Should law schools operate or be associated with law firms or clinics or residencies for graduate lawyers?

Should law schools operate or be associated with law firms or clinics or residencies for graduate lawyers?

Call it what you like, a law firm, or a law clinic, or a residency, but should law schools operate or be associated with (like a captive) a law practice for its law school graduates?  For ease of reference I will refer to the entity as a law firm.  I have read that a few law schools have formed or are forming a law firm for their graduates.  Please also refer to my prior April 30 blog post for additional links on this topic.

Assuming that the formation of such an entity is legally permissible within the school’s state of location, and I am not aware why it couldn’t be permissible for example in California, forming such an entity of coursed would be a significant decision presenting a whole host of questions, issues and opportunities.

I am assuming that the entity would be structured as a legal law firm entity entirely separate from the law school.  I am also assuming that the firm needs to be run profitably and like a business, similar in many regards to the typical law business.

I am also assuming that the firm hires graduates of the law school who have passed the bar exam.

The questions or issues are too numerous to list, but here are a few that come to mind immediately – and of course each of these questions can be expanded upon.

-How to structure and operate the firm and its work so that the firm and its attorneys are known for excellent and professional legal work and advocacy.  The firm is a reflection on the firm itself, its lawyers and the law school.

-What practice areas will the firm handle?

-And related to which practice areas the firm will handle, from where will the firm get cases and work? Also consider, for example, in the nonprofit area there is a movement for collaboration relationships between nonprofits and businesses or other entities. With open thinking, there could be interesting opportunities here.

-What billing rates or terms?

-What size of cases – big, small, etc.

-Will the firm be in competition with other law firms and lawyers?

-Where will the firm be located?

-In which venues will the firm accept cases and work?

-How much infrastructure does the firm need including for example equipment, software, support staff, billing, etc.

-How much seed money is needed to start the firm?

-Financially, how much money is needed to operate and sustain the firm?

-How much will the associate attorneys be paid, with benefits?

-How many experienced attorneys are needed to run the operation, who, and how will they be paid?

-Which associate attorneys will be hired, and what criteria?  Ideally, the law school will be satisfied that every JD graduate from the law school upon graduation (and passing the bar) has sufficient knowledge, skill and other qualifications for her or him to be a qualified associate attorney candidate for hire.

-How long can an associate attorney work for the firm?

-What if an associate attorney isn’t working out?

-What if the legal work fluctuates at the firm – what to do with excess associates?

-What if more attorneys want to work for the firm than there are positions available?

-Within the firm’s areas of practice, in which areas will an associate work, or in all areas?

-What if an associate becomes disgruntled?

-How will US News view or evaluate the firm and its hiring of graduates?  Think what you want about US News and its rankings, but they exist and need to be considered.

-And the list goes on of course.

Dave Tate, Esq. (San Francisco)

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