True, the American Museum of Tort Law (and its Unsafe Pinto T-shirt) looks fun. But is that enough reason to advocate a legal career?

True, the American Museum of Tort Law (and its Unsafe Pinto T-shirt) looks fun. But is that enough reason to advocate a legal career?

Just as February begins, I’ve decided to share with you my column from this month’s issue of Arizona Attorney—for a single reason, framed as a question at the end of my column.

Namely, would you encourage someone to go to law school today? If so, what qualities would you stress that they should have or develop to maximize the value of the experience?

Here’s the piece:

 

“Bullish” is typically how I would describe my viewpoint about the future of the legal profession. We certainly face challenges, even big ones, and I do not agree with those who think things will return to “normal”—if normal means bushelfuls of billable hours, clients who don’t scrutinize invoices, the elimination of offshore legal services, and equity partnerships for those who simply put in the time.

Despite the new normal, I remain confident that the field is a worthy one to pursue—even if you accumulate some student debt along the way. In a month featuring Valentine’s Day, the law still deserves our love.

RBG Valentine via Georgetown Law Weekly

RBG Valentine via Georgetown Law Weekly

But what if I have to put my money where my mouth is? What if the lawyerly profession were to darken my own door? Would I be so sanguine?

That occurred to me over the holiday season, when my daughter was home from university. She’s a sophomore, studying a decidedly non-prelaw major. But this past semester, she took an elective on Business Law—and liked it very much. (Except for the way the instructor taught torts, which seemed pretty dull to her. I explained that when you get beyond business torts, you’re into eye-opening and awe-inspiring territory. Maybe we’ll take a field trip to the American Museum of Tort Law in Connecticut!)

For the first time ever, I heard our daughter say that she would consider aiming for a law degree after college.

Gulp. Time to decide if I walk the walk.

And my hesitation to embrace a legal future for someone I care for is not unique. I recently spoke with a partner at a large multistate law firm. He had previously reached positions of national prominence in the realm of criminal and civil law, and now is a shareholder in a respected, white-shoe national firm. The law has been very good to him.

Despite that, he confessed his own hesitation when his son, a recent college graduate, mentioned he may sit for the LSAT. “I wasn’t sure what to tell him,” the attorney admitted to me. “But I certainly didn’t encourage it.”

In a time when job prospects are still sparse and the practice is shifting in numerous ways, how do we encourage future applicants in a LegalZoom era? How do we describe the field, and what core skills do we emphasize as the future of a profession? How do we characterize important elements like fulfillment, service, and meaning in 2016 and beyond?

Your thoughts are welcome at arizona.attorney@azbar.org. The legal field—and at least a few of our kids—would appreciate the input.

What's coming in the legal profession? We'd all like to know.

What’s coming in the legal profession? We’d all like to know.

Earlier this month, I said I would highlight a few industry predictions for 2014 from pros in various segments. Today, consider the insights of Dave Canfield, of UnitedLex.

Describing itself as a “global provider of legal and data solutions,” the company put together a list of some of the major trends that are currently influencing the legal industry.

Those trends include the following areas:

  • Legal outsourcing
  • Law firm innovation and the cloud
  • Law school innovation and consolidation
  • General counsel priorities and return on investment

Dave’s article is here. It’s worth reading and saving. And you can reach him directly at dave.canfield@unitedlex.com.

One other topic examined previously by the firm but unmentioned in this article is that of cybersecurity and the legal industry. Among the challenges will be internal and external attacks on law firm networks, and managing the increased desire for staff to participate in the BYOD (“bring your own device”) movement.

The legal industry is facing a landscape that is unlike any it’s confronted in a generation. How has your law office been affected by the altered economy? Have any new practices areas saved your bacon? Have new technologies or methods provided increased profitability in unexpected ways?

Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org. We may help tell your story in Arizona Attorney.

Psst. If you think privacy law is a growing practice area for attorneys, you're one of the few.

Psst. If you think privacy law is a growing practice area for attorneys, you’re one of the few.

