Some Thoughts About Law Firms and the Slide
I too received the comment to which Dave responded. And, I too, promised to say a little bit about the state of the legal job market. Although I think Dave is correct that many others write about this issue quite well, I also note that we have posted several pieces about legal education and shifts in how firms operate. In addition, I arranged a mobblog on legal education and cross-posted here, precisely because I think legal education will have to change. Right now a legal education bridges a gap left in undergraduate education. That gap will remain for some time. A good legal education, one where practice and theory work together to drill a student so that she has strong critical thinking skills, will serve anyone well. My instinct is that some practical business-related skills such as finance and business strategy might need to be added to the curriculum. Other than that shift, the core idea of training the hell out of someone so that they can take any set of facts and principles, digest them, and fashion a strong solution, will continue to create someone who can excel in law and a variety of disciplines. Nonetheless, who is hiring and in what areas remains to be seen.
One way to think about the layoffs may be to ask whether new lawyers had a shot at the big corporate jobs. With fewer of those spots open, of course some folks who thought they were going to be in a certain field may not be. Still the question may be understood as were the majority of new lawyers going to have a shot at those jobs? And would laid-off or in-coming lawyers who had/wanted those jobs still want to be lawyers but in litigation or other areas? In many cases, the answer would seem to be yes. Then again, give overall attrition from law practice and some people’s expectations; some may turn their back on the law, if it does not offer what they want. Dave pointed to Bill Henderson’s post about firm economics. It is excellent. Take a look at the post. Note that the salary perceptions and the realities diverge. This data is out there, but many may miss it. Bill does a great job showing how law firm salaries operate. And, as I have said before, law students should expect that they will have three to six years of good, but not six figure pay, as they finish their training (think medical residency). On a different note, firms could probably take a cut in per partner profit as a way to retain associates. I doubt that will happen. It may be that the big firms’ business model will not allow for that shift, but I am not in a position to evaluate the truth of that idea.