MY OP-ED IN THE NY TIMES — AND A KINDLE BOOK PROMOTION

My August 25, 2015 New York Times op-ed on law student debt, law school moral hazard, and the dysfunctional legal education market appears here: “Too Many Law Students, Too Few Legal Jobs.”

In the winter 2015 issue of the American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review, I published a specific proposal for creating a law school accountability: “Bankruptcy and Bad Behavior – The Real Moral Hazard: Law Schools Exploiting Market Dysfunction.” 

Additionally, Amazon is running a promotion for my novel. From August 25 through August 29, you can download the Kindle version of The Partnership – A Novel.

 

 

THE PERVASIVE AMAZON JUNGLE

Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, hates the recent New York Times article about his company. He says it “doesn’t describe the Amazon I know.” Rather, it depicts “a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard.” He doesn’t think any company adopting such an approach could survive, much less thrive. Anyone working in such a company, he continues, “would be crazy to stay” and he counts himself among those likely departures.

The day after the Times’ article appeared, the front page of the paper carried a seemingly unrelated article, “Work Policies May Be Kinder, But Brutal Competition Isn’t.” It’s not about Amazon; it’s about the top ranks of the legal profession and the corporate world. Both are places where the Times’ version of Amazon’s culture is pervasive — and where such institutions survive and thrive.

The articles have two unstated but common themes: the impact of short-termism on working environments, and how a leader’s view of his company’s culture can diverge from the experience of those outside the leadership circle.

Short-termism: “Rank and Yank”

Bezos is hard-driving and demanding. According to the Times, his 1997 letter to shareholders boasted, “You can work long, hard or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three.”

The Times reports that Amazon weeds out employees on an annual basis: “[T]eam members are ranked, and those at the bottom eliminated every year.” Jack Welch pioneered such a “rank and yank” system at General Electric long ago and many companies followed his lead. Likewise, big law firms built associate attrition into their business models.

Theoretically, a “rank and yank” system produces a higher quality workforce. But in recent years, a new generation of business thinkers has challenged that premise. Even GE has abandoned Welch’s brainchild.

As currently applied, the system makes no sense to Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Bob Sutton, who observed, “When you look at the evidence about stack ranking…. The kind of stuff that they were doing [at GE], which was essentially creating a bigger distribution between the haves and the have nots in their workforce, then firing 10% of them, it just amazed me.”

If Amazon uses that system, which focuses on annual short-term evaluations, it’s behind the times, not ahead of the curve.

Haves and Have Nots

Professor Sutton’s comment about creating a bigger gap between the haves and the have nots describes pervasive law firm trends as well. The trend could also explain why Bezos and the Times may both be correct in their contradictory assessments of Amazon’s culture. That’s because any negative cultural consequences of Bezos’ management style probably don’t seem real to him. Bezos is at the top; the view from below is a lot different.

This phenomenon of dramatically divergent perspectives certainly applies to most big law firms. As firms moved from lock-step to eat-what-you-kill partner compensation systems, the gap between those at the top and everyone else exploded. Often, the result has been a small group — a partnership within the partnership — that actually controls the institution.

Those leaders have figured out an easy way to maximize short-term partner profits for themselves: make the road to equity partner twice as difficult than it was for them. As big firm attorney-partner leverage ratios have doubled since 1985, today’s managers are pulling up the ladder on the next generation. It’s no surprise that those leaders view their firms favorably.

Their associates have a decidedly different impression of the work environment. Regular attrition began as a method of quality control. At many firms, it has morphed into something insidious. Leadership’s prime directive now is preserving partner profits, not securing the long-run health of the institution. Short-term leverage calculations — not the quality of a young attorney’s lawyering — govern the determination of whether there is “room” for potential new entrants.

About the Long-Run

Such short-term thinking weakens the institutions that pursue it. As Professor Sutton observes: “We looked at every peer reviewed study we could find, and in every one when there was a bigger difference between the pay at of the people at the bottom and the top there was worse performance.”

