I am at Washington University for the Advanced Course in Empirical Legal Scholarship. For the last few years, Lee Epstein and Andrew Martin have offered a basic course (see here for an earlier endorsement). This is the first advanced course they have offered, and I think it is a tremendously time and cost effective way to cover approximately 95 percent of the skills needed to conduct and interpret empirical scholarship. Lee and Andrew are extremely well prepared instructors who offer a very good mix of lecture and class exercises. Their use of PowerPoint also made a big difference in organizing and simplifying the material.
The topics covered so far include the basic assumptions of linear multivariate regression, including diagnostic methods and corrective measures; effective presentation of regression results; application of the Monte Carlo principle; a fairly in-depth treatment of probit and logit methods for ordinal and nominal dependent variables, including interpretation; and a fairly brief but useful explanation of panel data, time series, survival analysis, and several other methods. Tomorrow we are going to cover nonparametric matching techniques, which offer (I am told) a better way to deal with endogeniety than instrumental variables in a linear model.
Approximately 20 people are in the workshop, including Conglomerate's Christine Hurt and Concurring Opinions' Dave Hoffman. It is a very collegial group. I have really enjoyed myself.
Lately there has been a lot of buzz in the blogosphere on the associate-partner "pay gap" (Jeff Lipshaw, titled "The Days of Whine and Roses"), the application of Marxist economic theory to corporate law firms (David Luban), and what all the huge salaries and profits augur for the future of legal profession and legal education (Brian Tamanaha).
David Zaring and I recently posted our "Young Associates in Trouble" essay, which provides some new empirical evidence on the BigLaw tournament. The essay reviews two recent novels that portray elite law firms (one in DC, the other in London) as an unending marathon of boring and substantively unfulfilling work. In turn, we compare these fictitious accounts with findings from a unique dataset based on the AmLaw Midlevel Survey, which includes questionnaire responses from several thousand 3rd, 4th, and 5th year associates.
So what is the key takeaway? As shown in the table below, virtually every principle of enlightened management and social responsibility is either (a) associated with lower firm profits, or (b) irrelevant to the bottomline.
The essay also includes some multivariate regression models that reveal that firms actually make more money when associates work on less interesting work or report a greater likelihood of leaving the firm within the next two years. In contrast, family friendliness, training and guidance, and feedback appear to have no effect on profits.
The economics of class action litigation is a fascinating topic. This terrain shifted substantially in 2001 when the Supreme Court's decision in Buckhannon made it harder for lawyers to collect attorneys' fees under the civil rights fee-shifting statutes. In essence, this decision limited fee-shifting to cases that result in a judicial judgment or consent decree. Prior to Buckhannon, virtually every circuit had adopted the "catalyst theory", which permitted recovery when the lawsuit in question had produced some or all of the relief requested by the plaintiff class.
In 2001, in Buckhannon Board & Care Home,
Inc. v. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, the Supreme
Court rejected the catalyst theory for recovery of attorneys' fees in civil
rights enforcement actions. In doing so, the Court dismissed concerns that
plaintiffs with meritorious but expensive claims would be discouraged from
bringing suit, finding these concerns “entirely speculative and unsupported by
any empirical evidence.” This article presents original data from a national
survey of more than 200 public interest organizations that call into question
the Court's empirical assumptions. These data indicate that organizations that
take on paradigmatic public interest cases, such as class actions seeking injunctive
relief against government actors, are the most likely to be negatively affected
by Buckhannon. In addition, our respondents report that Buckhannon encourages
“strategic capitulation,” makes settlement more difficult, and discourages
attorneys from representing civil rights plaintiffs. We argue that these far
reaching effects herald a shift away from private rights enforcement and toward
more government power, both to resist rights claims and to control the meaning
of civil rights.
"The data clearly refute both the
assumption that most felony pro se defendants are ill-served by the
decision to self-represent and the theory that most pro se defendants
suffer from mental illness. Somewhat surprisingly, the evidence
establishes that pro se felony defendants in state court do just as
well as represented felony defendants, and the vast majority of pro se
felony defendants - nearly 80% - displayed no signs of mental illness.
The results of the study also provide an alternative explanation for
the pro se phenomenon, suggesting that at least some defendants choose
self-representation because of legitimate concerns about counsel. In
short, the data in this Article expose the fallacy of the prevailing
view of pro se felony defendants and demonstrate that the right to
self-representation in fact serves a vital role in protecting the
rights of criminal defendants."
The National Law Journal has a story discussing the disparity between associate and partner pay in large law firms. See Leigh Jones, Pay: It's All Relative. Until the recent starting salary bump to $160,000per year, new associates were making 11.7% of the amount partners pulled in for 2005. According to the story, this is the smallest percentage in the last 10 years. Last week, the NLJ reporter called me up to ask for possible explanations for this pattern.
My initial reaction was changes in large law firm leverage. Profits per partner are determined by dividing total firm profits by the number of equity partners. Perhaps large law firms are relying more heavily on associates, staff attorneys, of counsel, and nonequity partners, thus spreading profits over a smaller pool of rainmaking partners.
The data largely corroborated my theory, but I was quite surprised by the magnitude of the trends. The table below provides a quick snapshot.
Methodological notes: My sample is limited to firms listed on the NLJ 250 in 1995 and 2005. The NLJ 250 is defined as the 250 largest firms based on the number of lawyers. This list substantially overlaps the Am Law 200, which is the 200 largest firms based on revenues. I generated the change variables only from firms who provided the necessary data for both 1995 and 2005. Between 1995 and 2005, the number of firms willing to provide a breakdown between equity and nonequity partners fell from 192 to 168. So some of the change figures above are limited to 168 firms.
This reticence in reporting partner breakdowns is a telling development, but first the major trend (after the jump).