This is an excerpt from the Future of the Legal Profession Report commissioned by Stephen Younger, President of the New York State Bar Association. It was meant to address the effects of the economic downturn as well as other issues impacting the legal profession:
“….private practice, one of the key engines of the profession, is under increasing pressure to valueengineer its services. New lawyers face mounting debt burdens and bleaker job prospects, which inhibits their development. And clients resist “on-the-job training” of new lawyers, which is necessitated by the dominant model in legal education. In response, lawyers have undertaken a better-faster-cheaper ethic, necessary both to differentiate themselves from their competitors and to satisfy clients. This leads to burn-out and the loss of human capital and expertise, placing additional economic burden on firms and taking its toll on individuals. Finally, technology drives many of these changes, affecting the traditional tasks associated with lawyering and how lawyers interact with their clients. In sum, the profession has changed in its demands of lawyers and how they provide their services. And it will continue to change, as adaptation feeds back against economic and social shifts already taking place.
And the following statement was made at the annual meeting of the New York State Bar Association held last week.
The future of the legal profession is brightest where forward-looking attorneys have the “energy, the optimism and the can-do attitude” to prosper in a shifting economic and technological age…
All I kept thinking was, ‘he’s describing solos!’ This is what solos do, stay optimistic and opportunistic, thriving when the landscape shifts because they are the most capable of clearly seeing what’s going on and adapting faster. They are the ‘forward’ thinkers
Some of the changes in the legal profession specifically noted:
“Aware of it or not, virtually every lawyer now operates in a globalized environment with increased competition. A solo practitioner in Elizabethtown, N.Y., can have a client with a legal problem involving a supplier in China. A law firm in Manhattan can send legal work to Bangalore as easily as it can to an associate on its 32nd floor. A solicitor from Toronto can represent a client with legal interests in Buffalo, just a few miles [kilometers] down the road.”
What I found especially interesting, however, was two-fold:
1. Open acknowledgment of the following:
- need for technology
- need for alternative fee structures
- lawyer burnout is real and work/life balance issues must be addressed
- how ill-prepared graduates are
- willingness to participate in the national debate regarding student debt load
- recognition legal services may soon be coming to a shopping mall kiosk near you
- virtual law offices are here to stay
- legal education must be overhauled
- if delivery of legal services in this country doesn’t ‘shape up’ clients will continue to ‘ship out’ to alternate providers.
2. An actual responsible game plan to address all of these issues.
The article is so complete, no point in reinventing the wheel here. Please read the article ‘Lawyers Face New Challenges From Global Competition‘. And then take the time to read the actual report (110 pages but worth it.)
Now, one could argue they are a day late and dollar short for many graduates suffering from lack of training and crushing debt, they are way behind the curve in responding at all on alternative billing and virtual law practices, and this task force was necessitated not by genuine concern but grandstanding under pressure to address.
One could argue creating a task force to determine the pros and cons of closing the barn door after the horse has left is typical and that the NYSBA is so far behind other states who have already addressed these issues they should be given no brownie points.
I don’t have the answer and I don’t really want to form a judgment. What I am impressed with, however, are the particular elements of legal education and professional life chosen to be addressed. Whether anything of value happens and in what time frame has yet to be seen.
What do you think?