That’s understandable. After all, workers behave according to signals that leadership sends down the food chain. Dissent is not a cherished value. Resulting self-censorship means the king and the members of his court hear only what they want to hear. People inside the organization who want to advance become cheerleaders who suppress bad news. Being a team player is the ultimate compliment and the likeliest path to promotion.

One More Thing

Bezos’ letter to his employees about the Times article encourages anyone who knows of any stories “like those reported…to escalate to HR.” He says that he doesn’t recognize the Amazon in the article and “very much hopes you don’t, either.”

One former employee frames Bezos’ unstated conundrum correctly: “How do you possibly convey to your manager the intolerable nature of your working conditions when your manager is the one telling you, point blank, that the impossible hours are simply what’s expected?”

Note to Jeff B: Escalating to HR won’t eliminate embedded cultural attitudes.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong about all of this. On the same day the Times published its piece on the increasingly harsh law firm business model, the Wall Street Journal ran Harvard Law School Professor Mark J. Roe’s op-ed: “The Imaginary Problem of Corporate Short-Termism.”

It’s all imaginary. That should come as a relief to those working inside law firms and businesses that focus myopically on near-term results without regard to the toll it is taking on the young people who comprise our collective future.

THE ABA AT WORK — NOT!

Recently, I suggested that the ABA House of Delegates reject the June 17 Report of the Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education. The Task Force was supposed to tackle the crisis of massive student loan debt that is subsidizing marginal law schools. Its Report not only fails to fulfill that mission, but also ignores the central problem of a dysfunctional legal education market. As a consequence, it offers superficial recommendations that will accomplish little.

Doomed from the Start; Flawed at the Finish

As I observed when the ABA announced the creation of the Task Force in May 2014, no one should have reasonably expected its chairman, Dennis Archer — who is also chairman of the national policy board for Infilaw — to point his group in the direction of true market-based reform that would jeopardize revenues at marginal law schools. After all, Infilaw is a private equity-owned consortium of three for-profit law schools with dismal full-time long-term JD-required employment outcomes: Arizona Summit, Charlotte, and Florida Coastal.

On August 4, the ABA House of Delegates gave the Task Force Report a rubber stamp of approval by adopting five “Resolutions.” Only two are even operative; the remaining three now go the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. Together, they constitute an abdication of the ABA’s role in an important national discussion.

The Details

Let’s start with the two resolutions that don’t require additional action by the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. We’ll call them “urging” and “encouraging,” which means they are essentially toothless.

One asks the ABA to “urge all participants in the student loan business and process, including law schools, to develop and publish easily understood versions of the terms of various loan and repayment programs.”

The other asks the ABA to “encourage law schools to be innovative in developing ways to balance responsible curricula, cost effectiveness, and new revenue streams.”

On to Another Committee…

The remaining three resolutions “encourage” another ABA Committee to adopt equally ineffective measures: “enhanced financial counseling for students (prospective and current) on student loans and repayment programs,” “return to collecting expenditure, revenue, and financial aid data annually for each law school,” and “make public the information on legal education it currently maintains and information it collects going forward.”

It took the Task Force more than a year to come up with its recommendations. Expect another year or more to pass before the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar acts on the Task Force’s “encouragement.” If the Council takes up these issues, expect law schools to fight major battles resisting disclosure of their financial affairs. But it doesn’t really matter what the Council does or how long it takes because none of the recommendations will make a difference to the core problem: lack of individual law school-specific financial accountability for graduates’ poor employment outcomes.

One More Thing

On July 29, NPR’s Marketplace ran a brief report on the larger crisis in legal education. In his NPR interview, Dennis Archer defended his Task Force’s Report, saying, “People make choices about their lives. And they make choices every day.”

