It’s time for the “legal profession check-in,” where we take a look at the state of matters for lawyers and law firms as a whole.
In the last article, we did a quick overview of the topics that this series is going to address. I also talked about the need for attorneys to start viewing their practices as businesses — and as such, make sure to pay attention to the advice I’ll be giving in future articles.
See, we’ve already discussed why quite a few law firms are bound to fail in the very near future. The bottom line is that things haven’t gotten any better recently, and in this post, we’re going to look at an important issue that may be part of the problem.
Warning: While it’s not my intention, this post has a good chance of ruffling a few feathers, so be prepared.
The Issue We’ll Cover Today
We’re looking at whether or not the recent actions of the ABA are hurting the legal profession.
And in my humble opinion, the answer is yes.
First, we’ll start by setting some background. Then, we’ll talk about how the recent actions of the ABA (or American Bar Association) will make things significantly harder for attorneys when it comes to making a living.
Again, this article is going to be entirely my own opinion. If you disagree, that’s fine. In fact, let me know down in the comments below so we can get a discussion going!
We’re going to look at three things.
First, let’s cover the extent to which we’re seeing an oversupply of attorneys, how that surplus is growing, and what it means for the profession as a whole.
Second, we’ll look at the ABA’s accreditation to a new law school (and my issues with it).
And lastly, we’ll dive into why the accreditation isn’t consistent with the ABA’s mission in the first place.
So let’s get right into it.
While I won’t cover the whole issue on the oversupply of attorneys (we already covered that in the previous article), we’ll be covering lots of numbers and math.
The numbers show that the oversupply is only getting worse. In December of 2006, the “legal services sector” employed 1,161,400 people. At the time, there were 1,116,967 attorneys in the United States. This means that there were 44,433 more people employed in the legal sector than there were attorneys in total.
By December of 2016, the whole situation changed. The profession had lost a significant number of jobs and only employed 1,126,100 people.
Let’s now consider that in December of ’16, there were 1,315,561 lawyers. In the decade that passed, we went from 44,433 more employees to 89,461 fewer employees than there were lawyers. We clearly have an overabundance of attorneys, and the numbers show that the surplus is only expanding.
During the first six months of 2017, we saw things change, with roughly 4,700 jobs added in the sector. The problem, however, is that approximately 20,400 attorneys came into the mix as well. This means that the surplus of attorneys, compared to the number of jobs in the legal sector, is growing when it really should be shrinking.
It’s important to understand how the increasing oversupply of attorney labor impacts your ability to run a practice.
As a legal professional, you’re trained in the law, so it’s essential to understand that those pesky laws, called “supply” and “demand,” will never be repealed.
The increasing attorney surplus impacts someone’s ability to get a job at a firm, but it also dramatically affects what a firm can charge. The fact is that the number of attorneys has increased by the same amount or lower than the number of employees in the legal profession if we want rates to stay where they are.
Attorneys in the United States are already struggling, with many of them still trying to pay off student loans. This signals a decrease in the number of law schools we have, not an increase, which leads me to the next point:
The ABA’s “Solution”
The ABA recently provided provisional accreditation to the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law. The mission of said school is to make law school highly affordable, with reports stating their tuition as low as $15,000 per year.
This is coming after years of declining enrollment in U.S. law schools. It looks like a new law school is the ABA’s answer to that decline.
My big problem with this, though, is this solution ignores the fact that we’ve already got way too many law schools. So rather than opening new schools to counter this, wouldn’t it make more sense to start closing schools and consolidating them?
The list of law schools that we have goes on and on, the last thing we need is more right now.
Some of the ABA’s stated purposes are to “Provide benefits, programs, and services which promote members’ professional growth and quality of life.”
But I have to ask the question:
Will opening a new law school meet that goal when the profession is already in an unhealthy spot? Because, again, the opening of new schools is the opposite of what we should be doing.
Opening a cheap law school isn’t necessary to increase access to justice. Instead, we should rely on the market to correct these issues.
As more attorneys struggle, a higher number of firms will reduce rates, and a higher number of attorneys will start solo practices. These attorneys will likely have to take on pro bono cases to get their names out there. And more attorneys will start engaging in public services programs as a way of getting their feet wet.
Or in other words, many of these issues are going to take care of themselves due to the oversupply of attorneys. So opening new low-cost law schools probably isn’t the right decision, in my humble opinion.
Do you agree or disagree with my take on the issue? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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