The Lawyer Bubble, A Profession in Crisis
By Steven J. Harper
Reviewed by David Mandell
Every prospective lawyer should read Steven J. Harper’s recent book, The Lawyer Bubble. After 30 years of litigating, Harper has a warning for those considering three years of law school. Today’s law graduates are entering a profession whose bubble is bursting as surely as the real estate and dot com ones did before. A new lawyer faces decades of paying off student loans with limited chance of landing the high-paying career path promised by law school recruiters or loan officers. Even those fortunate enough to find an associate position at a large corporate firm may be cast aside when the firm retrenches or collapses.
How did this happen? Harper has a variety of culprits including academic administrators, lenders, and Congress. Universities found that law schools can be lucrative, with high tuition costs providing an endless revenue stream. Harper believes law schools, even the most prestigious ones, entice students by not providing accurate information about employment opportunities. Students cannot enroll without paying tuition, but the cost is beyond the means of most. Needing a source of funding, law schools found a willing partner in lenders. Eager lenders turned to Congress to make student loans profitable and risk free. Congress directed the federal government to guarantee these loans thereby eliminating the risk. With the federal government responsible for unpaid debts, lenders offer them to virtually anyone who asks. Lenders did not stop with getting the federal government to absorb their bad loans. They used their lobbying clout to prevent student loans from being discharged in bankruptcy. Collection agencies are unleashed on students after graduation. The easy loan environment makes law school highly profitable for universities, lenders, and debt collectors. Everyone except debt-ridden young lawyers benefits.
Large corporate law firms do not fare much better. Harper is unscathing in his depiction of how some of America’s largest and best known firms collapsed due to poor management and greed. The high income large firms earn for equity partners comes from two sources, associates willing to work long hours in hopes of someday earning a partnership, and corporations willing to pay whatever fees are charged. For generations this system worked but with the real estate crash of 2008, corporations began watching legal costs carefully. Faced with declining revenue, mega firms shed thousands of associates to reduce costs and keep partners’ incomes up. Another unproductive trend Harper finds is mergers. Larger does not mean better and many of the merged firms collapsed under the weight of so many lawyers in a down market.
Harper’s solutions will surely face resistance by those profiting from today’s system. He sees the third year of law school as wasted as students mark time taking courses of little value. Clinical programs where students encounter actual practice would be far more useful. He also wants bankruptcy courts to have jurisdiction over student loans. This reform would end the easy money cycle where far more students than the profession can absorb are enrolled at law schools.
The Lawyer Bubble (Basic Books, 208 pages) is tough medicine, but vital reading for lawyers and law students.
David Mandell is a Florida Bar member in Norwich, Connecticut.
By Terry Lewis
Reviewed by Jan Pudlow
Second Circuit Judge Terry Lewis knows crazy.
When he began researching Delusional — his third novel about rumpled, hard-drinking, flawed but likeable trial lawyer Ted Stevens — Lewis reached out to fellow judge Stew Parsons.
Parsons, who had served for many years as general counsel of Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee, led Lewis to the clinical program director of the state mental hospital 50 miles from Tallahassee, who arranged for the judge to shadow psychologists and talk to patients and administrators.
So when Lewis crafts descriptions of the twisted thoughts of Nathan Hart — found not guilty by reason of insanity of killing three members of his family — there is an authentic ring to his paranoid schizophrenic delusions of being hard-wired to God’s voice, among other auditory and visual hallucinations.
“At times I feel like a switchboard operator with too many incoming calls,” describes Hart, who can hear whispers from 20 yards away and sniff a woman’s perfume across a crowded room, when his mind isn’t dulled by drugs.
But, Hart warns the reader, “before you dismiss my account as the ranting of a madman, ask yourself this: How could this supposedly crazy person present to you, in extensive detail, in cogent and literary prose, the events that have led us to this point?
“Remember, as well, that the truth is sometimes symbolic, and I may have to lay it between the lines. That is the core of myth, is it not?”
Separating fact from fiction, sanity from insanity, truth from lies, and good from evil is plopped in the unwilling lap of Stevens, a Tallahassee lawyer who six and a half years earlier had served as the prosecutor who tried unsuccessfully to put Hart away in prison. Stevens considers Hart to be a clever sociopath who faked mental illness to get away with murder.
In the current legal conundrum, Hart is now charged with the murder of his former psychologist, found stabbed to death in his office with a letter opener, shortly after Hart was denied conditional release from the mental hospital.
Lewis uses his judicial experience to deftly make credible this incredible lawyer-client relationship. Why would Stevens, on the conflict lawyer list, accept this court appointment to represent a guy he once prosecuted, especially when Hart had once threatened to kill his wife and daughter? Why can’t Stevens just tell the judge he won’t take the case?