In the current dysfunctional financing regime that his Task Force refused to confront, law schools make choices, too. However, once students pay their tuition bills, law schools have no financial accountability for what happens next. Stated differently, the weakest law schools have the freedom to make the bad choice of maximizing enrollments, tuition revenues, and student debt, even if most of their graduates have dismal JD-required job prospects upon graduation.

The ABA makes choices, too. In the ongoing debate concerning one of the nation’s most pressing issues, it has chosen to remain silent. The next generation of potential ABA members is taking notice.

NPR’S MARKETPLACE REPORT

I was interviewed for this brief NPR Marketplace Report airing Wednesday, July 29, 2015: “Should Law Schools Pay If Students Don’t Get Jobs?

Listen all the way to the end, when Dennis Archer, chairman of the ABA’s Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education, offers his defense of the Task Force’s non-response to the current crisis resulting from a dysfunctional system.

ABOUT SANDRA BLAND’S DEADLY ENCOUNTER

“She had been pulled over for failing to signal a lane change.” — The New York Times, July 16, 2015

That’s the most important line in the Sandra Bland story. And it has become lost in the controversy over whether her July 13 death in a Waller County Texas jail cell was suicide. Attention now focuses on her mental state and the marks on her body. But everyone should be taking a closer look at officer Brian T. Encinia and why he stopped Bland in the first place.

Context and Cast of Characters

Bland was black; Encinia is white; Waller County has a notorious history of racism. Encinia was patrolling what The New York Times called “a sleepy state road” that leads from the highway to the entrance of Prairie View A&M University, where more than 80 percent of students are black. In 2004, the district attorney threatened to prosecute Prairie View students from other counties who tried to vote in Waller County. Students and the state’s Republican attorney general thwarted his illegal voter suppression effort.

Bland, a suburban Chicago native, graduated from Prairie View A&M in 2008 and returned to Chicago. On July 10, she accepted a job working with students at her alma mater. Youthful optimism notwithstanding, Bland must have known that she was re-entering hostile territory.

Encinia is 30 years old and has been a Texas state trooper for 19 months. According to a now-deleted Linked-In profile, he took a circuitous route to law enforcement. In 2008, he graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in agricultural leadership and development. Then he joined Blue Bell Creameries where he left his position as an ingredient processing supervisor in 2014. (Blue Bell is now infamous for the nationwide listeria-related recall of its ice cream.) He also worked at the Brenham (TX) Fire Department.

Disturbing Details

A detailed examination of the complete 47-minute dash-cam video from Encinia’s squad car tells far more than the short excerpts airing on television. For starters, Bland’s car had Illinois license plates. To a white local cop in many places throughout America, she was a black out-of-towner worthy of presumptive suspicion.

Also noteworthy is the principal feature of the four-lane road on which Bland drove: it’s desolate. What constructive police work could possibly occupy Encinia’s time there? During the first 15 minutes of the video, only 36 vehicles passed in her direction. Two of them made illegal u-turns — without signaling — and continued on their way.

Through the Looking Glass

After Encinia pulled Bland over, he walked to the passenger side of her car and their interaction began:

Encinia: Hello ma’am. We’re the Texas Highway Patrol and the reason for your stop is because you failed to signal the lane change. Do you have your driver’s license and registration with you? What’s wrong? How long have you been in Texas?

Timeout #1

“How long have you been in Texas?” Encinia’s early question supports my “black driver, out-of-state plate, pull-‘er-over” hypothesis.

Back Through the Looking Glass

Bland: Got here just today.

Encinia: OK. Do you have a driver’s license? (Pause) OK, where you headed to now? Give me a few minutes.

Encinia walked back to his squad car. After making Bland wait a full five minutes, he returned to the driver’s side of her car and said, “OK, ma’am. You OK?”

Bland: I’m waiting on you. This is your job. I’m waiting on you. When’re you going to let me go?

Encinia: I don’t know, you seem very irritated.

