Tag Archives: lawyers as economic drivers

Now There’s a Thought: Disrupting Inefficient Markets with Better Law Practice

Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law

Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law

By Nelson P. Miller

Much has been written lately, and much said, about challenges facing law’s practitioners, those who provide daily routine law services.  Corporate clients complain about high and hidden costs.  Individuals complain about access and affordability while bar leaders report that 80% of civil legal needs go unmet.  Commentators perceive inefficiencies in the way that lawyers deliver law products and services.  High costs and low access fuel calls for reform.

We need not wring hands with clients and critics, nor condemn or dispute them.  Rather, their concerns direct us to important responsibilities and opportunities.

Lawyers do not study their processes like their corporate clients study theirs.  Lawyers know little of project management, error rates, quality control, price transparency, and other packaging, pricing, and delivery issues.  Corporate clients, whether product or service providers, make those important subjects their standard fare.  Lawyers research and know law but do not use those same analytic and process skills on their own craft, leaving management, development, and process-improvement research untapped.  What self-respecting lawyer talks of Malcolm Baldridge, process studies, and kaizen teams?  Entire management movements skip right over law firms as lawyers continue to ply their musty craft.

Sophisticated, traditional clients get what they need and want through incremental improvements.  Yet market disruption occurs at the bottom.  While firms add bells and whistles to standard products and services, they overlook dominant new market entrants.  Traditional products and services do not reach vast new client populations spawned by social and demographic.  Underwater homeowners, aging founders transferring small family businesses to the next generation, returning servicemembers, and other new clients go without service.  Traditional practices also fail to serve traditional clients in a newly global, technical, and regulatory environment.  Vast numbers of parties stumble their way unrepresented through family, probate, misdemeanor, landlord-tenant, and other local courts.

When traditional firms fail to serve growing markets, innovative firms disrupt those markets from the bottom with newly affordable law products and services.  New law graduates use new management, marketing, development, systems, finance, and technology tools to construct virtual, mobile, site-based, and other innovative law practices.  These savvy new lawyers simultaneously inspire instructional reform.  Cooley Law School has always addressed practice through its practitioner faculty, and skills and clinical courses.  The school has long offered Law Office Management.  Yet the school is creating and offering additional electives focusing on the enterprise of practice.  Those new Law Practice courses include Business Development, Finance for Lawyers, and Technology.

Through whatever delivery model lawyers provide their services, law practice remains essentially entrepreneurial.  Effective service to clients depends not only on comprehensive knowledge, adroit skill, and solid ethics.  It also depends on recognizing new client populations while designing, pricing, and delivering affordable and accessible law products and services that meet their lawful objectives.  Practice involves finding the under-served and then serving them through sustainable systems.  We have no reason to decry market disruption when it presents an opportunity for more and better service.

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Filed under About Cooley Law School, History, Faculty Scholarship, Knowledge, Skills, Ethics, The Value of a Legal Education

Needed: Lawyers Who Are Economic Drivers


By Nelson P. Miller
Associate Dean, Grand Rapids Campus
Nelson P. Miller, along with co-editors James D. Robb and John D. Crane, has just published a book called Lawyers as Economic Drivers: The Business Case for Legal Services (Vandeplas Publishing, 2012).  The book presents essays by practitioners from across the nation containing insightful descriptions of  how lawyers promote prosperity in the United States and beyond its borders through their legal services.  Those essays provide a spirited and detailed defense against the recent, uninformed and short-sighted attacks against legal education from politicians, gadflies, media “talking heads,” journalists, anonymous scam bloggers, some members of our own profession and even, perhaps inexplicably, members of the academy.  The post below is an edited excerpt from Dean Miller’s chapter, called “Data and Scholarship on Lawyer Economic Activity.” 
So, esteemed law scholar Brian Tamanaha of Washington University Law School publishes a book arguing that there are too many new lawyers.  We should respect Professor Tamanaha’s sensitive view that law schools need to teach more practically while keeping tuition low.  Those commitments are Cooley’s mission.  Where we disagree is with Professor Tamanaha’s view that there are too many new lawyers.  While the too-many view is fine to teach at some law schools, especially those schools that market themselves as producing and preserving an elite profession, Cooley has a far more robust vision for lawyers.  Every well-trained, responsible, and committed lawyer has a greater productive capacity than a non-lawyer.  Lawyers are wealth creators.  There is not a finite need for law services.  Law practice is not a zero-sum game.  Law services make it possible to grow larger economies.
A few decades ago, some were predicting over capacity for automotive production because nearly every American household had a vehicle.  Now, every American has one, and the Chinese buy more vehicles than Americans in an enormous new market.  We are also far more productive because of that added transportation.  A while ago, some were saying that we had enough computers.  Then Apple invented the iPod, iPhone, and iPad.  Everyone has them, and we are far more productive.
Just when the law profession should be seeing its best business case as a value creator and adder, Professor Tamanaha’s view sounds more like traditional zero-sum thinking.  Under that thinking, accountants would form limited liability companies and corporations, real estate agents would prepare leases and sales contracts, and non-lawyer title services would draft deeds–all without adequately advising their clients of important rights and obligations.  Are medical schools advertising that there are too many healers?  Are engineering schools advertising that there are too many builders?
Cooley is doing a better job of teaching new lawyers that they have something sound, fundamental, and creative to offer, as value creators and value adders.  Not all new lawyers will be prosecutors and trial lawyers.  Some will start new businesses or grow old businesses using their practical knowledge of how to organize, capitalize, comply, and manage.  Others will create new public charities using their skills and living their passion.  Still others will fill the huge gaps in legal services to the urban and rural under-served by creating visionary new law products and delivery systems.
Professor Tamanaha’s view is fine for some schools and lawyers.  It is not the vision that my clients wanted to hear from me.  They wanted to know a more profound truth, that the rule and productive capacity of law with which I could help them was a wealth creator.  What we need is a supply of lawyers who hold that productive vision.  I agree with Professor Tamanaha that we need fewer lawyers who fail to see their role in wealth creation.  I disagree that we need fewer lawyers.

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Filed under About Cooley Law School, History, Faculty Scholarship, The Value of a Legal Education