Mark Cohen discusses his career and the changing legal market on LegalBusiness World podcast.
Citibank’s concerns are supported by findings of the cybersecurity firm Mandiant that says at least 80 of the 100 biggest firms in the country, by revenue, have been hacked since 2011.
What should law firms be doing to mitigate the very real — if not imminent — risk of cyber-breaches whose consequences can often be devastating both to the firm as well as to its clients?
Ok, so the decision to pursue or forego a legal career hardly elevates to Prince Hamlet’s existential choice of living a pained life or ending it to endure something perhaps worse. But let’s face it: embarking upon a legal career is no longer a reserved seat for a comfortable, predictable career journey.
To the contrary, those about to embark upon that journey confront: (1) the daunting cost of law school; (2) an average of $120K debt for attending; (3) a job market where, nationally, close to half of all graduates do not have Bar-required employment nine months after graduation; (4) a widespread market perception that law school graduates — even those from elite schools — lack “practice ready” skills; (5) cut-backs in hiring newly minted lawyers — even among many stalwart law firms; (6) an erosion of mentorship due in part to pressure on senior lawyers to “produce” more (7) the unlikelihood of making (equity) partner; (8) instability of law firms; (9) global competition; (10) technology companies creating products that replace services; and (11) a blizzard of negative press trumpeting the glum prospects for the profession; and (12) alternative career choices–finance, accounting, technology, etc.– that portend greener pastures and do not require the same time and financial commitment to prepare for entry.
So how do you respond to a wide-eyed young person who asks, “Should I become a lawyer?”
It’s Rarely a Simple Answer
Whether or not someone should become a lawyer does not lend itself to a “one size fits all” answer. Some variables include: (1) what other options are available? ; (2) is there a particular reason why the person wants to become a lawyer (to save the environment, to represent undocumented aliens, etc.)? ; (3) does the individual have financial means — or access to them — to pay for law school and, if not, what is the risk tolerance for assuming (additional) education debt? (4) can she get admitted to a highly ranked law school or exact a good financial deal from a lower ranked one?; (5) what are the expectations of the individual going into law school? (a reality check may be necessary); (6) does the individual have other skills (languages, business or technical background, etc.) that could be leveraged and serve to distinguish them from others?; and (7) how informed is the prospect about the job market, especially relative to the cost—actual and lost opportunity—of attending law school?
The list of variables goes on, of course, but if law schools are not willing to provide their version of “informed consent,” then the “caveat emptor” student/buyer must conduct independent due diligence. And make no mistake about it: law students — like students generally — are “emptors” of the institution they enroll in and have a right, if accepted, to be trained for the legal marketplace not as it was even a decade ago but as it is today. Law schools are not guarantors for matriculated students’ success, but they do — at least in my judgment — bear responsibility to imbue students with a cursory understanding of the current global legal marketplace as well as provide them with doctrinal and practical skills necessary to be “market ready” upon graduation and passing the Bar. And “market ready” today means something very different than it did until recently when law students transitioned to law firms and received years of client subsidized training and mentorship. [Read more…]
Disruption, as defined by Clayton Christensen in The Innovator’s Dilemma, refers to the process by which an industry dominated by high cost and complex products or services is transformed by innovation marked by certain key elements: simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability. Technology, of course, has been the principal catalyst for disruption, providing a global channel of communication between providers and consumers — a global marketplace.
With consumers (clients) at the retail and corporate segments of the legal marketplace vocalizing their dissatisfaction with the legal status quo in high-pitched crescendo, the legal vertical would seem ripe for disruption.
So why has it not occurred, what’s preventing it, and what form might it take?
A Quick Story Underscoring The Prevalence of Disruption
Seeking a break from what was fast becoming a summer grind, my wife and I recently decided to retreat from DC and spend a long weekend in California.
“I’ll look at travel sights for flights,” I said.
My wife quickly replied, “I have already checked out Airbnb and have a cute place you’ll like — I’m looking at Yelp now for some new places to eat.”
I don’t even have to tell you that we took Uber to the airport, do I? [Read more…]
“Simple” versus “Simplistic”
Why can’t lawyers make things simpler? After all, if they were to apply a “relevancy” test (think: The Rules of Evidence) to each of the matters and tasks they perform, wouldn’t the product be delivered faster, cheaper and unambiguously with no compromise of quality? Who is served by abandoning plain language and shrouding the intent of contracts, for example, in pages of arcane, redundant, and unimportant “legal speak”? Certainly not clients.
IBM’s legal department struck a blow for simplicity recently when they distilled dozens of pages of abstruse contracts for cloud services into a simple, two-page document. Why did they do this? Because the “standard” 30-page agreement extended the sales cycle, frustrated customers, and, in some instances, cost the company business. This is an example of an attorney performing valuable service to the client by taking proactive measures to simplify things. It begs the question: “Why don’t lawyers do this more often?” Two areas ripe for such proactive measures are litigation avoidance and streamlining all standard agreements. And what’s wrong with making things—as IBM’s lawyers did—simpler? [Read more…]
Lawyers in the retail segment of the legal market have priced themselves beyond the reach of most clients, individuals and small businesses. This is commonly referred to as “the access to justice crisis. ” There are fixes to the problem: competition (the glut of lawyers should yield price reduction); technology which enables lawyers to connect as never before and to create new and more efficient ways to deliver legal services; legal products, especially legal forms delivered online (formerly services provided by lawyers/law firms); and regulatory changes that would encourage new market entrants, stimulate competition, reduce prices, and provide consumers (clients) with much-needed access and options. Another key element must be added to this list: many tasks that lawyers routinely handled need not be performed by an attorney. In fact—and this is routinely occurring in the corporate market segment–service providers often perform these tasks better, faster, and cheaper than law firms do. Why, then, is this not happening in the retail segment where demand for legal services outstrips supply and price is the problem?
The Numbers Are Daunting
Just how big a crisis is the lack of “access to justice”? Let’s start with some basics. Lawyers nationwide charge an average of $200 to $300 per hour. And we all know about “hour creep” and lawyers’ abhorrence of budgets, especially when dealing with less sophisticated legal consumers who tend not to ask for them. The average annual legal spend for small business has been pegged at $7,600, a crippling sum for mom and pop shops and even more so for individuals. That is why it is estimated that approximately 60% of all U.S. small businesses go unrepresented when they have a significant legal issue (even a “bet the company” case). The number of unrepresented individuals is significantly higher. I was recently told by a Bar President that over 90% of divorce cases in his jurisdiction had at least one pro se party. He estimated that well over 75% of those in need of legal representation are unrepresented. [Read more…]