Legal Careers Changed for Good, not Better

Legal Careers Changed for Good, not Better

Students who receive jobs and actually begin work are still not safe.  In the past, large firms saw high rates of attrition as young associates decided the high salary was not worth the long hours, but as hiring froze, no lawyers voluntarily left firms because they had no where else to go, and law firms therefore had more lawyers than usual and less work to divide among them.  As a result, law firms laid off more than 4,600 lawyers last year.[1]  A partner at Willkie Farr in New York confessed, "'in the past, associates were a little oblivious' in presuming that if they 'simply showed up every day and didn't offend anyone, they were there indefinitely. They have had a wake-up call.'"[2]  Even if hiring were to pick up again, employment problems would not cease because today "there is a logjam, with 2L students bumping up against 3Ls and 3Ls bumping up against deferred new graduates and recently laid-off attorneys hitting the pavement hard-all chasing after the same jobs."[3]

Though the economy will eventually rebound and strengthen once again, that does not mean that job prospects for attorneys will follow suit.  Though the drastic decrease in law jobs was certainly fueled by the economy, the need for attorneys has been decreasing steadily for some time.  This demand reduction was also fueled by the Internet as savvy consumers now choose to get legal advice from Google rather than a member of their state's bar association, or customers often buy inexpensive software kits for wills, divorces, or other basic contracts.[4]  Additionally, "outsourcing and the rise of contract legal labor (getting cheaper, thanks to the swelling ranks of unemployed lawyers) play a large part."[5]  Though law students probably did not plan to pay down their law school debt doing document review that pays $25 per hour, recent graduates' large numbers and desperation to find any employment has lowered the price for contract work as well, not to mention the same effect caused by the international outsourcing of those same tasks.  As Above the Law editor David Lat put it, "It is harder to maintain that sense of esteem now that your contract work is being farmed out to low-cost lawyers in Bangalore."


Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP) is an organization based at Stanford Law School.   BBLP is a national grassroots movement that seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms. For more information, visit BBLP's Web site at www.betterlegalprofession.org.

Sources and Footnores:

[1] Alex Williams, "No Longer Their Golden Ticket," The New York Times, January 15, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/17/fashion/17lawyer.html?ref=fashion&pagewanted=all.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Sharon Driscoll, "Law Firm Hiring: Time for a Change?" Stanford Lawyer, 21 October 2009, http://stanfordlawyer.law.stanford.edu/?p=173.

[4] Sam Glover, "The Law School Bubble Is About to Burst," MinnPost, December 16, 2009, http://www.minnpost.com/samglover/2009/12/16/14327/the_law_school_bubble_is_about_to_burst.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Williams, "Golden Ticket."