When Stevens tells his law partner, “I’m not sure I can do it with the zeal the code requires,” his partner gives him a pep talk about being professional, even if you can’t stand your client. Then, the partner gives Stevens an out to withdraw because of “personal considerations,” but uses a tone of voice that hinted at “an admission of some lamentable moral weakness.”
Stevens knew what his partner at their small boutique firm was really thinking about such a juicy, high-profile case with the former prosecutor now serving as defense attorney: “You couldn’t buy that kind of advertising.”
Hart actually requested Stevens to serve as his lawyer, and once Stevens meets with Hart at the hospital, Hart tells him the two cases are related and their “destinies are inextricably intertwined.”
By page 44, Stevens ignores the “warning whistles going off in my head,” and stays on the case, even though he considers his client to be a dangerous, cold-blooded murderer.
“I couldn’t tell whether he was sane or insane, delusional or lying to me, or whether he might just be telling the truth,” Stevens explains. “And that intrigued me.”
With that, the reader jumps into the intrigue, suspending disbelief and joining Stevens on a complicated quest for solving the murder, or at least coming up with a credible defense to establish reasonable doubt, all while Stevens is dealing with his own messy divorce.
A Hitchcockian cast of characters who shift from good to bad, plot twists muddled by a patient off his meds, and mind games where you aren’t ever sure who’s winning or losing, keep the reader guessing until the very last chapter.
Delusional is a crazy good read.
Delusional was published by Pineapple Press and is available at local bookstores for $14.96. Terry Lewis’ other novels are Conflict of Interest and Privileged Information.
Jan Pudlow is a senior editor with The Florida Bar News.
Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court
By Sandra Day O’Connor
Reviewed by C. D. Rogers
Sandra Day O’Connor reflects on the symbolic meaning of the Supreme Court Building: “Our Founding Fathers’ uniquely American vision of an independent judiciary.” These Fathers “knew that the new national branches could not be left unchecked.” In her book, we travel with her through the Court’s evolution — with side trips enforcing respect for the Court’s foundation to which so many contributed to “the venerable institution we have today.”
Clashes between judiciary and executive branches occur between second cousins John Marshall and Thomas Jefferson, end in Marshall’s strongest trump in Marshall v. Jefferson, “binding the courts, as well as other departments ...to the Constitution,” and emphasize “the power and duty of the judicial department” to interpret the Constitution. Colorful clashes occur between the divisions of government in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1937 Judiciary Reorganization Bill, “court-packing plan,” in challenges of Congress’ “Authorization for the Use of Military Force,” and in executive use of military law with terrorist entities, including those at Guantánamo Bay. O’Connor sees the Court insisting on “core principles of democracy” and ultimately democracy providing the “fulcrum of the balance.”
In The Call to Serve: Judicial Appointments, O’Connor traces from George Washington to Barack Obama the appointment of justices and, more emphatically, personal anecdotes shaping the development of the Court. Washington made 11 Court nominations; Franklin Roosevelt, second in numbers, made nine. Gerald Ford made one: John Paul Stevens who served 35 years. Stevens replaced William O. Douglas, the longest-serving justice in the Court’s history. The 112 appointed by 2013 continue to fascinate O’Connor in their contributions to the development of the law.
Throughout her book, O’Connor identifies a special place: the 44 marble steps leading to the main entrance of the Supreme Court building where above its 1,300-pound bronze doors is inscribed “Equal justice for all.” She remembers her emotion ascending those steps on her first day to Court, and she includes John G. Roberts’ confession in 2005 on his nomination: “I always get a lump in my throat whenever I walked up those marble steps to argue a case before the court, and I don’t think it was just from the nerves.”
Lawyers, too, receive their praise: “The vibrancy of our case law depends upon the assistance the Court receives from the lawyers appearing before it.” She, like others, identifies Daniel Webster who argued nearly 200 cases before the Court. His argumentative power leads O’Connor to wish she were a listener then. But those arguments could last for days compared to the subsequent time allowed: two hours each side (1848), one (1925), and 30 minutes (1970-2013). Asked to name the best advocate before the Court while she was on the bench, she writes: “the current Chief Justice.” He possessed a “clear and straightforward manner.” He prepared those arguments using a strategy she recommends: Roberts “explained the gist of his cases to a person who was bright, but untrained in law.”
Published in 2013 by Random House, O’Connor’s 233-page book sells from $13 (Kindle) to $15-$26 (online).
C. D. Rogers is a member of The Florida Bar.
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