Sunday, January 4, 2015
Washington, DC. The AALS Section on Professional Responsibility hosted a vigorous discussion today on the evolving ethical duty of competency, a topic partially inspired by the recent changes to Model Rule 1.1 cmt. 8 (requiring lawyers to stay abreast of the "benefits and risks associated with relevant technology"). As part of this panel, I showed a chart on the size of the US legal market, which was promptly tweeted by CALI 's Director of Community Development, Sarah Glassmeyer, a law librarian who is a total data subversive in a style and manner I fully support.
Well, despite a less-than-optimal photo angle, the chart was retweeted and favorited, so I figured I ought to just post the actual chart here. [Click on to enlarge]
In a competitive market, the threshold question, asked by potential entrants and those who might finance them, is often the same: "what is the size of the available (or addressible) market?" Because lawyers and law schools are feeling unprecedented economic pressure, I thought it would be worthwhile to run this exercise for the U.S. legal industry and break it down by type of client.
The figures above are estimates of 2014 receipts going to organizations and individuals in the business of providing legal services. My calculations are derived from US Census Bureau data. They exclude the cost of in-house and government lawyers. More granular calculation details will be laid out in a forthcoming publication.
At today's AALS Professional Responsibility session, technology was framed as an ethical issue. And that is certainly right: technology can deliver enormous cost and quality benefits to clients, so we have both a fiduciary and professional duty to be up-to-date. Yet, there is a flip-side here that is crucially important -- to ignore or fall behind on technology is to run the risk of commercial ruin. This axiom applies to lawyers in private practice and to law schools that want employers to hire their graduates.
Building upon that theme, I used the Market Size chart to make two points today, one based on the high-end corporate market (right side of chart) and the other directed toward the individual consumer market (left side of chart).
Re the corporate side, the data show that a relatively small roster of large corporations are spending vast sums each year on legal services -- more than $10 million per year for a publicly held company. Because large national and international corporations are awash in a sea of growing legal complexity, they are turning to technology, process, and data to keep legal costs in line with overall company revenues. From the perspective of a large corporate client, the typical junior law firm associate has little to offer. A more seasoned partner or counsel is a better value, but this is by virtue of experience rather than technology or process. As a result, law firm hiring remains stagnant, and more legal work is being taken in-house or given to LPOs or New Law legal service providers like Axiom, Elevate, or Novus Law. It may take a generation for the law school--law firm--legal department supply chain to come into a reasonable alignment. Right now, it's broken.
Re the individual retail market, the $232 annual legal spend per citizen means that there is not enough money go around to pay for all the legal need. If a middle-class professional couple with kids has a contested divorce, that could easily chew-up $50,000 to $100,000 in legal fees. A DUI is likely to cost $1,500. A worker's comp claim might be 30% of an award. Probate work runs well into the thousands. In reality, most citizens go without. One of our co-panelists today, retired US Magistrate Judge John Facciola, made the claim that 83% of American never talk to a lawyer to help them with a legal problem. "The middle class is largely gone from federal court." To my mind, technology is the only vehicle for tapping into a large latent market for legal services. LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, Modria, Shake, and many other legal technology companies all see the potential here. And so do the venture capital and private equity firms that are funding them.
Today's panel was one of the most lively I have ever attended at AALS, owing in part to my excellent co-panelists but also an audience that asked some great, tough questions. Many thanks to Andy Perlman (Suffolk Law) for organizing a terrific session and Natasha Martin (Seattle) for her skillful moderation of the panel.