Mike Mullins, Dean of Empire Law School and former District Attorney for Sonoma County gave a presentation on the current factors that are influencing the production of lawyers
Mike Mullins, Dean of Empire Law School and former District Attorney for Sonoma County gave a presentation on the current factors that are influencing the production of lawyers and their future roles in Sonoma County as well as in society.
Mike has been the Dean of the Empire Law School for approximately one year. The law school has been in existence for 42 years and currently has an enrollment of 104 students. It is a four-year law school, accredited by the California Bar Association. Classes are held at night and graduates are qualified to sit for the bar examination presented by the California Bar Association. It is not an American Bar Association accredited school. Approximately 25% of the lawyers practicing in Sonoma County are graduates of the Empire Law School.
There has been a decrease in the number of students enrolled in law schools throughout the state. A large part of this is related to the increasing expense of obtaining a law degree. A typical student graduating from the Jefferson School of Law in Southern California comes out with a debt of approximately $$153,000. Empire law school is more affordable, with costs averaging approximately $65,000 for the four-year program. Contrary to popular belief, the average salary for lawyers is generally under $60,000-$65,000 per year. Upon graduation from either type of school, graduates are allowed to sit for the bar examination, in the past a grueling three day experience that has been streamlined to a two day event. Approximately 20-40% of applicants pass the examination on their first sitting. Over 75% of Empire law school students have passed the bar examination within five years of graduation.
In order to make legal education more relevant, many law schools are incorporating "practical" training in their curriculums. This entails 50 hours of pro bono (free) work under the guidance of an instructor, either a judge or a lawyer, in which they learn the intricacies of actually working in a live situation and talking directly with clients. This is a great opportunity for most started to learn how to listen.
The nature of law practice is changing. It is uncommon for current graduates to become associates in large practices with the hope of eventually becoming partners. Instead, students are moving towards loosely affiliated groups of independent lawyers each with a separate area of interest. They share office space, staff and other resources. They will collaborate amongst themselves or seek outside expert counsel in matters outside their areas of specialty knowledge. Some businesses have taken the position of having "in-house counsel" to help deal with the day-to-day legal issues that may come up in their business. This is proving to be a satisfactory work relationship for many recent graduates.
A new classification of "Legal Technician" has been accepted by the Bar Association. These individuals are not actually lawyers, but have considerable knowledge in creating and reviewing documents and can actually provide much legal service at a lower cost, while they work under the supervision of a qualified attorney.
The increased use of templated documents, e.g. Legal Zoom, has helped to streamline some of the legal processes, however Mr. Mullins cautioned against relying completely on the content and appropriateness of these documents for a specific clients needs. They do help to reduce the cost of preparing documents.
As Dean of the law school, he personally interviews each student who is seeking a position, to determine whether or not the law is the area of work in which he wants to spend his life. The great emphasis within the legal profession, particularly those that graduate from Empire Law school, is a provision of pro bono work as part of community service throughout their careers. Because of the enormous amount of time and dedication that must be put into obtaining a law degree, Empire law school wants to be sure that its students are indeed going to benefit both from the expense and from the training that they receive.