NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED STUDENT-RUN NONPROFIT RELEASES FIRST BOOK; ORGANIZES NATIONAL CONFERENCE ON REFORMING LARGE LAW FIRMS DURING ECONOMIC DOWNTURN
Stanford, CA, April 3, 2009 – Building a Better Legal Profession (“BBLP”) – the national student group whose efforts to reform large law firms “shook up the legal world,” according to the New York Times – has intensified its efforts in the wake of the economic downturn. On April 7, 2009, the group will release its first book, Building a Better Legal Profession’s Guide to Law Firms, a “for students, by students” guide designed to help students make considered career choices in a tightened labor market. On April 3 to 4, 2009, the group will host a national conference at Stanford Law School focusing on how the current recession has increased the need to reform law firm business practices.
The organization, now a registered 501(c)(3), founded at Stanford Law School, first made headlines in April 2007 for its critique of the business model of the large corporate law firm. That model depends on associates working excessive hours, resulting on high attrition, low female and minority partnership rates, and poor client service.
“Building a Better Legal Profession is a path-breaking effort to reform the legal profession in ways that speak to the most fundamental concerns of its next generation,” said Deborah Rhode, Earnest W. McFarland Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and Director of the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession.
According to BBLP President, Stanford 2L Davida Brook, “The economic downturn makes it clear as never before that the large law firm must adopt more rational business practices.” Brook pointed out that while some firms have laid off large numbers of young associates, “not all firms are the same. Some firms have better practices, for example, more diverse partners carrying a more diverse book of business, and were better positioned to weather the economic storm.”
Keisha Stanford, BBLP’s Director of Firm Outreach and a Stanford 2L, points out that “firms such as Cadwalader and Thatcher Profitt bet heavily on mortgage-backed securities and credit default swap deals with catastrophic results.” In response, the website has added a feature highlighting those firms that have done severe layoffs, information BBLP hopes that law students will consider during the fall law firm recruiting season.
“One particularly irrational layoff practice in some firms is laying off first and second year associates while continuing to recruit new classes of graduates,” said BBLP faculty advisor Michele Dauber, a professor at Stanford Law School. According to Dauber, firms are doing this to curry favor with law schools like Stanford. “These firms would rather fire 150 young people who have done nothing to deserve it than risk alienating the elite schools by not hiring for a few years until the economy improves.” Dauber suggested that associates should have a voice in layoff policies and that firms should give laid off associates the chance to be recalled before doing more hiring.
Guide to Law Firms
April 2009 marks the release of BBLP’s groundbreaking book for law students seeking ‘Biglaw’ jobs, Building a Better Legal Profession’s Guide to Law Firms (360pp., Kaplan Publishing, $24.95). The book was written by Stanford law students and includes numerous essays and contributions by law firm partners, associates, and other experts.
BBLP’s unique guidebook is intended to demystify and facilitate the law firm job search. “Our goal is to make the law firm a more transparent institution, by providing information to students about factors that are important to them such as work-life balance, diversity, billable hours, and pro bono commitment,” said Irene Hahn, the book’s editor and a 2L at Stanford Law School.
- In the book’s Forward, Sheila Birnbaum, a partner in the NY office of Skadden Arps, recounts her own brush with pay discrimination early in her career, and cautions young women that informal barriers to success still exist. According to Birnbaum, “this book is packed with practical suggestions” that will be invaluable to young lawyers.
- The first section of the book walks anxious interviewees through the hiring process. It provides information on how to evaluate law firm diversity initiatives, pro bono programs, and partnership models, as well as what questions to ask during the interview process.
- The second section of the book is devoted to BBLP’s trademark, turning the tables on firms by giving them grades based on diversity. The book’s firm report cards examine percentages of female, African-American, Latino-American, Asian-American, and LGBT partners. Rankings are provided for the country’s six largest markets: New York; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Boston; San Francisco; and Los Angeles. The group’s website also provides rankings for five smaller markets including: Texas; Atlanta; and Philadelphia. Some brief findings from the book’s rankings:
- While some large Manhattan firms have made strides in promoting women to partner, at approximately half of New York firms women make up less than 15% of the partners. Hispanic women seem to face particularly severe hurdles, with fewer than 20% of NY firms reporting any Latina partners, and only 7 out of the 80 firms surveyed reported more than one.
- Certain areas of the country have done better than others in developing diverse lawyers. California – particularly Southern California – has far higher demographic diversity among both the partner and associate ranks of large law firms than other regions.
National Student Conference
The conference will host BBLP leaders from the nation’s top law schools, including Yale, Stanford, Harvard, Chicago, and Columbia. These students are the leaders of BBLP chapters started last year around the country. These leaders are coming together at the Stanford conference to plan the agenda for the year ahead.
“We are pleased to sponsor the conference and to support BBLP’s efforts to understand and change how law firms operate,” said Dean Larry Kramer of Stanford. “This will benefit clients, young lawyers, and the firms themselves in the long run. Nothing is more important for our profession.”
