Monday, October 23, 2006

The Gambler

Kenny Rogers (the left-handed pitcher, not the silver-haired country singer) just completed his 22 consecutive scoreless inning of postseason work for Detroit as the Tigers evened the 2006 World Series at one game apiece with a 3-1 win over the Saint Louis Cardinals. What exactly does this have to do with MoneyLaw, aside from this forum's sabermetric obsession? In due course the answer will drop into the strike zone like a knee-buckling curveball.

In thoughtful commentary on my post, "Law school diagnosis," Bill Henderson argues that law school curricula are likely to stay skewed in favor of litigation, in part, because the economics of big firm practice favor the status quo:
The most remunerative jobs upon graduation are those in large law firms. And the litigators at BigLaw firms dicker over expensive legal disputes worth millions of dollars. A trial by a BigLaw firm will cost $500K minimum. And the usual motion practice can easily cost $300K minimum. The associate salaries for these firms are driving the market. If your graduates are landing at these types of firms, why change?
Except that they don't. The modal law school graduate isn't working for a BigLaw firm. Small firm practice, solo practice, public sector employment, and corporate counsel positions, at least when combined, outnumber placements in law firms with 50+ partners. This is to say nothing of entrepreneurial work, which has been creeping upward as an occupational option within the range of opportunities that present themselves to law school graduates.

And even in the world of BigLaw, it might be worth gauging how much revenue comes from motions practice, Big Litigation, and administrative equivalents of state or federal court adjudication, as opposed to transactional work. Once again, Bill Henderson has identified a seam where MoneyLaw's informed instincts and the Empirical Legal Studies Blog's mastery of data can cooperate fruitfully. Bill, I'm ready whenever you are.

Scott BorasNow it's time to talk about Scott Boras.

Scott Boras is easily the most famous graduate of the McGeorge School of Law. McGeorge's list of prominent friends and alumni includes luminaries such as Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker and Bill Lockyer, but the truth is that Scott Boras's celebrity power easily eclipses that of a law school dean or even that of the attorney general of California. To its credit, McGeorge enthusiastically embraces Scott Boras, whose ties to the University of the Pacific include a stint on the university's baseball team and a career as a pharmacist in Sacramento that enabled him to earn a McGeorge law degree at night.

Like MoneyLaw icon Billy Beane, Scott Boras was a failed ballplayer. He played second base and centerfield in the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals organizations, but never rose above AA. Four years and three knee operations after signing, he was out of organized baseball.

A more risk-averse law school graduate would have clung to the BigLaw job that Scott Boras landed in Chicago after his final tour of duty at the University of the Pacific. An even more risk-averse law school graduate might have yearned and secured a law teaching job. (Yes, I know the counterarguments: (1) you are much likelier to make tons of money practicing food and drug law than getting tenure teaching it, and (2) it may be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a McGeorge graduate to snag an interview at the AALS combine.) But Boras started giving advice to former minor league teammates who had made it to "The Show."

AntichristThe rest, of course, is baseball history. Boras is the most powerful agent in baseball, perhaps in all of professional sports. His clients routinely command more than they are expected to receive. His masterful negotiation of a $252 million contract (yes, a quarter of a billion dollars) for Alex Rodriguez ruined the Texas Rangers and now taunts the New York Yankees. When they call you the "Baseball Antichrist," you've got it made.

And now? Take a look at the 2006 Detroit Tigers. Catcher Iván Rodríguez. Outfielder Magglio Ordóñez. Starting pitcher Kenny Rogers. All of them Boras clients. Regardless of whether the Tigers bring home the World Series trophy, Scott Boras already stands as the emblem of the riches that await law school graduates -- and law schools -- if only they would gamble in favor of entrepreneurship and deal-making over the usual dispute resolution business model embodied by BigLaw's industrial-adjudicative complex.


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