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Author Topic: Lawyers = Commodity?  (Read 1142 times)

Morten Lund

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Lawyers = Commodity?
« on: June 03, 2011, 04:55:45 PM »
Law jobs, previously outsourced, are being insourced back

Does this trend indicate a permanent shift in the law firm business?  Is the junior associate as we know it a thing of the past?

If entry-level legal work is broadly done at plumber rates, does that change law school choices?

So many questions here...


Thane Messinger

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Re: Lawyers = Commodity?
« Reply #1 on: June 03, 2011, 05:48:49 PM »
If entry-level legal work is broadly done at plumber rates, does that change law school choices?

So many questions here...

Most interesting, Morten -

It would not be surprising to see at least a modest swing of the employment pendulum, albeit in a more sustainable direction.  (For those aficionados of Vincent Price, be careful with the sharp end of those pendula.)  In the long term, this is not a bad thing: It is hard to justify $200 for an hour of document review, and it is equally hard to justify a six-figure salary for any new graduate.

For all who are not in the T14/Top 10%/Law Review brackets, this can be a very good thing:  search for those options open on a more realistic level, and focus on getting very, very good at the actual practice of law.  A few years out, no one will care about the world of 2011 (just as no one now cares about the busts of the mid-1980s or early 1990s), and for the very best practitioners, those stratospheric salaries are still there.

Thane.

PS:  For those familiar with union scale in the trades, a plumber rate is not bad.  Not bad at all.   = :   )

john4040

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Re: Lawyers = Commodity?
« Reply #2 on: June 03, 2011, 07:04:46 PM »

For all who are not in the T14/Top 10%/Law Review brackets, this can be a very good thing:  search for those options open on a more realistic level, and focus on getting very, very good at the actual practice of law.  A few years out, no one will care about the world of 2011 (just as no one now cares about the busts of the mid-1980s or early 1990s), and for the very best practitioners, those stratospheric salaries are still there.

The idea is great if you're just interested in making a decent wage, doing mind-numbing work that a monkey could do, and don't mind being stuck there.  In doc review, you don't really learn anything of significant value, thus, you never really can become one of the "very best practitioners" and reach those stratospheric salaries. Assuming you decide to leave the doc review position, it is, in a litigation firm's eyes, as though you went off the legal path for years and now wish to return with little to no valuable skills and the idea that you should somehow make more money because you have years of "experience."

I'd rather do shitlaw and learn real litigation skills than take up one of these "career associate" positions.  These positions will create a caste system of the have and have-nots within firms.  The highly-coveted junior associates will still make $160K -- possibly more given that the firm has lowered the number of those positions.  The "career associates" will be stuck in a rut with no skills.

Morten Lund

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Re: Lawyers = Commodity?
« Reply #3 on: June 03, 2011, 07:55:58 PM »
These positions will create a caste system of the have and have-nots within firms.  The highly-coveted junior associates will still make $160K -- possibly more given that the firm has lowered the number of those positions.  The "career associates" will be stuck in a rut with no skills.

... and that was where I was going with my plumber note.  This could make (some) lawyers "tradesmen" instead of "professionals," with pay and status to match.

I might even see a full bifurcation of law schools, where some schools basically become trade schools - low tuition, courses aimed at doc review et al - and others remain professional schools, charging high tuition from the hopeful and teaching little of immediate value.

On a more immediate level (for me, anyway), this trend towards quasi-temp lawyering for basic stuff has caused a major problem for BigLaw.  Combined with computer advances, this makes it very difficult for BigLaw to train its associates.  Back in the day, junior associates spent endless hours reading documents, sitting silently in conference rooms, proofreading correspondence, and other semi-menial tasks that - while mind-numbing - provided immediate immersive training in the business and profession of BigLaw, all while charging the client $200/hour.

This work is mostly gone now.  Some has gone to the outsourcers, and some has been eaten by computers.  This has made the firms far more efficient, and allows them to provide higher levels of service to their clients at breakneck speeds, but it leaves precious few opportunities for legitimate billable training for junior associates.  That means that junior associates are not as profitable as they were, which upsets the whole law firm business model while simultaneously choking off the supply of future high-billing-rate BigLaw partners.

I view this as a natural progression, but one that is ongoing, and there is much change yet to come before we stabilize.

Thane Messinger

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Re: Lawyers = Commodity?
« Reply #4 on: June 05, 2011, 03:14:43 AM »
I'd rather do shitlaw and learn real litigation skills than take up one of these "career associate" positions.  These positions will create a caste system of the have and have-nots within firms.  The highly-coveted junior associates will still make $160K -- possibly more given that the firm has lowered the number of those positions.  The "career associates" will be stuck in a rut with no skills.


John, Morten, and All -

Excellent points.  The biglaw path, always narrow, has become almost a single-file trail. 

A slightly different take on the above:  For litigation especially, the actual practice of law is not the same as having a fancy office.  In point of fact, a new associate at the run-of-the-mill DA's, PD's, or JAG office will get MUCH more actual "experience" than most other new associates.  Clearly, as Morten states, the biglaw path is different in its approach, and for those lucky few, the skills for those who survive are fine-tuned to a great degree.  This is not, however, the end of the story.  Highly paid lateral positions are available (i.e., will be made) for experienced and good practitioners.  This should not be seen as the antithesis of biglaw (i.e., fecal-law).  Again this is most readily seen in litigation.  Spend a few years in any of the above offices--plus a real dedication to the craft--and to a large degree the biglaw question is moot.   The firm will come to YOU.  (Note:  it might actually be a top regional or even local firm one finds most attractive, rather than a national one.  There's a good discussion of this in Law School Undercover.)

Even in transactional work, it's easy to lose sight of the real value to a firm, which includes both law (meaning how to actually practice it) and network.  A law partner once said something rather disparaging about government lawyers, as if they were a sub-species.  While, on average, the government attorney might not have the same drive or even ability as the average biglaw attorney, this is very much a more nuanced question--and a revolving door.  Much of the missing equation--sorry to nag-- is actual quality. In each world, the competent (and incompetent) are well known.  The stars (and truly bad) moreso.  Do not think for a moment that your colleagues (and potential future employers) won't know.

The irony is that, once one does become good at a practice, the lure of a traditional law office is often attenuated.  Among many other factors, those overhead issues Morten mentions--plus the office headaches and much lower job security as a partner--can lead a successful pratictioner to wonder what the real attraction is.

That written, yes, yes, it is almost imperative to find a law office in which to start--the more real the better.