ALTERNATIVES TO THE PRACTICE OF LAW


Introduction

This is an essay that takes a scholastic start.  If you want to skip the theory, []

Most people who go to law school would like to obtain training and skills that would allow them a good chance to obtain a job that paid reasonable compensation and that offered reasonable job security and reasonable working hours.

There are a number of quasi-legal fields that benefit from some legal training, but that have specific skills needs that current lawyers do not have. Most of those skills could be taught in two semesters. Most of the benefits of legal training outside the specific skills could be obtained in the first two semesters of law school.

It is possible to prepare people for rewarding professional careers in a two year program that does not have all of the overhead of an ABA certified law school. The average graduate of such a program would earn more than the average graduate of an ABA certified law school -- or the average lawyer.

Such a program, a Juris Masters program, has a place in modern America. It is the appropriate role for most State sponsored law schools and most third and fourth tier institutions. With many fourth tier institutions reporting placement rates of only two or three graduates in law firms, the public, the students and the institutions would all be better served by providing an inexpensive, employable, two year degree to their students.


Sample Juris Masters Tracks

A school offering a Juris Masters could offer a number of different tracks. While no one school could be expected to offer all possible tracks, most schools could expediently offer two or three.

A. Independent Bankruptcy Paralegals. This is a profession recognized by the Bankruptcy code that charges $35.00 an hour. The overhead to run a Bankruptcy Paralegal practice is incredibly low. Outside of office expense (generally handled by a shared space arrangement), the overhead for library expenses generally runs less than $200.00 a year. At 1500 hours, a gross of $52,500.00 is common with a net taxable income of about $40,000.00 generally obtained.

B. Insurance Adjusting. While some first year adjusters (so called Storm Troopers) make over $100,000.00, the more reasonable level of pay in Insurance Adjusting is between $24,000.00 and $40,000.00 a year. Successful adjusters often make in the six figure range as partners or owners of adjusting firms. Some (few) make into seven figures.  The training is fairly quick and a legal background makes the work easier and gives you a leg up.

E. Contracts Officer. Lawyers could work as contracts officers if they only had more concrete training.  Since most contracts officers obtain all their training on the job, most lawyers can fit right in to the same jobs.

F. EEOC Compliance Officer. If they only had more training, Lawyers could work as EEOC compliance officers. Almost all of those start their jobs without any training as entry level management or HR (human relations) types so that lawyers are really just people with better background for the same jobs once they'v worked their way up.

G. EPA Compliance Officer. If they only had more training, Lawyers could work as EPA compliance officers. Almost all of those start their jobs without any training as entry level management types so that lawyers are really just people with better background for the same jobs once they'v worked their way up.

H. Tax Consultant. Many people, not just H&R Block franchisees, have successful careers provide tax advice and aid.

I. Real Estate Broker. This is a common joint career. I do not expect a large number of programs of this type, but many brokers find that law school provided them with some advantages.

J. Banking. Banking contains a great deal of law. Many lawyers become bankers. The ideal program would combine the useful legal background training with specific banking knowledge and preparation.  However, I remember listening to the Executive Vice President of Bank of America.  He went to law school.  Couldn't qualify for a good job and so he went to work in the management/banking part of Bank of America, hoping to transfer.  He finally qualified to transfer when he made Vice President -- and then realized that he did not want to take the pay cut.

K. Teaching (High School). The average teacher makes $40,000.00 a year, plus retirement benefits and health care coverage. They have tenure, often after three years or less. They do not work any harder than the average attorney (though they do put in longer hours than some professionals) and have three months vacation every year.

L. Officer of the Court. E.g. District Clerk (State or Federal), Municipal Judge (in many States they are not required to be attorneys), Justice of the Peace, Baliff, etc. All of these would benefit from general legal training if the time and expense were better controlled.  Once you have the time and training as a lawyer, you have an advantage in such jobs.

M. Financial planner/Wills & Estates. Many of these provide quasi-legal services and would serve their clients better with more comprehensive training.  A lawyer who goes into these programs and areas of service has an advantage.

N. Pre-FBI/Pre-Police. The FBI has three entry tracks. Lawyers, Accountants and Police Officers. Patrol Officers in New York City make $60,000.00 a year.

