Photo of Tom Sharbaugh

Tom Sharbaugh is currently a Professor of Practice at Penn State Law and the Director of the law school’s Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic.  He was a partner of a global law firm for many years, serving as firm-wide managing partner for his most recent 15 years with that firm.


“One of the biggest myths in legal education is that there is more than enough well-paying work for anyone who has a law license.”


About ten years ago, through a connection made by Bill Henderson, I was invited to a gathering of law-school professors in Northern California.  I was still a manager of a global law firm at the time, and Bill thought that it would be useful to add a practitioner to the group, which otherwise comprised solely academics from around the US.  I remembered this conference recently as I read about the focused efforts of the Debevoise & Plimpton law firm starting in 2012 to bolster demand for its services after years of no growth or decline. See Dylan Jackson, “Debevoise Faced a Demand Crisis. Its Solution Required Change From the Ground Up,” Law.com, July 1, 2021.

The reason for the flashback was my laughed-at suggestion that law schools should add a course in sales and marketing to their curricula. 
Continue Reading Would sales & marketing in law school cross a red line? (251)


Count me among the skeptics.


We are all familiar with the allegations that CEOs of publicly traded companies manipulating their earnings from period to period by such actions as booking discretionary expenses at the end of a strong quarter or deferring a major sale until the beginning of a new period.  No one thinks that these actions are laudable from an integrity standpoint, and sometimes they are sufficiently flagrant to result in securities-fraud allegations.

Thus, it is surprising to me that law firm managers have been boasting in the first quarter of 2021 about their prudence in prepaying in the last quarter of 2020 major expenses that were not due until 2021.  See, e.g., Andrew Mahoney, “Big Firms Headed Off ‘Great Unknowns’ by Pre-Paying Bills,” Law.com, Mar. 10, 2021 (discussing prevalence of practice).
Continue Reading Is income manipulation by Big Law laudable behavior? (227)


Maybe. And if so, it would an improvement over what working and middle-class people can afford now.


Most lawyers have probably seen by now the announcement that Arizona has become the first state to permit law firms to have owners that are not lawyers.  See, e.g., Bob Ambrogi, “Arizona Is First State To Eliminate Ban On Nonlawyer Ownership Of Law Firms,” Lawsites, Aug. 31, 2020.  While much of the early commentary has focused on whether this will permit the Big Four accounting firms to encroach further into the lawyers’ protected realm of practice, this new rule is a big deal for the little guy.
Continue Reading “Everyday Low Price” for Legal Services in Arizona? (198)

Source: ABA Profile of the Legal Profession ch. 1 (2020)

Fulfilling work can be found in legal deserts.


There are numerous reports of the problems presented by the decline of the number of primary-care physicians in the United States. The overwhelming majority of med school students understandably gravitates towards the high-paying specialty residencies. The ABA’s recent “Profile of the Legal Profession 2020” report, which includes a chapter on “legal deserts,” caused me to think about the legal profession’s similar problem—the decline of the primary-care lawyer.
Continue Reading In praise of the primary-care lawyer (194)

image of man looking at watch


A timely reminder on the value of time, from my carpenter.


Large firm lawyers spend a lot of time debating the pros and cons of so-called “alternative fee arrangements,” but hourly billing is still their sweet spot.  It is much nicer to focus on the legal work than to worry about being efficient or pursuing


Public Service Announcement related to COVID-19.


The Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic (the “EAC”) of Penn State Law, based in central Pennsylvania in a startup incubator next to Penn State’s largest campus, has served over 1,000 new startup and early-stage clients in the past several years as it expanded to serve all of Pennsylvania through in-person