One commentator says private employers can take action now to reduce the downstream effects on people who were formerly incarcerated. ban the box

One commentator says private employers can take action now to reduce the downstream effects on people who were formerly incarcerated.

This decade may mark one of the most significant shifts in popular thinking about criminal justice issues. Those shifts implicate every stage of the process, from policing, to charging and sentencing, to release terms, and to those many invisible penalties often visited on formerly incarcerated people.

There is no monolithic view of these topics. But there does appear to be growing consensus that a mass-incarceration and lifetime-penalty approach has not served society well.

Another example of that came in Saturday’s Arizona Republic, where attorney Mark Holden penned an op-ed recommending that private companies voluntarily adopt ban-the-box in their hiring practices.

Don’t know what ban-the-box is? Here’s Mark:

Mark Holden, GC and SVP of Koch Industries

Mark Holden, GC and SVP of Koch Industries

“Right now, most employers require job-seekers to check a box on an application if they have any criminal record. Too often, this can function as an automatic ‘application denied’ for individuals with a blemish in their past.”

“Nationwide, some 650,000 incarcerated individuals rejoin society every year, and they desperately need jobs to help them transition back into society and to provide for themselves and their families. But the criminal record box often shuts them out of the job market before they can get a foot in the door.”

You can read his entire piece here.

(In an awkward headline difference: The print version is titled simply “Ban the Box: Have You Ever Been Convicted of a Crime?” Meantime, the online version has the pretty inflammatory headline “Arizona businesses should hire felons (or at least stop immediately asking them about their records)” Um, not quite, Arizona Republic. But nice try.)

What makes this especially interesting is Mark’s day job—he is the general counsel and senior vice president for Koch Industries. Yes, that Koch Industries, of the famed and very conservative Koch Brothers.

Felony convictions have a significant and long-lasting effect on the economy.

Felony convictions have a significant and long-lasting effect on the economy.

Understand, as Holden makes clear, Ban the Box does not mean employers entirely omit the felony question from the hiring process. But instead of being asked the moment an applicant begins the process, the question is delayed until later in the process—by which time an employer may have found that the person’s skills and personality are a great match for the firm.

This stance is another indicator that the chasm between viewpoints may be shrinking a bit between civil libertarians and those concerned about the massive costs society incurs when incarceration effects continue long after a person is released from prison.

If you have a view into the downstream effects of incarceration, I’d like to talk to you for a possible story. Write to me at


If ever you wonder about the future of the legal profession, this is the season to answer those questions. For it is in the early part of the year when prognosticators offer their view of the legal economy and the practice area outlook.

Today, I point you to Robert Half and Associates, which surveyed lawyers nationwide on their hiring predictions.

The short takeaway is that 26 percent of lawyers surveyed said they’d be expanding or adding new positions in the coming year. Of course, that means 74 percent said they would not be doing that, so I’m not sure how positive a message that is.

I will post more from RHA below, but I wonder what your own predictions are. In November, we published some of the results from a State Bar of Arizona member survey. There, many of you indicated a mildly positive outlook for the future—though it was certainly not a rave review.

You can read more about that survey here. Does it reflect your own views?

rh_classic_monogram Robert Half Legal logoAnd here again is Robert Half:

“The legal field should see additional hiring in the first half of 2015, new research indicates. Twenty-six percent of lawyers interviewed by Robert Half Legal said their law firm or company plans to expand or add new positions in the first six months of this year. Sixty percent of lawyers said they expect to only fill vacant posts, while 7 percent said they will neither fill vacant positions nor create new ones. Just 1 percent of survey respondents anticipate staff reductions.”

(If you like to see factoids reported via infographic, the company provides a good one here.)

Podcast? Why, sure. Go here.

As the company goes on to report:

Lawyers were asked, “Which one of the following practice areas, in your opinion, will offer the greatest number of job opportunities in the first half of 2015?” Their responses:*

Litigation 36%
General business/commercial law 14%
Real estate 9%
Regulatory or compliance 6%
Family law 6%
Labor and employment 3%
Healthcare 3%
Privacy, data security and information law 2%
Tax law 2%
Other 11%
None/don’t know/no answer 9%

*Total percentage does not equal 100 due to rounding.