O. Dependent Bankruptcy Paralegals. Many law firms that practice substantial amounts of bankruptcy law hire paralegals. These individuals are often paid from $25,000.00 to $75,000.00 a year and are seen as valuable assets.

P. Dependent Appellate Paralegal. Many law firms with substantial appellate work hire paralegals to handle some research and briefing duties. These individuals are often paid from $25,000.00 to $75,000.00 a year and are seen as valuable assets.

Q. Dependent Probate Paralegal. Many law firms with substantial probate work hire paralegals to handle the routine matters in the files. These individuals are often paid from $25,000.00 to $50,000.00 a year and are seen as valuable assets.

R. Dependent Litigation/PI Paralegal. Many Personal Injury practices hire individuals who are barely more than insurance adjusters. Many litigation practices hire paralegals to handle routine discovery and file preparation work. These individuals are often paid from $25,000.00 to $60,000.00 a year and are seen as valuable assets.

S. Dependent Title/Property Paralegal. Title companies often hire paralegals or similar individuals to handle routine drafting and research. These individuals are often paid from $20,000.00 to $50,000.00 a year and are seen as valuable assets.

T. Dependent Family Law Paralegal. This is a growing paralegal employment area.

U. Child Protective Services Worker. Many of these make more money than the attorneys in the District Attorneys offices they work with. In many states the only prerequisite is a bachelor's degree and two or three specified classes.

V. Career Civil Service (focused). Many people intent on Civil Service careers attend 2 or 3 years of law school for the advantage it gives in dealing with the civil service environment. A program tailored to their specific needs and career field would allow them to obtain those benefits at reduced cost and time.

Sample career fields would include Investigative Officers and others in the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Diplomatic Corps, EEOC, EPA, Department of Labor and IRS (Agents, etc.) While many of these groups employ a number of attorneys, they also have many positions where an employee or prospective employee would benefit from legal training.  In fact, many spouses of primary wage earners take secondary track positions with these organizations when there are no attorney openings available in places they've moved to (e.g. an EEOC attorney may move to go along with a doctor spouse.  If the local EEOC office has no attorney positions open, they may take a job as an investigator. This example is drawn from an actual case.)

The INS hires a lot of people who would benefit from some legal training.  At times it even hires them without interviews. Be aware that even in "panic hiring" situations it can take 6-8 weeks or more to get a response back from the government.

W. ERISA Plan Administration. If they only had more training, Lawyers could work in ERISA Plan Administration.


Sample Juris Masters Programs

The following provides some sample implementations of the Juris Masters concept. It provides a generic First Year model and some select Second Year program models.


First Year.

This model uses semester hours. Multiply the numbers by 1.5 for quarter hours. These classes would provide direct instruction, similar to a bar review class, with weekly writing assignments or tests. By using this method, rather than the case method, approximately two and a half times more material (black letter law) can be taught to students.

For example, three hours of direct instruction Civil Procedure will teach a student the black letter law knowledge of 7.5 hours or more as it is presented in a Juris Doctorate law school program. In return, the student loses the educational experience and intangibles of the case method.

1. Legal Research and writing. 2 hours. Familiarity with the County Law Library (the school would not necessarily have a Law Library), CD ROM tools, On-line Services (Lexis, Westlaw), Internet.

2. Civil Procedure -- Federal. 3 hours. This class would be taught using a direct approach that follows the process of litigation and would be without historical contex. As all the other classes, it would include weekly writing assignments and feedback for the students.

3. Civil Procedure -- (Specified) State. 3 hours. This class would be taught using a text similar to the Texas standard O'Connor's Civil Trials for the law school's home state. The goal is to provide clear, direct and usefull information at a nuts and bolts level (including, what does a Petition or Complaint look like, how and where do you file one, how do you accomplish service of process, and similar things).

4. Contracts. 3 hours. This course would emphasis a bright line approach and avoiding problems (rather than focusing on gray areas).

5. Criminal Law (Model Penal Code or State Code). 3 hours.

6. Criminal Procedure (general principles and State Rules of Procedure, including standard forms). 3 hours.

7. Constitutional Law. (With minimal historical exposure). 3 hours. This would focus on Twentieth Century law, with a focus on those portions of the law most likely to be the focus of litigation and the Court's current rational.