Bland: I am. I really am. I feel like it’s crap what I’m getting a ticket for. I was getting out of your way. You were speeding up, tailing me, so I move over and you stop me. So yeah, I am a little irritated, but that doesn’t stop you from giving me a ticket, so [inaudible] ticket.

Timeout #2

According to Bland, she was changing lanes to get out of the way of Encinia’s speeding squad car as it approached her car. For that, Encinia pulls her over? Who signals while changing lanes to clear the path for a police car, fire truck or emergency vehicle approaching quickly from behind? Who signals when making a lane change when there are no other cars in sight?

Back Through the Looking Glass 

Encinia: Are you done?

Bland: You asked me what was wrong, now I told you.

Encinia: OK.

Bland: So now I’m done, yeah.

Encinia: You mind putting out your cigarette, please? If you don’t mind?

Bland: I’m in my car, why do I have to put out my cigarette?

Encinia: Well you can step on out now.

Timeout #3

It’s lawful to smoke in your own car. In fact, I assume Texans’ zeal for individual liberty makes it especially permissible in that state to smoke in your own car — perhaps while cleaning your gun.

Encinia didn’t answer Bland’s question because he couldn’t. There was no legal basis for his request, unless he thought she might use the cigarette as a weapon against him.

Back Through the Looking Glass

Bland: I don’t have to step out of my car.

Encinia: Step out of the car.

Bland: Why am I …

Encinia: Step out of the car!

Bland: No, you don’t have the right. No, you don’t have the right.

Encinia: Step out of the car.

Bland: You do not have the right. You do not have the right to do this.

Encinia: I do have the right, now step out or I will remove you.

Timeout #4

Encinia became defensive about Bland’s denial of a request for which he had no lawful justification (“Would you mind putting out your cigarette, please? If you don’t mind?”). So he bullied his way into an escalation of the conflict with a new demand (“Step out of the car”). With stunning speed, he lost his temper and started yelling.

The current focus on Bland’s mental history is misplaced; someone should investigate signs of anger, aggressiveness, racism, and generally inappropriate behavior in Encinia’s past. Even more pointedly, it’s worth scrutinizing the process that qualifies someone to become a “peace” officer for the Texas Highway Patrol.

One of my friends specializes in criminal law. Here’s what he tells black clients and friends: if you’re subject to a routine police stop in a white neighborhood, remain in your car so the policeman doesn’t perceive your act of getting out as aggressive. Perhaps Bland had received similar legal advice. Still, once policeman asks you to get out of your car, it’s wise to obey.

Back Through the Looking Glass

Bland: I refuse to talk to you other than to identify myself. [crosstalk] I am getting removed for a failure to signal?

Encinia: Step out or I will remove you. I’m giving you a lawful order. Get out of the car now or I’m going to remove you.

Bland: And I’m calling my lawyer.

Encinia: I’m going to yank you out of here. (Reaches inside the car.)

Bland: OK, you’re going to yank me out of my car? OK, alright.

Encinia (calling in backup): 2547.

Bland: Let’s do this.

Encinia: Yeah, we’re going to. (Grabs for Bland.)

Bland: Don’t touch me!

Encinia: Get out of the car!

Bland: Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me! I’m not under arrest — you don’t have the right to take me out of the car.

Encinia: You are under arrest!

Bland: I’m under arrest? For what? For what? For what?

Timeout #5

Encinia didn’t have an answer to her question. As described below, he and a colleague eventually developed one after the incident was over. But Bland knew her constitutional rights, even though Encinia never explained them to her.

Back Through the Looking Glass

A few minutes later, Bland was on the ground and in handcuffs as their exchange continued:

Encinia: You were getting a warning, until now you’re going to jail.

Bland: I’m getting a — for what? For what?

Encinia: You can come read.

Bland: I’m getting a warning for what? For what!?

Encinia then showed her the ticket.

Encinia: Come read right over here. This right here says ‘a warning.’ You started creating the problems.

