Brooklyn Law School’s Dean Allard asks 1960s grads for advice as schools face new challenges

August 20, 2012 By Charles F. Otey, Esq.
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I recently got a very nice letter from Brooklyn Law School Dean Nick Allard.

He asked if I, as one of the BLS graduates of the halcyon 1960s, would be interested in attending a reception and discussion on the path and future of Brooklyn Law.

I was pleased, of course, to learn Dean Allard seeks our opinions on a number of topics he outlined in the invitation.

Two of his agenda items stood out for this writer, a ’67 alumnus. They were as follows: How can we build on Brooklyn Law School’s strengths? And how should the law school engage its alumni, the legal profession, and the broader community?

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Many such invitations have gone out over the years to various classes and generations of BLS alumni. In the past, even though they were cordial and stirred a bit of nostalgia for the “good old days” at 375 Pearl St., the bottom line as such gatherings was usually the financial bottom line, i.e. fundraising.

But this one  set at the new building at 230 Joralemon St.  may have a special meaning connected with the very troubling state of affairs affecting bench, bar and law schools.

Case in point: It was a little over a month ago (July 15, to be exact) that the editorial page of the New York Times published a lengthy op-ed by attorney Lincoln Caplan bearing the ominous headline “An Existential Crisis For Law Schools.”

Pro Bono commented on that op-ed recently. We pointed out one of Caplan’s main points, to wit: “A huge number of new (law) graduates, if lucky enough to find work, will not be employed in legal jobs that require passing the bar.”

In addition, “Only 55 percent of 43,735 graduates in 2011 had a law-related job nine months after graduation,” Caplan, added citing the research work of William Henderson.

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Too many graduates, too few law positions

Henderson had done an in-depth analysis of a mass of information originally gathered by the American Bar Association.

Henderson’s findings, concluded Caplan, “are far worse than jobs data going back a generation and should be a deep embarrassment to law schools, which have been churning out more graduates than the economy can employ.”

In our opinion, Caplan almost reflexively – and unfairly — blames the law schools for doing their jobs well in the midst of a terrible economy. The alternative would be admission quotas linked to the predicted job market for lawyers four or five years away!

Caplan correctly acknowledged other serious challenges, such as “Outsourcing of legal work to places like India and greater efficiencies made possible by smarter software to search documents for evidence.” Such dramatic developments are allowing firms to cut the positions of multitudes of low-end lawyers.

When I attended Brooklyn Law  with guys like Leon Millman, Paul Sutton, Stanley Hochberg and Noah Goldstein  absolutely no one even imagined, after our last class at the old building on 375 Pearl St., that we would ever practice law in something known as the “digital age.”

In those days I was a newspaper editor by day. As a result I was a good typist and would spend my weekends recording, on my Remington 124 portable, the perorations of great professors with the names of Prince (Dean Jerome), Miller, Maloney, Sugarman, Thornton and Crea (yes, Professor Joe was there with an office off the second-floor stairway in the old Brooklyn Law on Pearl Street.)

When we would gather to review my sought-after, legibly typed notes in the steamy, un-air-conditioned Phi Delta Phi fraternity room on the second floor, my colleagues thought I was high tech. Why? Well they couldn’t type and I had printed  for them  on paper each discernible utterance of the legendary Dean Prince, the author of “Richardson on Evidence.”

(A historic note: There were no female instructors or professors and only about five young women matriculating as law students.)

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Tuition in the 1960s? Whopping $35 per credit!

It didn’t cost a fortune to go to law school then. As I recall from my first interview with Assistant Dean Gerard Gilbride, tuition was $35 a credit. Yes. $35! Today each credit costs about 10 times more!

Enough reminiscing. What I want to demonstrate is that the legal profession, perhaps like no other calling, has been ambushed by the digital age. The fall-off in legal jobs has descended dramatically the past eight years, according to Caplan. This fact tellingly dovetails with a surge in legal products and outsourcing of briefs, motions, complaints e-mailed to the far corners of the globe, downsizing the need here for law personnel and ultimately, lawyers.

Certainly the digital revolution and its impact on the profession will be a relevant topic when Dean Allard welcomes BLS ’60s graduates in September. But we should also point out that the need to read and write and think in coherent sentences remains relevant to lawyers. (It’s pretty hard to explain Marbury v. Madison in 140 characters.)

Brooklyn Law School’s reputation has justifiably soared since the 1960s. Thanks to Dean Prince and a top-notch faculty, the school had one of the highest percentages of first-time bar exam passers.

But Brooklyn’s over-all image was weak. We’d lost the Eagle (and now it’s back!), the Dodgers fled to Los Angeles, and across the country ill-informed Americans suspected that there was only one, single, solitary tree growing in Brooklyn.

I can vaguely recall conversations with some of the above BLS grads and others during graduation about the option that on our job resumes we should claim one of the school’s original names, “St. Lawrence University,” thereby obscuring our Kings legal roots. (Prof. Joe Crea, our faculty adviser, advised strongly against it!)

But then and through the years, Brooklyn Law produced more than its share lawyers and jurists. These names come to mind: Senior Federal Judge Edward Korman, State Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau, Senior. Federal Judge I. Leo Glasser (a one-time BLS dean), Justice Marsha Steinhardt, Justice Donald Scott Kurtz, Justice Karen Rothenberg, Justice Gerard Rosenberg (ret.), Court of Claims Acting S.C. Justice Matthew D’Emic, Justice Bruce Balter, Supreme Court Justice John Bivona and scores of others.

When Dean Allard convokes the 1960s alumni session on Sept. 24, many of us will attend because we know the event is different from the usual fund-raiser. We’ll take the new dean at his word on the invitation wherein he “invites you to participate in a conversation about the future of Brooklyn Law School with graduates from the 1960s.”

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