Monday, May 6, 2013

I think maybe people are asking the wrong question

Over at The TaxProf Blog, there is a review of a book that sets out the question of whether Big Law is dying. The author of the book,  Steven J. Harper (Former Partner, Kirkland & Ellis; Adjunct Professor, Northwestern), The Lawyer Bubble (Basic Books, 2013), thinks there is a crisis in legal education and in the employment model for lawyers in Big Law. The Tax Prof excerpts a review of that book by Richard A. Epstein (NYU) who purports to refute Harper's hypothesis. The TaxProf excerpts a part of Epstein's review that proves to me that Epstein is either a liar or a moron. He writes:

Ironically, Mr. Harper misses the most significant recent dislocation in the practice of law, which is at the consumer end of the market: the rise of low-cost online law firms like LegalZoom and RocketLawyer that aid clients in drafting standard partnerships, wills, leases and the like. These firms pose a mortal threat to sole practitioners, not to Big Law.
. . .
Mr. Harper's blunderbuss condemnation of most large firms and most law schools is off-target. By and large, they have proved resilient in a competitive legal climate.
Epstein apparently believes that Big Law has adapted well to the changing legal-services environment. That is largely true -- but don't suggest that to former partners of the now-extinct firms of Howrey or Dewey & Laboeuf. What Epstein ignores is that those Big Law firms that remain with us -- granted, it is the vast majority of them -- have done so by viciously cutting the number of associates they hire and other cost-cutting measures. Yes, the firms survived, but they don't employ the numbers they used to, which was Harper's point. As for the hammer-blows to the sole practitioners -- all true, but irrelevant to the Big Law argument. All Epstein did is prove that pretty much all legal employment candidates -- whether they are big-school, Big Law candidates or people hoping to go back to their home town and do wills and divorces -- are getting pummeled. Not seeing this as a good thing.

Ultimately, Big Law will survive. That isn't the question, really. Just don't look to them to hire big numbers of new graduates the way they used to. The real question remains, is it a good idea to go to law school these days, not whether Big Law is going to survive. Yes, Big Law is going to survive. But given the scaling-back at Big Law and the pressures on Small Law, I think the answer to the real question is, No.

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