Career Paths Thomas Harvey Interview by Wendy Werner

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1 Career Paths Thomas Harvey Interview by Wendy Werner February 2012 Thomas B. Harvey is an attorney in solo practice in St. Louis, Missouri, (www.linkedin.com/pub/thomasharvey/14/778/51a) who graduated from Saint Louis University School of Law school in He is also the Executive Director and co founder of the ArchCity Defenders, (www.archcitydefenders.org) a not for profit organization that provides civil and criminal legal services to indigent clients. In January he spoke at the plenary session of the Association of American Law Schools annual conference on the future of legal education. Tell me how you got started along the path that has led you to this place in your career. I attended Wabash College, a small liberal arts school in Indiana and majored in French, graduating in After graduation I worked for five years in sales before starting graduate school in 1999 where I pursued a Ph.D. in French literature. In college I was torn between becoming a lawyer or a college professor. I have progressed from choosing neither to trying to become a professor to eventually becoming a lawyer. I think those years after college in sales have really helped me in my law practice because I was required to develop the interpersonal skills that are so important for a solo practitioner. Was there something that influenced you in law school to move into the area/s in which you are currently working? If so, what was it? For my solo practice, there was not really one thing in particular in school that moved me toward my current role. I knew I was interested in criminal law but I had my eyes set on International Law. Clerking for Ken and Ted Schwartz, a father and son team of lawyers here in St. Louis, really opened my eyes to the business side of running a law firm and showed me that I could make a go of it on my own. They both know the law and are both great lawyers. What makes them even more influential for me is their business acumen and their willingness to share. I could not have gotten where I am without their guidance and support. I owe them a lot. For the ArchCity Defenders, it was a combination of coursework, ranging from a seminar in Critical Race Theory to the straightforward black letter law in Criminal Procedure with a healthy dose of clinical legal experience that really formed my desire to start the ArchCity Defenders. It was the perfect application of our legal education at Saint Louis University School of Law: we learned the black letter law, the theory, and then saw how it worked in the City of St. Louis.

2 Tell me about how you developed your first job after law school. Michael John Voss, one of my classmates, and I had already started discussing the ArchCity Defenders prior to graduation. We put it on hold to prepare for the bar exam and then picked it up again afterwards. About that time a third classmate, John McAnnar, joined us because he was deferred from his starting associate position at a large law firm here in town. We incorporated, applied for non profit status and met with everyone we could to discuss the organization and the services we felt are vital for unrepresented clients in our community. We just worked our tail off trying to get it off the ground and create goodwill with social service providers, lawyers, judges, and the community at large. This, of course, was and continues to be all pro bono work. All three of us are engaged in the full time private practice of law, and we contribute considerable additional time to our not for profit organization after we are done with our work day at our respective law practices. On the private side, I just hung out my shingle. Ken told me that I really only needed a cell phone, a desk, and some business cards to get started. I had a cell phone, the two partners gave me a desk and a small office that used to be a conference room, and I bought some business cards. I also purchased liability insurance. I started handling smaller lower paying cases that the other two attorneys weren t interested in doing. I made appearances for them in night court, a nearby rural county, and any other court they couldn t get to that night. I worked to never turn down an opportunity to go to court no matter where or when it was. There are incredible opportunities to meet so many lawyers in court and they are almost all amazingly helpful and willing to teach. You also meet perspective clients in court. Most importantly, you get the lay of the land. If I hadn t taken advantage of those opportunities to get a feel for how the court system worked, I never would have been able to competently represent my own clients. You are working both in your own practice and you are running, with two other lawyers, a not for profit organization. How do you balance those two arenas? Work/life balance is not something I am good at. I work way too many hours every day and don t take off during the weekend. While I do not advise that, there really isn t any choice for me as a solo practitioner or as the Executive Director of the ArchCity Defenders. We are all dedicated to ArchCity s work and more importantly to the clients, who have been jerked around in one court after another. The fact that we have to work a lot in our law offices is nothing compared to what our clients have to deal with every day. On the private side, what can I say? If I don t work, I don t make money and can t pay the bills. If I can t pay the bills, I would have to give up the ArchCity Defenders. And that is certainly not something that I am prepared to do.