Timeout #6

After Encinia extracted Bland forcibly from her car without telling her why, wrestled her to the ground, and placed her in handcuffs, he finally revealed that she was just going to get a warning for her supposed failure to signal a lane change. That’s astonishing. If Bland had lived to file a lawsuit against Encinia, she should have won.

Getting His Story Straight

After the incident was over, Encinia spoke with someone on his radio (presumably a supervisor) as they developed an underlying theory to justify his behavior:

“I tried to de-escalate her. It wasn’t getting anywhere, at all. I mean I tried to put the Taser away. I tried talking to her and calming her down, and that was not working….

“Evading arrest or detention. (Inaudible). Resisting arrest … She was detained. That’s the key and that’s why I am calling and asking because she was detained. That’s when I was walking her over to the car, just to calm her down and just to (say) stop.

“That’s when she started kicking. I don’t know if it would be resist or if it would be assault. I kinda lean toward assault versus resist because I mean technically, she’s under arrest when a traffic stop is initiated, as a lawful stop. You’re not free to go. I didn’t say you’re under arrest, I never said, you know, stop, hands up.

“Correct, that did not occur. There was just the assault part…

“Like I said, with something like this, I just call you immediately, after I get to a safe stopping point.

“No weapons, she’s in handcuffs. You know, I took the lesser of the uhh … I only took enough force as I — seemed necessary. I even de-escalated once we were on the pavement, you know on the sidewalk. So I allowed time, I’m not saying I just threw her to the ground. I allowed time to de-escalate and so forth. It just kept getting. (Laughing) Right, I’m just making that clear.”

Sickening and Sad

All of this suggests obvious questions that no one is asking:

— When did Bland fail to signal the lane change that caused Encinia to pull her over?

— Why did Encinia ask Bland to get out of her car? Because she kept smoking her cigarette after he asked her to stop?

— Shortly before Encinia first told Bland that she was under arrest, he grabbed her. But she hadn’t touched him. What was the charge for which he first said he was arresting her?

— What justified Encinia in forcibly removing Bland from her car? Her refusal to obey his dubious order that she get out on her own after refusing to extinguish her cigarette?

— What made Encinia laugh while he was on the car radio as a fellow officer on the scene told Bland she was under arrest for assault on a public servant — the only charge ever lodged against her?

Let’s hope Encinia is under oath when he provides the answers. The testimony of the person who caused him to laugh over the radio should be interesting, too.

Three days later, Sandra Bland was dead. No one is laughing now.

DEAR ABA…

Dear ABA (especially members of the House of Delegates to the upcoming annual meeting in Chicago):

For years, America’s dysfunctional system of financing legal education has produced too many lawyers for too few jobs — and too many law graduates with too much educational debt. A year ago, the ABA created yet another Task Force to consider the problem. The June 17, 2015 Final Report on the Financing of Legal Education embodies the failure of that Task Force’s mission. It now goes to the House of Delegates for approval.

If the Delegates are interested in rehabilitating the ABA’s credibility and restoring public confidence in the profession on an issue of critical importance to the country, they could take this simple step: reject the Task Force Report. That’s right. Rather than giving the typical rubber stamp of approval amid flowery speeches thanking Task Force members for their time and effort in generating a hollow ABA statement summarizing the obvious, the House of Delegates could just say no.

Round One

Some observers had hoped that the ABA’s previous Task Force on the Future of Legal Education might tackle the daunting issues responsible for our dysfunctional legal education market. After all, the ABA’s leaders promised that the 2012 Task Force would make “recommendations to the American Bar Association on how law schools, the ABA, and other groups and organizations can take concrete steps to address issues concerning the economics of legal education and its delivery.”

To its credit, the 2012 Task Force put its toe in those waters, observing that the “system of lending distances law schools from market considerations and it supports pricing practices that do not well serve either the public or private value in legal education.”