Magazine folks and legal commentators all try to assess (OK, “guess”) where the legal profession is headed. And one of the important elements in that horse-race is determining what practice areas are growing—and which are shrinking.

Last week, legal staffing firm Robert Half International issued another of its studies of lawyer perception. This one reported on attorney responses to questions about areas that will have the most revenue opportunities in the future.

I was not surprised (nor was anyone) that “Litigation” and “General business commercial law” held onto the top two berths (59% and 31% of respondents, respectively, view those as growth areas). That fact may be true, but it doesn’t illuminate much about law practice. Even otherwise-educated lawyers, who know that those broad terms encompass a wide variety of practice areas, routinely select those umbrellas when surveyed.

So we’ve been taught to look instead at what came in at Numbers 3, 4 and so on.

Health care law is seen by a pretty resounding 14% of lawyer respondents to be a growth opportunity. Now that’s interesting. After that, bankruptcy/foreclosure (8%) and labor & employment (7%) follow.

Surprising to me is that “privacy, data security and information law” languishes at just 4%. Really? We are inundated with a barrage of news that reveals how significant those areas are in every area of modern life. I think that attorneys who can marshal the experience and knowledge to guide that conversation have to be making a winning gamble. Apparently, though, only few lawyers want to roll the dice.

Read more about the survey results here.

And what do you think the growth areas are? And once you identify them, are you able to mobilize to develop new lines of work?

Infographic_Robert Half growing practice areas

Reality’s on hold: In response to a global shift in the legal industry, forty-five percent of law firms may have opted for “no changes needed.”

Reality’s on hold: In response to a global shift in the legal industry, forty-five percent of law firms may have opted for “no changes needed.”

This month, legal management consultant Altman Weil released another in its series of surveys describing where we are (and aren’t) in the legal services industry.

There may be few surprises for those who have been paying attention as nearly everything about the legal profession changes. But I must admit to raised eyebrows as I read down into the Altman release accompanying the link to its “Law Firms in Transition” survey. Here’s what they report. I’ll stop when I get to the surprises:

“The fifth annual Law Firms in Transition Survey shows the evolution in thinking of law firm leaders on legal market trends and how firms are responding to market changes in 2013.”

“‘There have been some dramatic shifts in opinion about the business of law over the last few years, but a lot less tangible action,’ said Altman Weil principal and survey author, Tom Clay. ‘Most firms seem to be operating in a short-term, defensive mode driven by market threats rather than opportunities.’”

“Ninety-six percent of law firm leaders say they believe ‘more price competition’ is a permanent change in the legal market in 2013, according to the survey. Additionally, eight out of ten firm leaders think ‘more non-hourly billing’ is here to stay. In contrast, only 29% of leaders report that their firms have significantly changed their strategic approach to pricing since the recession.”

I’ll pause while you re-read that last sentence. Thinking it a typo, I had more than one go at it.

Back to the press release:

“Law firms’ primary response to pricing pressure appears to be discounts. The survey found that a median of 21% to 30% of legal fees are discounted. In firms with 250 or more lawyers, the median amount of fees discounted goes up to 31% to 40%.”

“‘Discounting is not a strategy,’ said Clay. ‘In fact, it undermines the idea of value and it’s a margin killer.’”

“Ninety-six percent of survey respondents also believe that a ‘focus on improved practice efficiency’ is a permanent change in the legal market. Ninety percent of leaders say there will be ‘more commoditization of legal work;’ and 79% expect ‘more competition from non-traditional service providers.’”

Ready for the one–two punch? Here is is:

“Despite this broad consensus, only 45% of leaders report their firms have made significant changes in strategic approach to efficient legal service delivery.”

That’s called burying the lede, Altman Weil! More than 90 percent of law firm respondents are able to identify serious structural challenges that face their industry. Then, with a steely gaze, only 45 percent have actually done anything to change their approach.

Altman Weil logoAm I reading that right?