Lawyers who cited “litigation” as a response also were asked, “Which of the following areas of litigation, if any, will offer the greatest job opportunities in the first half of 2015?” Their responses:**

Insurance defense 45%
Commercial litigation 23%
Employment 17%
Medical malpractice 8%
Personal injury 7%
Intellectual property 6%
Class actions 3%
Other 10%
Don’t know 5%

**Multiple responses were permitted.

A recently released survey sheds some light on law firm practice—its current status and future prognosis. Do its findings mirror your own experience?

Titled “Law Firms in Transition 2012,” the Altman Weil “flash survey” polled managing partners and chairs at 792 U.S. law firms with 50 or more lawyers. “Completed surveys were received from 238 firms (30%), including 40% of the 250 largest U.S. law firms.”

The executive summary provides a sober outlook of what’s ahead:

“The question is no longer whether to expect permanent changes in the competitive environment—those changes have arrived and are here to stay. Strong majorities of law firm leaders believe the practice of law will be permanently characterized by pricing pressures, further commoditization of legal work, new forms of competition and thus a need for improved practice efficiency.

“Firms have done the urgent things necessary to support profitability in the short term. Maintaining and growing profitability will be much more difficult going forward and will require addressing key elements of the business model.

“As for growth in volume, a return to the previous level of legal matters—if that occurs—will not result in previous levels of billable hours at high billing rates. The forces of commoditization have taken hold.”

I found some of the findings surprisingly specific and helpful. For example, the following broad conclusions were paired with specific findings:

  • “Opportunity still exists for firms that are willing to make the effort to figure out how to use alternative fee agreements effectively.”
  • “The pre-recession associate hiring binge is over, replaced by much more cautious and conservative hiring policies.”
  • “The retirement of the Baby Boom generation is a significant concern.”

Perhaps most interesting to me were the findings about hiring and training, for in almost no other area are lawyers and law students most affected. Altman Weil found:

“Firms continue to explore and invest in alternatives to hiring and developing newly minted lawyers:

  • Nearly a quarter of firms intend to increase their number of non-partner-track associates in 2012.
  • More than 80% of firms plan to maintain or increase their number of contract lawyers and paralegals in 2012, who in many cases will do work that associates used to do.
  • Two-thirds of firms (66%) think increased use of contract lawyers is a permanent trend—a 14-point jump since 2010.
  • Looking five years ahead, firms expect more reductions in partner-track associates than in non-partner-track associates or paralegals.”

In what may be one of the most candid bits of law writing to be penned in 2012, the researchers added:

“The cost of training will shift from the backs of clients to law firms. ‘Accidental training’ while billing huge numbers of hours is not a workable strategy going forward. Clients won’t allow it.”

“Accidental training”—you’ve got to love that.

Another helpful commentator reviewed the survey results and concluded:

“The 2012 Law Firms in Transition Survey reports that 92% of law firm leaders believe that more price competition will be a permanent fixture of the post-recession legal marketplace. This is more than twice the 42% who thought so in 2009 when the survey was first conducted.

“In 2012, 84% of firm leaders think more commoditization of legal work will be a permanent change, while only 26% of those surveyed thought that was the case in 2009. In 2012, 68% of firm leaders believe that there will be fewer equity partners in law firms than in the past, up from 23% who held that opinion three years ago. Today 55% of respondents think smaller first-year classes are a permanent trend, compared to a mere 11% who thought so in 2009.”

The survey also asked about confidence levels among law firm leaders, and their concerns for the future. Chapter coverage includes a focus on clients; economics and profitability; alternative fees; lawyers and staff; growth; and succession planning.

The complete Altman Weil survey may be downloaded and read here.

Do these findings reflect your own experience, and your own predictions? Even if you’re uncertain how to respond to its findings on hiring and the like, what do you think about “the forces of commoditization”? Are clients more likely to see legal work as a commodity today? And what outcomes flow from that?