8. Business Entities (LLPs, LLCs, Sole Proprietorships, Partnerships, Corporations). 3 hours, including details on setting each up. Taught like a Bar Associations MCLE (Minimum Continuing Legal Education) approach.

9. Communication skills. (Includes oral drills, BusinessSpeak, writing drills, Dress for Success, Interview practice). 2 hours. Essential skills for graduates who seek to find, obtain and keep employment.

10. Property law (modern) (No English historical setting). 3 hours.

11. Family (Divorce and Child Support) law. 3 hours.

12. Wills and Estates. 3 hours. Focus on model code and state implementation of it.

That is a 17 hour course load for two semesters.


Second Year.

This program would vary depending on the specialty chosen.

1. A General Corporate Law Track might take Tax 1 (Personal Income Tax 4 hours), Tax 2 (Corporate Income Tax 4 hours), Business Contracts (3 hours), Business Formation (3 hours), Shareholder Rights (3 hours), ERISA (3 hours), EEOC (3 hours), Arbitration and ADR (3 hours), Special Issues (3 hours), Business drafting (3 hours of writing experience).

2. A Pre-FBI Track might include Firing Range 1 and Firing Range 2 (3 hours each), Criminal Investigation Issues (3 hours), Search and Seizure Issues (2 hours), Wiretap Issues (2 hours), Entrapment and Related Issues (2 hours), Accounting 1 and 2 (2 hours each), Criminal RICO (2 hours), Warrants (3 hours, including substantial affidavit and other drafting), Police Science 1 and 2 (4 hours each).

3. An Independent Bankruptcy Paralegal Track might include Advertising Issues (2 hours), Bankruptcy Tax Issues 1 and 2 (2 hours each), Chapter 7, Chapter 11, Chapter 13 (4 hours each), Basic Forms (4 hours), Business Skills 1 and 2 (how to run your own office, set goals, engage in rainmaking, budget, etc. 2 hours each), Advanced Forms and Issues, Developing and otherwise (4 hours).

4. An EEOC Compliance Officer Track

5. An ERISA Administrator Track

6. A Contracts Officer Track

7. A Child Protective Services Worker Track

8. A Teacher Track would focus on the essential certification (available in about one very intense semester's worth of education) and related issues and clean-up.

9. The EPA Compliance Officer Track


Certification of Programs

I personally believe that the American Bar Association is the best organization to certify programs.

For a program to be certified, it should have access to a law library (but does not need to have one of its own), access to or possession of CD ROM sources and access to the Internet and to Commercial Services (i.e. Lexis and Westlaw).

Physical plant requirements should be nominal. Faculty should be allowed to carry the usual university instructional load (12 hours per semester) and adjunct faculty (as long as they provide the necessary writing assignments and feedback) should be encouraged. Class sizes should not exceed 30 to 40 students per class. A placement office should be required.


Diversion Programs

In addition to various law tracks, it should become a more common practice to help divert law students (both J.D. and J.M.) to programs that better fit their goals and personalities -- especially if their class standing is such that a career in law is not a reasonable expectation.

Good programs to consider include:

A. Occupational Therapist. O.T.s (similar to P.T.s in many ways) obtain an A.A. degree (in Fine Arts or some other program). They then enter a two year BS program. They make from $48,000.00 (usual starting) to around $60,000.00 to $80,000.00 a year (after five years). If one chooses to work only 40 hours a week, the general level of compensation is from $50,000.00 to $54,000.00 a year. At least in towns of 100,000 people or less. Larger cities often have higher compensation rates.

B. Physicians Assistants. Again, a two year program. While many schools are starting to treat this as a Masters program, the Air Force trains P.A.s without a college degree and many programs are part of a bachelor's degree. 26 semester hours. Starting pay in smaller communities is $50,000.00 to $60,000.00 a year for 40 hours a week.

C. There are other career diversions. However, I do not recommend Nursing. It takes more work and does not pay as well as traditionally male dominated quasinursing fields.


Conclusions

The focus of this program is on providing training that will aid students in obtaining and keeping viable jobs that pay more, on the average, than lawyers currently earn.

I believe this will benefit society and students and allow for many law schools to scale back their overhead and shift to a model that allows them to run much more economically while also providing quality instruction to those who attend.

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