The legal field is in a state of flux—many would say decline. I prefer “reconfiguration.” The forecast is bleak. The weight of the evidence supports the glum outlook: Law school enrollment is declining; student debt is escalating; and the job market for lawyers—newly minted and old-hands alike—is the worst it has been in decades.
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.
Why Should Anyone Invest in a Law Firm or a Legal Services Provider?
Mark A. Cohen, CEO of Legal Mosaic, Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, co-founder of Clearspire, and, formerly, noted civil trial lawyer, talks about the changed delivery system for legal services, the difference between law firms and new legal services providers and why investing into them could be an interesting decision.
Mark A. Cohen was interviewed by Bruno Mascello for one of a series of “Fireside Chats With Global Thought Leaders.”
Over decades the legal services market has been dominated by law firms. Nowadays time is changing in various views. We are still experiencing the consequences of the financial crisis in 2008, customers focus on insourcing work and new entrants, that do not work like traditional law firms, try to win a piece of the cake. Any key points to keep in mind when talking about such changes?
Historically, law firms have had a hegemony on legal service delivery -they did it all. In recent years things are different due disaggregation of legal services as well as a global labour arbitrage facilitated by technology, as described so well in Tom Friedman’s “The world is flat”, and by re-regulation of legal services in the UK, Australia, and, to a lesser degree, in other nations. As well, the notion that “only lawyers can do certain tasks” has effectively been debunked, especially after the global financial crisis of 2008 created belt tightening by business. As a consequence the delivery of legal services – as opposed to the practice of law – is changing very rapidly. The practice of law, which includes the rules of evidence and the ethical rules governing the conduct of lawyers, have not changed much at all since I became a young trial lawyer more than 35 years ago. However, the structure by which they deliver it has changed quite a bit. I would therefore underscore the distinction of these two points – legal practice versus the delivery of legal services – and not to use them interchangeably because they are different.
What distinguishes law firms from these new entrants to the legal market? [Read more…]
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines scholarship as: “the serious study of an academic subject and the knowledge and methods involved.” If we accept this definition and apply it to “legal scholarship,” there is a disconnect. Law professors are the profession’s self-designated “scholars.” But many of them have never practiced law. So how can they be deemed to have an understanding of “the knowledge and methods” of practice? And with little or no practice experience and an unfamiliarity with trends in the marketplace, how is their scholarship relevant to the tectonic shift in legal delivery?
This begs the question: why do law school professors have a stranglehold on legal scholarship? What about leading practitioners who help shape the law? And what about legal entrepreneurs who are reengineering the structures and methods by which legal services are being delivered?
And why are legal thought leaders not deemed to be engaged in legal scholarship when they explain-sometimes demystify-the legal ecosystem to law students, lawyers, and the general public? Why are these individuals, many of whom have drawn their scholarship from first-hand experience-not secondary sources-not considered legal scholars by the Academy? After all, was it not lawyers who decreed that hearsay is generally inadmissible? So much of what passes for legal scholarship is hearsay because so little of it has been derived from first-hand experience? [Read more…]
“What’s the sign say?” I asked.
“Don’t go off on a jag,” she said with a slight giggle, “It says ‘Future New Home of American University Law School.”
“Why now?” I blurted out with some salty language that followed.
The next morning I did a bit of research and learned that AU was by no means the only law school to sink huge dollars into a new facility. How could this be?
The law school building boom — and that is a fair characterization — in many ways mirrors the construction frenzy of undergraduate colleges and universities. At a time when there is more than one trillion dollars of outstanding student debt, “institutions of higher learning” continue their building arms race.
The justification is frequently “We’ve got to do it to remain competitive.” But do soaring atriums, student lounges, and workout facilities really promote learning and skills required for today’s job market? And, to be crassly pragmatic, do they enhance the return on investment for the debt ridden student body and family members who are often co-guarantors of financially crippling educational loans?
It’s remarkable — with the exception of a few elite law schools — that there has been any major law school construction after the 2008 financial crisis. After all, that is when the “new normal” began for the legal vertical. True, many remained convinced for a while things would return to the way they were, but as a friend of mine says of bad results, “how’d that work out for you?” [Read more…]
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…]