Wednesday, May 8, 2013
A few days ago we posted an excerpt of a fairly harsh review of Steven Harper's new book The Lawyer Bubble courtesy of the Wall Street Journal. Harper, as you may remember, blogs at The Belly of the Beast. Today comes a more favorable review via Adam Cohen at Time magazine.
Continue reading Mr. Cohen's review here.
Is There a Lawyer Bubble?
A new book by a former litigator at Kirkland & Ellis, one of the nation’s largest law firms, has delivered a frisson to the already rattled legal profession. In The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis, Steven J. Harper argues that legal jobs are disappearing not because of short-term economic fluctuations but because of powerful long-term trends.
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Harper begins his case with a basic and troubling set of facts: roughly 45,000 law students graduate each year with an average of more than $100,000 in debt — and only about half of them will find long-term, full-time jobs that require a legal degree. Even for graduates who get law jobs, he argues, the legal world is changing fast. Law firms that once prized professionalism and collegiality, he says, are increasingly operating like typical bean-counting businesses. And many law graduates are finding work only as “contract attorneys,” which often means doing document-review drudgery for low pay.
The decline in the market for lawyers is being driven by an array of forces. For some time now, but particularly since the economic downturn of 2008, corporate clients have been less willing to sign off on hefty legal bills. They have increasingly been balking at the top hourly rates of $1,000 that some partners charge — and at costly expenses, ranging from air travel to sushi dinners to copying charges.
And as a result of globalization, an increasing share of American legal work — particularly more by-the-numbers assignments, like document review — is being shipped overseas. Lawyers in India and other lower-wage markets are willing to do the work for a fraction of what American law firms would charge. Taking away even more of this work: newly sophisticated legal software that can do “document review” and other tasks for which lawyers were once needed.
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Harper’s big-picture argument is undoubtedly correct, and it is a real cause for concern. Bar associations and legal academics have begun talking about how the profession should adapt — discussions that are long overdue. The biggest problem with The Lawyer Bubble is not the warning it is sounding but its title; unlike tulips and other speculative bubbles in the past, lawyers will always be a necessity not a fad. But then, The Very, Very Challenging Job Market for Lawyers doesn’t have the same ring to it.