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Course Descriptions

Course Descriptions

Law Firm Economics and the Public Interest (Spring 2019)

  • Course Number: LAW-830
  • Class Number: 03577
  • Instructor: David Lash

Course Description

Co-taught with Professor Steven Schulman

The point of this mini-course, spread over two weekends, is to provide the tools and some of the experience of working in or with a large law firm pro bono practice.  We do this through three primary tools:  lecture (not just from the professors, but also from law firm and legal services leaders in the community); reading current materials on pro bono and the state of the legal market; and role playing, using our mock law firm, Drysdale, Moon & Koufax (DMK).  Each student will have a specific role in that fictional law firm, and access to firm personnel and financial information.

We believe that to understand how pro bono works in a large law firm, a student first needs to be familiar with how a large law firm itself works, both internally and in the market.  The first 3.5 hours of this course focus on what we broadly call “law firm economics,” but just as well could be called “operations” or “management” or “finance.”  We want students to understand these subjects so that they can answer this question – and then argue it or defend the answer in the future:  how is it that the Top 100 revenue-producing law firms in the United States contribute, on average, about 60 hours of free legal services per attorney each year?  What does the donation of 1½ weeks of productivity do to the firm’s bottom line?

The next session will focus on the how and why of pro bono practice.  Where did this impulse to provide free legal services come from?  How do law firms decide which matters to take, and which to decline?  There is a vigorous debate in the law firm pro bono community about “what counts” as pro bono work – there is even a small treatise with that very name (included in the reading materials).  Beyond the issue of qualification, how do law firms determine their pro bono priorities?  How does pro bono fit within larger law firm management goals?

The third session will explore pro bono from other points of view:  the public interest providers, the law schools, the corporate in-house counsel and the media.  What role do these organizations play in the provision of pro bono legal services, and how do they interact with large law firm pro bono practices?

The fourth and final session will wrap up the class discussion and include a role-playing exercise, with students acting as Executive Committee or Pro Bono Committee members of DMK, debating and deciding issues of DMK pro bono policy

Course Details

  • Unit Value: 1
  • Grading Options: CR/D/F Only
  • Schedule: Feb. 1, 2, 8 and 9
  • Exam: None
  • Writing Requirement: No
  • Skills/Experiential Unit Requirement: no
  • Participation: Required and graded
  • Enrollment Limitation: 20 students