A few years back, Douglas J. Sylvester, dean of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, toured the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and he returned with a vision on how to stem the obturations facing recent graduates entering the legal fraternity: a shrinking pool of job offers, increased debt burdens, and lawyer skill preparedness for firms. The concept was in his words: “A teaching hospital for law school graduates,” with its direction and management to provide affordable legal services to underserved members of the community as my responsibility and charge.
In a short six months, ASU Alumni Law Group has proved the naysayers wrong. As a nonprofit entity with no taxpayer funding, the firm has rapidly expanded and developed its model. In short order, a fully operational law firm has been put together, associates graduating from ASU law have been hired, and actual cases have been handled in both civil and criminal law, as well as veterans’ issues.
When Dean Sylvester posited this innovative approach, I soon understood the challenges as well as the value of building an organization from the ground up — it has been the capstone of my long legal career in Arizona. Across the legal sphere from national and state bar associations, to the traditional rich environments of preeminent firms to mid-size law groups, there is a growing appreciation for the need to change the existing legal education model. Where even a decade ago, new graduates were tutored on the practice of lawyering by senior lawyers; that model has eroded with clients no longer willing to pay a law firm to train their newer lawyers how to practice law. Law schools have been urged to shoulder the burden of creating “practice-ready” graduates, and as a result law firms across the country are struggling to come up with workable solutions to address this significant shift.
At the Alumni Law Group, we are picking up the mantle for transformative change in the legal sphere. Our associates from 2013 and now 2014 are being taught how to be “practice-ready” under the tutelage of the very experienced practitioners who have years of practical, extensive experience and competencies. As a 40-year professional, building and managing full service practices in Arizona at phenomenal firms such as Lewis and Roca, and Polsinelli, I understand the complex challenges that new graduates and associates encounter, along with the operational pressures faced by firms in the ever increasing competitive legal market.
The current legal landscape requires the kind of innovative action that Alumni Law Group is offering. We are engaging across the metropolitan area to educate new graduates while at the same time providing legal services that are considerably discounted to those who have difficulty finding reasonably priced legal assistance. Our firm, the first of its kind nationally, has found success accomplishing these goals over the past six months.
Our firm works hand in hand with recent ASU law graduates and clients to provide services necessary to resolve client matters. The associates are learning how to actually practice law in an environment that other legal institutions cannot provide.
It is no coincidence that the Sandra Day O’ Connor College of Law provides the backdrop to what the ASU Alumni Law Group is accomplishing. A pioneer herself, the first female justice on the U.S. Supreme Court remarked, “I don’t know that there are any short cuts to doing a good job.” While the first year has been hard work, its successes have been equally rewarding as we followed her sagacity in building a remarkable foundation. As we continue to grow, filling up two floors of the new law building, developing up to 30 associates, and constituting a legal firm with multiple practices, our commitment to inculcating law graduates with the real world experience they need, while offering our clients affordable services will be unwavering.
— Marty Harper is CEO and president of the ASU Alumni Law Group.