Irony affects all professions, I suppose. But it is striking that in a field in which virtually all participants have sat through a course called “Evidence,” about half of them eschew evidence-based analyses.

Is that unfair? Perhaps the global changes sweeping the law field are somehow exempting half the law firms from the revolution. Please tell me I’m wrong to be surprised at the non-reaction.

In the meantime, “Law Firms in Transition: 2013” is available for download here.

Phoenix School of Law - ©Kevin_Korczyk

Phoenix School of Law (©Kevin_Korczyk)

This week, it seems that all the news is coming out of the law schools.

No, I’m not going to cover the revelation of this year’s US News & World Report law school rankings (otherwise known as the one element that keeps people reading US News & World Report). Instead, I point to another effort of a law school to transform itself to meet the shifting demands of possible students.

The story is a mild one, referring to the Phoenix School of Law’s alteration of its semester structure. As the article opens:

“Phoenix School of Law (PSL) announced that it is expanding its current schedule from two academic terms to three academic terms beginning in the fall of 2013. The academic terms will start in the fall, spring and summer. Students have the option of attending either two or three terms during the academic year. The new structure offers significant advantages to students and is responsive to challenges currently facing legal education and the legal industry.”

The whole story is here.

In an economic downturn, every change—even a “mild” one—is a potential game-changer. As more and more college graduates nationwide decide to forego a legal education that appears to be only tangentially related to the possibility of landing an actual law job, maybe changes like the semester structure could be persuasive.

What do you think?

In an upcoming post, I’ll examine the newest (and boldest) effort of the ASU College of Law to enhance its offerings—by opening a for-profit law firm to employ some of its grads.

How’s your law practice these days? Or, as an earlier age may have asked, “Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

I speak to many lawyers about just that issue, and more and more are cautiously optimistic that the economy is turning around. Of course, it turns like a container ship laden with now-obsolete goods. But still, brighter days may be ahead.

Many other lawyers, though, face one of the worst times of their careers. They reach for any answers that may help them weather this storm.

Still, though, lawyers like to put a bright face on it. How many of us, for example, are willing to call our part in the economy “stagnant”?

A bit depressing, don’t you think? Or maybe that’s just another way of being honest.

Ari Kaplan

Hats off, then, to Ari Kaplan, for that if for nothing else. Today at about noon, he addresses students at the ASU Law School—and other lawyers free in the middle of the day—to explore “How to Stand Out in Today’s Stagnant Economy.”

There’s that word again. But who is going to argue the fact?

Here is how the event is described:

Nationally recognized author Ari Kaplan presents “How to Stand Out in Today’s Stagnant Economy”

Learn how to reach the people you want to meet and successfully develop long-term professional relationships for job leads and future business. After attending this 1-hour program, you will be able to:

  • Use technology to more effectively raise your profile
  • Build stronger connections to leading professionals
  • More successfully reach out to prospective employers

In addition to teaching you proven techniques for establishing a strong reputation, becoming a more dynamic networker and honing your potential for career development, Mr. Kaplan is providing each student with a full-length audio version of his book (a $26 gift).

More information on Ari Kaplan is here and here.

Among other things, Kaplan is the author of Reinventing Professional Services: Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace and  The Opportunity Maker, Strategies for Inspiring Your Legal Career Through Creative Networking and Business Development

I’ll be there, and I’ll be happy to report back what his strategies are. A one-hour session may not unearth us from a stagnant economy, but every little bit helps.

“It’s the economy, stupid,” may be the recurring voter mantra, according to a story today in the Arizona Republic. According to reporter Daniel González, jobs and the economy have eclipsed immigration as a significant factor in voters’ assessment:

“Heading into the 2012 election season, illegal immigration is no longer the red-hot political issue it was just a few years ago.

“This month’s recall of Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce shows the subject has peaked, according to some analysts.”

Well, maybe. But if the Pearce recall was about immigration, as the reporter suggests it was, and that recall happened just 13 days ago, then it may be a bit early to declare immigration dead on arrival. (You can read the whole article here.)

