As part of the extensive media coverage of Prince’s recent death, it’s been reported that Prince died without a will as a result of his distrust of lawyers. If true, it’s a pretty disastrous result from an estate administration perspective. The problem is not so much that he has a large estate – under Minnesota’s laws of intestate succession, his siblings and half-siblings would receive their share of the assets. Rather, the issue is that the Prince business doesn’t end with his death. Sales of his music predictably skyrocketed post-mortem, and there are a number of decisions to be made with respect to music rights going forward, such as what to do with his extensive vault of unreleased music. Who makes those decisions? What if the heirs can’t agree on that?
One of the most challenging aspects of running a law practice is keeping clients happy – to the extent possible – with the legal fees they’re being charged. My goal (easier said than done) is to accurately predict in advance for the client the cost of a particular matter. Of course, if a matter is being done on a fixed fee basis, then there’s no chance of the client being surprised by the invoice, but setting the fee involves accounting for uncertainty in the amount of time to be spent. I have found over my years of practice that efforts by clients to save on legal fees often have the counterintuitive effect of raising them in the long run. Some common examples:
- “Let me take a crack at it first and send it to you” — Clients often think they will save on legal time by taking a DIY approach and sending me a contract that they’ve drafted for my review, rather than just asking me to draft it in the first place after informally discussing the terms with me. With very, very few exceptions (and ethical obligations preclude me from specifically naming them here), my clients, while they may be very talented at running their respective businesses, are terrible at drafting contracts. Often, it takes me longer to clean up the resulting mess than it would be for me to start from scratch.
The law professor Noah Feldman writes in Bloomberg about the problem of marginally qualified law school graduates who fail to pass the bar exam and find themselves saddled with a huge amount of student loan debt. Since the financial crisis, there has been a cottage industry of articles and blog posts (and even more online comments to those pieces) arguing that if you can’t get into a top law school, you’re essentially throwing away your money by going to a less competitive one. Feldman rightly notes that it’s paternalistic to urge less competitive law schools not to admit people who, statistically, are less likely to succeed based on LSAT scores. As long as students have a clear-eyed sense of the risks involved, then a law school shouldn’t be telling an ambitious kid with a 148 LSAT score to try another career.
The problem, however, which I don’t think Feldman sufficiently addresses, is that many prospective law students in fact don’t have an accurate sense of the risks involved. You don’t have to be overly cynical to acknowledge that law schools have an incentive to make it seem as if their graduates have a bright future and will downplay these risks, so as to collect three years of tuition. One example is the statistic about percentage of graduates employed after graduation, which affects the law school’s rankings. Following the financial crisis and decline in available entry-level legal jobs, many schools took steps to place their not-yet-employed graduates in non-profit and government positions as a bridge to eventual private sector employment. While these temporary positions may end up being valuable experiences for the graduates, it isn’t the outcome they necessarily expected entering law school. Put another way, when a prospective student sees that a law school has a post-graduation employment rate of, say, 90%, which sounds good, they are not necessarily aware that some significant portion of those employed are not employed in the career path the student is hoping to take.
So, while I don’t think it’s reasonable to tell a less-competitive law school that they should refuse to admit students below a certain LSAT cut-off, or who are otherwise statistically likely to find it difficult to make it in a competitive law marketplace, I do think they have an obligation to ensure that their students have a clear sense of what they’re getting into before they write their first tuition check or sign onto a student loan arrangement. If the schools are not able to meet this obligation, it should be imposed on them, either via regulation or the widespread adoption of a third party assessment of the post-graduate performance of each school that tells the true story of what a student could expect and isn’t as subject to gaming as the current rankings.
When people seek advice about whether to launch an entrepreneurial venture, as opposed to remaining in a steady, salaried job, they are often told about the dismal prospects of the average startup. The naysayers trot out statistics about the high percentage of startups that fail within the first few years and how founders usually find themselves earning less money than they could by working for a larger company. [Read more…]
When selecting legal counsel for your transactional matter, one of the basic threshold questions is whether to hire a large or small firm, which I’ve addressed previously. The topic for today is also important: whether you should hire an attorney based in New York, or other large city, or one in a market with much lower average billing rates. Of course, with my office smack in the middle of midtown Manhattan, I bring some biases to this inquiry, but I will attempt to address it as dispassionately as possible.