3 You recently spoke at the annual Association of American Law Schools meeting in Washington D.C. at a plenary panel on the future of legal education. What message did you want to convey about law school education? I told the attendees, who were primarily law school deans and professors, that while their model was not perfect, there were many aspects that worked and that those shouldn t be sacrificed in the name of satisfying their largest financial donors, the big corporate law firms. Most of the criticism I have read about legal education comes from the large corporate clients of large corporate law firms. Those clients tell those law firms that they no longer want to pay first year associates $300/hr to work on their cases because those first year associates don t know what they are doing. In turn, the large corporate law firms tell the law schools that they need practice ready lawyers upon graduation. I pointed out that only a small percentage of all lawyers work in corporate law, something like 15%. The numbers we found suggested that the largest percentage of lawyers worked as solo practitioners. My point is that is this sounds like a failure of big law to train its employees, not law school s failure to get law students ready. Nobody s forcing those big law firms to bill their new associates out at $300/hour or to pay them six figures during their first year. Additionally, why would law schools drastically revise their curriculum to produce practice ready lawyers for jobs that represent 15% of the marketplace? Look, I am not naïve. I know that the real answer is that these big firms give the law schools significant amounts of money and therefore they are responsive to criticism coming from them. But the reality is that if law schools want to continue to be any semblance of an academic environment, they can t cede ground and become the minor league system for big law firms. What has helped you to become more knowledgeable/gain skills/experience success? First, read the statute. Ken Schwartz told me that when I clerked for him during law school. That may seem obvious but you would be surprised at how many lawyers have not done that. Second, seek out more experienced lawyers and ask them questions. Third, Judge Joan Burger, a retired St. Louis circuit court judge, told me something right after I graduated that has helped me more than almost anything else: Westlaw is fine for legal research but the best method is to pick up the phone and call somebody. I have met lawyers in court while I have been waiting to get a continuance and asked them about issues. I have asked judges. I will ask anybody who I think knows something about the area of the law a question. There is no room to be embarrassed about the fact that you are new. What kinds of things have you done to develop clients for your practice? What has been most successful for you? What advice would you give to a new attorney trying to develop his or her client base? I have to reiterate that Ken and Ted Schwartz have referred business to me since I began and that has made a huge difference. Although it only accounts for between 15 and 20% of my business, it has provided me with stability. I also use the lawyer referral service of our local bar and would advise everyone to take advantage of it. It is a mixed bag because many clients do not have a lot of money.

4 In spite of that, I bring them in, talk to them, and whether or not they hire me, they all leave with a big stack of business cards. I have done almost no advertising and I do not have a strong web presence, although that is something I am working on. Mostly, I would say that doing a good job for your clients is the most important thing any lawyer can do. Once a strong relationship is developed between you and your client, they will think about calling you when they or their friends need a lawyer. If you were advising a new attorney today who was entering your field, what advice would you give them about how to find a job, how to develop their expertise, and how to be successful? If they are going to be solo practitioners, I am probably repeating myself, but I would advise new attorneys to go to court as often as they can. Go while they are in law school and go every day if they are out of law school. They can familiarize themselves with the process, meet the players, and possibly meet clients. While they of course cannot solicit business, I have been in the court when a client needed a lawyer and the judge advised the person to look around because there were plenty of lawyers in the room. I am not saying this will make you a lot of money. I am just saying it is a good starting point. Regardless of whether or not they get a client, they can develop their expertise by watching good lawyers. If they don t know who is good and who isn t, ask the clerks or ask the judges. They will tactfully point you in the right direction. Watching a good and well respected lawyer helps you develop your skills as a lawyer but at some point, you just have to do it. You have to get your feet wet. Again, I would suggest partnering with someone on a case so as to get the best possible advice, but young lawyers also just need to get into the court room and do the work. Being successful is more difficult. It takes a great deal of time, work, and to some extent luck. I am lucky to have stumbled across good people who are skilled and willing to help. I put in the work and the time and I think it is paying off but I owe them a large part of my success. If there is one mistake I see new lawyers make it is not valuing their time. It is scary as a new lawyer to set a fee for services and to get it. Telling someone you need a $2500 retainer and that you bill at $250/hr for the first time is nerve racking. In the end, however, law school is hard and really expensive. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt are a genuine part of your overhead. It s not the Westlaw bill but it is a part of the cost of your business. What are some of the biggest challenges that you see facing new lawyers today? Lack of employment opportunities and the high level of student loan debt. They go hand in hand because there are many former big firm lawyers whose jobs have been eliminated. Those folks are out in the market competing with brand new lawyers who have no experience. Worse for the new lawyer, a lot of those laid off lawyers have gotten to the point that they have to take anything that comes their way. Because of that, it is much more difficult for newer lawyers to get one of those jobs. And even if

5 they do, it won t be at the salary that same job paid only a few years ago. Many firms are moving to contract attorneys who will charge lower hourly rates. Many lawyers end up taking any job just so they can make those loan payments, which are frequently the equivalent to a mortgage. I just don t see how that is sustainable. What are some changes and challenges you see on the horizon for the practice of law? For the business side of law, I see the involvement of non lawyers as a major challenge. Non lawyers are allowed to invest in firms in Europe which would be a violation of our ethical rules here in the US. But the hand writing is on the wall. Law firms will become even more commoditized and we ll see lawyers manning the aisles at your local Wal Mart very soon. This may be a good thing for many consumers in the legal marketplace. Costs will diminish as efficiencies are identified and exploited for profits. However, the idea of a lawyer as someone who has more than an obligation to make money seems more at risk under the emerging model than ever before. This may be off topic a bit but one of the major challenges I see in the law is in the erosion of civil liberties in America, specifically as regards due process. Under the Bush and Obama administrations, I believe there has been a steady decline in due process all in the name of protecting us from terrorists. That concern spills over into the work that we do at ArchCity; where we often deal with clients who have, in any number of instances, had their basic civil liberties violated. It is one of the reasons that I believe the work that we are doing in that arena is so important not just for our clients, but for the entire justice system in our country.

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