Let’s state the problem more bluntly: Marginal law schools are relying on exploding student debt to produce revenue streams that keep them alive. They get away with it because federal student loans come without school-specific accountability for graduates’ dismal employment outcomes. Schools have no financial skin in the game.

But the 2012 Task Force didn’t go beyond identifying the problem because, it said, “The time and resources available to the Task Force have made it impractical to develop a structure of equitable and effective solutions.”

Round Two

So in May 2014, then-ABA president James R. Silkenat announced the creation of a new Task Force — one specifically devoted to the Financing of Legal Education. It was supposed to pick up where the 2012 Task Force had stalled. It was going to “conduct a comprehensive study of the complex economic and political issues involved and produce sound recommendations to inform policymakers throughout the legal community.”

The 2014-2015 Task Force Report recites that 25 percent of law schools obtain at least 88 percent of their total revenues from tuition and that the average for all law school is 69 percent. It also reports that higher tuition has produced more student debt, even as job prospects for graduates of marginal schools have languished.

Since 2006 alone, average student debt has increased by 25 percent (private schools) and 34 percent (public schools) in inflation-adjusted dollars. Average student debt at graduation from private law schools in 2013 was $127,000; for public schools it was $88,000. Meanwhile, only about half of new law graduates are obtaining full-time long-term jobs requiring a JD.

But the new Task Force didn’t pursue this obvious market dysfunction. Instead, its Final Report offers superficial fixes: better debt counseling for students, better disclosure forms from the Department of Education, more dissemination of how schools spend their money, and continued experimentation with law curriculum. They ignore the core financial accountability problem, rather than confronting and addressing it.

Insularity and Self-Interest

The chairman of the 2014-2015 Task Force was Dennis W. Archer, former mayor of Detroit, former Michigan Supreme Court justice, and past president of the ABA. Did the ABA think no one would notice that Archer also chairs of the national policy board of Infilaw — a private equity-owned consortium of three for-profit law schools — Arizona Summit, Charlotte, and Florida Coastal.

The Infilaw schools feed on the market dysfunction that the current system for funding legal education creates. The job market for law graduates from schools such as Infilaw’s remains dismal. But even in the face of their graduates’ poor full-time long-term JD-required employment results, Infilaw’s schools increased enrollment and have become leaders in creating debt for their students.

Archer wasn’t the only problematic appointment to the 2014-2015 Task Force. Another member, Christopher Chapman, is president and CEO of Access Group — the collective voice of 197 ABA-accredited law schools.

According to the Access Group’s website, “During the course of our 30+ year existence, we became a leading provider of affordable student loans for aspiring professionals in law, medicine, dentistry, health, business, and other disciplines. As such, we served as a national originator, holder and servicer of federally guaranteed and private, credit-based loans, funding more than $18 billion of education loans since 2001.”

Enough said.

Forfeiting The Right To Be Heard

The fact that, as one 2014-2015 Task Force witness said, legal education may be the “canary in the coal mine” on issues relating to student debt and financing higher education generally is no excuse for the profession to refrain from offering potential solutions.

For that reason, at its upcoming August 3-4 meeting in Chicago, the ABA House of Delegates could reject the Task Force Report. It could then reconstitute the Task Force membership with individuals willing to deliver the tough message that the profession needs. It could direct the newly constituted group to develop meaningful proposals that tie law student loan availability to individual law school outcomes. My recent article in the American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review, “Bankruptcy and Bad Behavior,” offers one idea that would force law schools to put some financial skin in the game; others have suggested plans warranting serious consideration.

The ABA describes its mission as “committed to doing what only a national association of attorneys can do: serving our members, improving the legal profession, eliminating bias and enhancing diversity, and advancing the rule of law throughout the United States and around the world.”

In a single vote rejecting the 2014-2015 Task Force Report on the Financing of Legal Education, the House of Delegates could match those lofty words with action.

