. Happy lawyers tend to enjoy both creativity and precision. When lawyers only like one or the other, their professional happiness is diminished. Continue reading

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When Women Negotiate — for Themselves

When I get together with other professional women to talk about business, our discussions frequently turn to how far women still have to go to close gender-based professional gaps. Without doubt, gender-based pay and other gaps have narrowed in the last few decades, but there is still a sizable difference in what is expected from and given to women professionals, and such distinctions start right after graduation. (See, Gender Pay Gap, The Careerist.)

We all recognize, of course, that the gaps result from a history of discrimination, but in deeper discussions we also acknowledge that at least some portions of the remaining gaps result from our own attitudes and actions. Continue reading

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Academic Matters

You graduated law school between a few years and a few decades ago. Regardless of when you left school, if you think the academic career that launched your professional life should be put behind you, think again. Your school and the connections you made there always matter, and you can make them matter to your advantage.

If you went to an elite school or graduated at or very near the top of your class at many schools, you already know that your academic record opens doors. In fact, there are certain doors that simply will not open without a high level academic pedigree. (See, The Careerist, March 11, 2014.) But even if you did not attend an elite school, or have a stellar academic record at a lesser ranked school, your academic career and connections are an invaluable asset. You can and should, with a plan and focus, use them for your professional success. Continue reading

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The Long Run

I typically blog once or twice a month, and, over the last few years, have developed an appreciative following. People expect my blogs, and they have been useful in steadily building my business. Nonetheless, even with encouraging readers and a light blog schedule, I lapsed in my production.

What happened? In preparing for an overseas vacation, I was absorbed with clients. Then I went on vacation and shortly after I returned there were two nearly day-long power outages in my office, promptly followed by an illness of a few days. When I did return to a full work schedule, I felt like my day-to-day work, the work that pays promptly, took precedence. I fell into the trap I warn my clients about – not seeing the big forest picture for the seemingly important trees in the foreground. Continue reading

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