Douglas Litowitz, an Ohio attorney and author, has chosen a title for his latest work that practically guarantees rousing debate at law firms and campuses everywhere: “The Destruction of Young Lawyers.”
At 163 pages, including footnotes and index, the just-published opus is slim. But it cuts into the academic establishment, bar authorities and big-firm law like a shiv.
Wasting no time in knifing straight to his central thesis, Mr. Litowitz declares on page one that young lawyers “shoulder most of the misery within the profession.”
Unlike their older counterparts, young lawyers cannot reminisce about the good old days when lawyers were ‘civil’ and ‘professional.’ In fact, young lawyers are morosely unhappy and pessimistic . . .
Mr. Litowitz practiced corporate and securities law at the Chicago firms Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal and Cowen Crowley & Nord. Though his book quotes the late socialist philosopher Herbert Marcuse, as well as Karl Marx, on the concept of worker alienation, Mr. Litowitz now does legal work for a hedge fund he declined to identify in a phone interview.
In the interview, Mr. Litowitz acknowledged the contrast between his “leftist” self-description and his capitalist calling.
“It’s ironic,” he said. “That’s a nice way of saying contradictory.”
Mr. Litowitz has spent much of his career in legal academe � recently as an assistant professor at Ohio University Claude W. Pettit College of Law, with previous posts at four other campuses in Oregon, Illinois and Florida.
Yet many of his most damning criticisms are reserved for law schools. He writes, for instance: “When I say that law school breaks people, I mean that almost nobody comes out of law school feeling better about themselves, although many come out much worse � caustic, paranoid and overly competitive.”
Excerpts such as this were provided by the Law Journal to several lawyers and law school officials for comment.
David Rudenstine, dean of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, was taken aback by the tone and content of the excerpts, which represented all seven chapters of Mr. Litowitz’s book.
“‘Breaks people?’” he said. “If that’s his experience, then I think he has much to regret with regard to his professional choice. Statements like that seem to me aimed at selling books rather than making a cogent, responsible claim with regard to students’ experiences.”
He added, “These are familiar and common critiques of law schools and the profession. He makes some solid points with regard to some shortcomings. Of course law schools could be doing a stronger job of providing meaningful education, and the profession could have less abuse. But [Mr. Litowitz's] criticisms are unduly harsh and unjustifiably negative.”
Of his book’s strenuous call for a two-year law school program, with a third year of formal apprenticeship, Mr. Litowitz said one dean told him he was “ignoring economic reality” and “trying to create some idealized world that will never exist.”
Although they disputed Mr. Litowitz’s negative view of the law school experience, some lawyers found themselves in substantial agreement with his other strongly put criticisms � especially his take on associate grievances at large firms over such matters as lack of client contact, working piecemeal on cases and prickly partners.
“There definitely is alienation,” said a former senior associate at a big Manhattan firm who requested anonymity. “Doing well at a law firm means you’ll get more work. You’ll be paid more, but money can only motivate you so much. The difference between making $10,000 or $30,000 isn’t really a big motivation when you’re already making a couple of hundred thousand.”
Douglas H. Wigdor of Thompson Wigdor & Gilly, a small employment law and civil rights firm, recalled intense internal rivalry from his days as a litigation associate at large Manhattan firms.
“The partners are so territorial � not just with associates, but even with fellow partners,” said Mr. Wigdor. Associates, he added, “are not involved in the decision-making or the strategy. What really motivates people is getting ownership of cases.”
A senior partner at a prominent Midtown firm who also asked to remain nameless said such ownership often comes when dissatisfied associates leave the large-firm environment for a smaller pond or, as Mr. Wigdor did, start up their own offices.
“I’ve talked to a lot of lawyers who’ve left big firms, and I’ve yet to hear one of them say he didn’t profit a whole lot from what we had to offer by way of assignments, not to mention salary,” the senior partner said.
Raymond J. Dowd of Dowd & Marotta, a small intellectual property and commercial dispute firm, defended large firms and their generally well-heeled clientele � to a point.
“I’m as liberal as they come, but I don’t have a problem with rich people having all the lawyers they want,” said Mr. Dowd. “If they want Cravath Swain & Moore to assign 250 lawyers to represent them and they want to pay for it, I don’t have qualms. It’s only when the guy on the other side can’t find adequate representation, or can’t afford it, that it becomes a problem.”
Mr. Dowd went one better than Mr. Litowitz on the matter of law school structure with a radical suggestion for the middle of a traditional three-year program.
“The second year should be spent working for the poor. That would weed out all the people who don’t really want to be lawyers,” he said. “Lawyers are people who vindicate people’s rights. Then there are lawyers who do business transactions and call themselves lawyers. It clogs up the profession.”
Mr. Litowitz suggested that his future in academe could be limited, due to his book.
“It’s kind of a career-ender,” he said. “But I’ve really tried to say what I thought it was time to say � and let the chips fall where they may. I hope readers will say, ‘Here’s a guy telling the truth.’”
The last word of Mr. Litowitz’s book is this: “The difficult trick is to remain proud of your profession while also being a little bit ashamed of it.”
� Thomas Adcock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.