Highlights of the conference include:
- Saturday afternoon will feature a videoconference appearance by Ralph Nader, a 1958 graduate of Harvard Law School and a long-time critic of corporate law firms.
- The conference keynote will be delivered by Paul Barrett, associate managing editor of Business Week, and author of the 1999 book on race relations in large law firms entitled The Good Black.
- Other speakers include journalists, academics, representatives of law firm management, corporate counsel, professional unions including SEIU and WGA, law professors, and former law firm associates hit by the “golden axe” of firm firings for a series of panels aimed at frank discussion of the current crisis challenging the legal profession.
- BBLP has also partnered with the National Law Journal and the American Association of Law Schools to hold a discussion on the continuing importance of pro bono service at the conference.
“With the current economic downturn, the issue of pro bono work has taken on even greater urgency,” said Rachel F. Moran, President of the Association of American Law Schools, Raven Professor at Berkeley Law, and Founding Faculty of UC Irvine School of Law. “There are fewer resources to support public interest work, and meanwhile, the ranks of those in need only grow.”
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About Building a Better Legal Profession
Building a Better Legal Profession is a national grassroots movement that seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms. By publicizing firms' self-reported data on billable hours, pro bono participation, and demographic diversity, we draw attention to the differences between these employers. We encourage those choosing between firms – students deciding whom to work for after graduation, corporate clients deciding whom to hire, and universities deciding whom to allow on campus for interviews – to engage only with the firms that demonstrate a genuine commitment to these issues.
BBLP was founded in January 2007 by Stanford Law students. In the summer of 2007, using publicly available data reported by firms and collected by the National Association of Law Placement (NALP), the organization examined the largest law firms in six geographic markets by several important quality-of-life criteria. BBLP produced a set of rankings for each market –New York, Washington, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco/Silicon Valley – for billable hour requirements, demographic diversity, and pro bono participation.
The organization released these reports on October 10, 2007 at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The goal was to provide law students a new set of rankings to help them decide where to work after graduation, in the hope that as more law students began to select firms based on quality-of-life criteria, rather than simply prestige or compensation, the top law firms would face increasing market pressure to reform their workplace culture in order to attract the best recruits. This project received significant media attention, including from the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CBS News, New York Law Journal, American Lawyer, and Above the Law.
More information is available at www.betterlegalprofession.org. For a press copy of our book, the BBLP Guide to Law Firms: The Law Student’s Guide to Finding the Perfect Law Firm Job (Kaplan Press 2009) please contact Davida Brook at the number and/or email below.
Professor of Law, Stanford Law School
Director of Firm Outreach
Praise for Building a Better Legal Profession and the Guide to Law Firms
“It’s easy to lament the state of the legal profession today; bringing about real change is harder. But that’s exactly what BBLP is doing, with its revolutionary, market-based approach to reforming the modern law firm as a workplace. This book, part of BBLP’s larger mission of harnessing information for empowerment, is an invaluable resource for anyone exploring the often bewildering world of ‘Biglaw.’”
-- David Lat, Founder, AbovetheLaw.com
The Building a Better Legal Profession Guide to Law Firms is “a refreshingly readable, comprehensive, and wonderfully practical guide for launching your professional career as a lawyer.”
-- Sheila Birnbaum, Partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
“Building a Better Legal Profession has provided us with a resource that has great promise. By comparing the largest law firms in the top legal markets, the students have put a spotlight on the key issues of demographic diversity, pro bono participation and hours billed. These enterprising law students have an enormous potential to be a force for good and for positive change – now and throughout their careers. I commend them for their dedication and hard work.”
-- Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President, National Women’s Law Center
“We are pleased to sponsor the conference and to support BBLP’s efforts to understand and change how law firms operate. This will benefit clients, young lawyers, and the firms themselves in the long run. Nothing is more important for our profession.”
-- Larry Kramer, Dean and Richard E. Lang Professor of Law, Stanford Law School
“This report confirms that the legal profession has a long way to go in terms of becoming more diverse and fully reflective of our society. We hope that this report can also serve as a springboard for devising strategies that increase minority representation in law firms."
-- L. Jared Boyd, National Attorney General, National Black Law Students Association
“Building a Better Legal Profession is a path-breaking effort to reform the legal profession in ways that speak to most fundamental concerns of its next generation.”
-- Deborah Rhode, Earnest W. McFarland Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and Director of the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession.
“Change is coming to law firms. The most powerful agents for encouraging these changes, however, are not the law firm decision makers, the most powerful agents for change are associates, clients, and the shrinking talent pool of law students, who are, at last, finding their voices, asking hard questions, and forcing change.”
-- Patricia K. Gillette, Partner, Orrick, Harrington & Sutcliffe LLP
“These reports are extremely important. Even the best intentioned law firms can have gaps between policy and actual practice and objective numbers can help point out those gaps. Law firms as well as law students will benefit from better information that is widely available.”
-- Cynthia Thomas Calvert, Co-Director, Project for Attorney Retention