Law schools and firms have long had a symbiotic relationship. It’s not surprising, then, that they are are confronting similar challenges — an outdated model; entrenched stakeholders that oppose change; declining demand; high cost; failure to deploy technology and process/project management to promote more efficient delivery of services; high customer dissatisfaction; and customers ‘voting with their feet.’ Their challenges are the inevitable result of a failure to adapt to a changed marketplace. Most law schools and law firms—apart from a handful of elites—have two options: differentiate or die.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the regulatory body that oversees the legal profession in England and Wales, has enacted a major overhaul of legal training and solicitor licensure to take effect in 2020. Gone is the requirement solicitors must acquire a law degree for practice. In its place is a competency-based examination offering different paths to becoming a solicitor. The exam will not spell the end of traditional legal education in the UK—no doubt many aspiring solicitors will opt for some form of traditional legal study. But the exam’s emphasis on competency based learning and its experiential requirements will undoubtedly serve to update outdated legal curricula, reduce law student debt, and better serve the public by ensuring new entrants to the profession have core competency and a modicum of practical experience. If this sounds like medical training, it does to me, too.
Legal education has received a great deal of criticism in recent years—cost, student debt burden, declining enrollment and selectivity, a baffling building boom, graduates that are neither practice nor market ready, dismal job statistics, etc. What has been largely overlooked in the legal education discussion is the plight of a far larger segment of the legal ecosystem– practicing lawyers.
It’s A Whole New Ballgame
Lawyers are toiling in an industry that has been overhauled by a perfect storm of change agents– the global financial crisis of 2008 and its fallout; client dissatisfaction with existing delivery models; the escalating role of technology and process management in legal delivery-often referred to as ‘disaggregation’; an influx of legal service providers and the growth of in-house legal departments (read: law firm competition); and the creation of new delivery models. How will practicing lawyers receive the (re)-training necessary to survive—much less to thrive—in the new legal delivery order?
Most practicing lawyers were prepared for a legal marketplace that is vanishing. Their law school experience was steeped in doctrinal learning and, perhaps, a dollop of ‘real life’ exposure via clinics. And while that was just fine as recently as a decade ago, it’s not now. Legal delivery, once synonymous with the practice of law, is now a three-legged stool comprised of legal, technological, and process expertise. The vast majority of practicing attorneys have had little or no preparation for navigating the impact of technology and process/project management on legal delivery. Nor have they learned about collaboration, leadership, financial fluency, or other skills at law school or on the job where they are consumed by billing hours and making a living. That’s why practitioner re-education must be a part of the legal education reform discussion. It’s not just law students who must be educated for the new legal marketplace and where it’s headed; it’s practicing lawyers, too.
Mark Cohen co-authored this article with Colin LaChance.
With no more brass rings to strive for, what will motivate innovative young lawyers to spend their prime years in a traditional firm environment?
Dorota Turlejski launched Uplawed, an estate law boutique, in September 2015 following four years with a mid-size, full-service Ottawa firm. She was doing well with the firm that first took her on as an articling student, and was on her way to becoming a successful, traditional lawyer. Therein lay the problem. The more she became the sort of lawyer that does well in a traditional environment, the less she resembled the person she knew in her heart she was and wanted to be – a scientist with legal training.
Mark Cohen, founder and CEO of Legal Mosaic, talks with Lee Pacchia about legal education and the legal marketplace. Cohen notes “You can’t consider law schools without considering the legal market place.” He explains the interplay between the two and the need for greater collaboration between the Academy and the private sector.
Walter Cronkite, a legendary reporter turned news anchor at a time when that meant something substantially more than simply reading stories written by others, was asked why so much news was bad. He responded there were so many positive things that occurred every day that they simply did not elevate to “news.”
So, America’s most trusted man reasoned, that’s why so much of the news is bad. Wish the same could be said for news about the legal vertical, but even Cronkite could not make that case, because the legal sector seems to be inundated by bad news. And it comes from all quarters of the profession: debt-ridden, unemployed law graduates, laid-off associates and service partners, the free-agency mentality of rainmaking partners that has contributed to even more instability among law firms, disgruntled clients, the access to justice crisis—the bad news never seems to end for lawyers (at least for most of them). So, here’s a feel good story for law.