Alternative careers in law

Larry Ribstein —  8 December 2010

Conventional law jobs might be getting harder to find, but there are alternatives, as I noted in my work-in-process with Bruce Kobayashi described here.  Recent news stories suggest the range of options.

Financing divorce cases

Here’s the NYT story about Balance Point Divorce Funding, with more from Christine

As the Times story notes, this is part of the bigger picture of litigation financing.  As I last discussed here, my basic take on this financing is that while it might increase socially inefficient litigation, it also might increase the overall quality of litigation, and problems are better addressed by fixing the underlying activity (litigation) than how it’s financed.

So what’s different about divorce funding?  The NYT story highlights the problems divorcing women have because “[t]hey generally do not have jobs. They often are raising small children. And their husbands run their own businesses, making it tough to obtain financial information.”

Christine adds that contingency fees are prohibited in divorce cases. This helps explain the particular demand for outside financing in this situation.  And it also shows that markets have ways around regulation.

The divorce funder spotlighted in the article “sells the benefit of her own experience” and yet “cannot compel clients to settle.” Despite the funder’s lack of technical legal control over the case, the clients are looking to this profit-motivated outsider for guidance.  The newspaper article says lawsuit lenders are “seeking to disarm critics who worry that lenders seeking profits will corrupt the pursuit of justice.”  But does “the pursuit of justice” necessarily mean the pursuit of vengeance in court instead of a positive net present value cash result?  This strikes me as an example of how bringing a bottom line profit-oriented mentality into law could be a good thing.

In-house prosecutor

David Markowitz of the NY Attorney General’s office is going in-house at Goldman.  Another example of the good old revolving door:  prosecutors turn up the fire and then sell extinguishers. I cover this phenomenon in a recent paper, discussed here.  This time the revolving door into a firm that seems to be raising a lot of hackles lately.

The story points out that “Markowitz was recruited to join Cuomo’s office in early 2008 after spending eight years at the New York office of the Securities and Exchange Commission. There he worked on some well-known insider trading cases, among others.”

Copyright troll

Ars Technica describes the basic business model in a post on film IP: 

[F]ind an indie filmmaker; convince the production company to let you sue individual “John Does” for no charge; send out subpoenas to reveal each Doe’s identity; demand that each person pay $1,500 to $2,500 to make the lawsuit go away; set up a website to accept checks and credit cards; split the revenue with the filmmaker.

But according to this story (HT Overlawyered) it’s all gotten more complicated. Some trolls sent out “settlement letters” to alleged UK infringers.  One of them (we’ll call Firm 1) appropriated some of the content of the letters from Firm 2.  Firm 2 objected to Firm 1’s use of its “precedent letters, paragraphs and responses. These have been developed over a long period of time and are not available for use by others.”

The letters, as it turns out, actually came from Firm 3.  When Firm 3 left the settlement letter business, Firm 2 acquired the intellectual property.  Firm 2 threatened to complain about Firm 3’s theft to the same regulator that was investigating Firm 2.

As Ars Technica notes, it’s so hard to craft original material that some people “just take it without permission—but grabbing it from a firm that specializes in copyright prosecutions seems like a pretty dim idea.”

One lesson from this is that information wants to be free. 

Another lesson is that there’s a lot of competition out there in alternative ways to make money with legal knowledge.

Larry Ribstein

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Professor of Law, University of Illinois College of Law

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  1. December 20 roundup - December 20, 2010

    […] Criminal law’s revolving door: “prosecutors turn up the fire and then sell extinguishers” [Ribstein, TotM] […]