On this vitally important issue, the ABA leadership has caused many attorneys and the general public to become cynical about the organization’s motives. The House of Delegates has a unique opportunity to prove that the ABA is not just the vehicle whereby an insular, self-interested group seeks to preserve the present at the expense of the future. The House of Delegates can be part of the solution, or it can remain part of the problem.

Which path will it choose? The whole legal world is watching.

THE DEWEY TRIAL: FOUR EXAMPLES OF NOT-SO-FUNNY COMIC RELIEF

The ongoing criminal trial against three former leaders of Dewey & LeBoeuf has consumed six weeks. Time flies when you’re having fun. For example:

#1: Funny, If It Weren’t So Sad

For a bunch of smart people, some senior partners did some dumb things. One of the prosecution’s first witnesses was a former member of Dewey’s executive committee who retired at the end of 2010. She had contributed more than $600,000 in capital to the firm and, upon retirement, expected to get it back. Although the partnership agreement permitted the firm to spread the payments to her over three annual installments, she testified that chairman Steve Davis had discretion to accelerate them.

Davis declined her request to do so. Instead, he encouraged her to get a bank loan from Barclays for the full amount and told her that over the subsequent three years the firm would repay the loan for her. She followed his recommendation and borrowed the money.

The firm failed to repay the Barclays loan. She remained on the hook and paid the full amount herself. Adding insult to injury, she lost again when the firm filed for bankruptcy and her $175,000 annual pension disappeared.

#2: Funny, If You Were Not a Fellow Partner

For a bunch of high-powered former Dewey partners who rose to the very top of the firm, titles typically associated with power didn’t mean leadership. Likewise, becoming a member of the firm’s governing structure apparently didn’t result in any duties or responsibilities that involved actual knowledge of the firm’s finances or operations.

For example, during the fifth week of trial, Ralph Ferrara testified that even though he had no equity stake in the firm, he held an impressive title — vice chairman — and had an agreement whereby the firm paid him a salary around $5 million a year. He told the jury that former chairman Steven Davis’ announcement that Ferrara would assume the vice-chairmanship became an offer that he couldn’t refuse.

“I’m embarrassed to say, my ego overcame my good judgment,” Ferrara, a former general counsel of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, said on the witness stand.

That line could describe leaders of big law firms everywhere. But it’s a flimsy excuse for abdicating responsibilities that come with power. So is another of Ferrara’s quoted lines: “I’m a practicing lawyer. I’m not a law firm administrator.”

Dewey’s other vice-chairman was Mort Pierce. As the firm was failing and Pierce was jumping ship in 2012, he similarly disclaimed any leadership responsibilities associated with his title and position.

#3: Funny, For a Lawyer

For a bunch of lawyers who make a lot of money advising clients not to write stupid stuff, some of them sure wrote stupid stuff. As the trial plodded through its fifth week, the jury saw these colorful messages from former Dewey partner Alexander Dye:

“Fellas: Time to start spending Momma LeBoeuf’s money like its water.”

“Steve DiCarmine, if you are reading this, I’ll have your f-cking head on a stick.”

During week six, one former executive committee member, Richard Shutran, testified about his internal firm emails, including these nuggets:

“I spend most days bulls–ing people…”

“Do what I do. Work out a lot and do drugs…”

“If he calls me, I’ll kill him…”

A defense attorney for Dewey’s former chief financial officer Joel Sanders had Shutran explain that these were all jokes. Apparently, the strategy is to convince the jury that Shutran’s email jests were part of a culture producing defendants’ supposed email “jokes” about finding “a clueless auditor” and using “fake income” in crafting the firm’s financial statements. Good luck with that one.

#4: Funny, If You’re Not A Juror

At the end of week six, jurors listened as the presiding trial judge, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Robert Stoltz, interrupted Stephen DiCarmine’s defense counsel in mid-question. He wanted counsel to explain a term he was using in cross-examining Dewey’s former budget and planning director:

“What does the phrase ‘unreconciled expense write-off’ mean?”

Riveting.

Only three more months to go.