The November issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine includes a pointed article on one approach to illegal immigration. It is a federal endeavor called Operation Streamline.

As author Juan Rocha explains:

“To reduce and deter illegal immigration, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched Operation Streamline. Under this program, the federal government prosecutes a large number of people who illegally enter (or leave) the United States, and imprisons them. But prosecuting mass numbers of people, every day, cannot be done without taking shortcuts.

“Though journalists and academicians have written articles about whether Operation Streamline is or is not good public policy, what follows is a description of the actual Streamline process from the perspective of a defense attorney who has worked in Yuma and Tucson, where the federal government executes streamline prosecutions.”

Read the complete article here.

Does Streamline cut corners, as Rocha maintains? Others have agreed with our author. For instance, here is an article by Stephen Lemons in which he calls the initiative an “immigration boondoggle.” (And the great illustration used at the top of this post came from that article; it was created by artist Brian Stauffer.)

Though the economy appears to be taking center stage in political battles, we’ll continue to examine immigration and border issues in the coming year.

In that regard, what would you like to see us cover? Let me know by commenting below.

The other day, thinking I was keeping current, I posted the following photo on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page:

Head-gripping fear and anxiety

The debt crisis and the ensuing Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the United States have been in the news a lot lately, so why shouldn’t we reflect that on our page? (I thought.)

Little did I know that I was merely swept up in a cliché—the Trader With His Hands On His Head Photo.

It’s true. News outlets around the world appear to have captured people on trading floors hands-on-head—a lot! So much so that a wise and smart-assy person created an entire Tumblr page dedicated to the prevalence of that recurring image.

I felt a little silly, until I remembered, that’s why they call it pop culture. It’s popular.

Have a great weekend, and don’t hold your own head too tightly.

By the way (not to bury the lede), I’ve decided to launch my own Tumblr page. It’s quiet so far, but its potential is mighty!

Lynda Shely speaks on the ethical rules

This week, I posted some more photos from a great past event—the State Bar of Arizona Solo and Small-Firm Conference. And then I read a story in the New York Times that got me thinking about law school and law practice, which reminded me of the conference all over again.

The conference was last November 18 and 19, and it brought together presenters who could speak best to issues that affected those lawyers.

It kicked off with co-chair Paul Ulrich describing the conference goals:

  • “To help us all in our practice in these changing times.”
  • “To achieve a more focused, profitable practice.”

 

Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch at the conference

Arizona Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch also spoke at the conference opening. She talked eloquently about the dire economy the nation faces, in the face of which many new lawyers decide to open up their own shop.

“I encourage all of you with experience to take these new folks under your wing. Times are tough, and they’ll need your help.”

This weekend’s New York Times told a sad tale of the legal marketplace. Titled “Is Law School a Losing Game?” the story explained how “Since 2008, some 15,000 attorney and legal-staff jobs at large firms have vanished, according to a Northwestern Law study. Associates have been laid off, partners nudged out the door and recruitment programs have been scaled back or eliminated.”

In the face of these facts, any conference dedicated to solo lawyers is especially well timed.

Slide from the Solo and Small-Firm Conference

Based on other data, Chief Justice Berch noted that most people who require a lawyer’s services will likely hire a solo lawyer or small firm. And that comes with a responsibility.

“Arizona citizens must depend on you for the bulk of legal services. Their image of the justice system is formed by their interactions with you.”

Presenters at the two-day conference included lawyer Lynda Shely, law firm marketer Jeff Lantz, the State Bar’s Susan Traylor, and Catherine Sanders-Reach of the American Bar Association. They headed up panels on topics as diverse as ethical marketing tips, fee agreements. Going paperless, and even a program titled 61 Tips in 60 Minutes. And Tucson lawyer Kathleen McCarthy gave a variety of ergonomic and exercise tips to improve your day (and your posture).

Here’s hoping that this becomes an annual event.

Kathleen McCarthy gives the audience her all

More photos are here.