The New York Times reports that law schools in the U.S., already smarting from the collapse of the market for lawyers, are establishing law firms so they can hire their graduates and give them something to do.

Regarding such a scheme in Arizona, the article says, “Over the next few years, 30 graduates will work under seasoned lawyers and be paid for a wide range of services provided at relatively low cost. The school-based firms will be something like teaching hospitals for law school graduates.”

Several schools have bought in to the idea to solve two “seemingly contradictory problems: heavily indebted law graduates with no clients and a vast number of Americans unable to afford a lawyer.”

For a minute there, I thought the legal profession was actually going to break precedent and do some real charity work. [Please don’t tell me lawyers do pro bono work. Very few do, and when they do, it is a paltry amount of time. A judge had the audacity to recommend that new lawyers do 50 hours of pro bono work before being allowed to take the bar exam in New York. That’s about 6 days of work per year. A law blog called it “indentured servitude.”]

But the article mentioned that the legal services provided will not be free. In fact, the plan for the Arizona project “is to charge $125 an hour in an area where the going hourly rate is $250.”

That’s not exactly analogous to the way a teaching hospital works.

By what criterion is $125 per hour “relatively low cost”? Oh, I think I’ve got it. That’s relatively low cost for legal fees. Of course, lawyers know how to make up for low hourly fees. According to another New York Times piece, it is called padding the bill or “churning.” One expert commented that “churning, while not endemic, is an insidious problem in the legal profession.”

The Times reported that a lawyer for a firm that is being sued for overbilling of hours worked said in an email to a colleague:, “Now Vince has random people working full time on random research projects in standard ‘churn that bill, baby!’ mode,” Mr. Thomson wrote. “That bill shall know no limits.”

So the idea of law schools setting up graduates in business reminds me of a joke. Back in the late 19th century, a lawyer moved to one of the many new towns springing up in the West. He was the first and only lawyer. For a year, he had nothing to do and nearly starved to death.

Then another lawyer came to town.


Skeptical Scalpel is a recently retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and a surgical sub-specialty and has re-certified in both several times. For the last two years, he has been blogging at and tweeting as @SkepticScalpel. His blog averages over 900 page views per day, and he has over 5,200 followers on Twitter.