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.

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Should all law-school graduates be this confident? (Reuters/Jim Bourg)

Should all law-school graduates be this confident? (Reuters/Jim Bourg)

How bullish are you on the practice of law? Are things getting rosier by the month, or is it too early to tell?

I ask because, well, it’s kind of my job to ask. But I also came across two recent articles that suggest the legal profession is in a watershed moment—not entirely great, but cautiously optimistic.

The first article (sent my way by the great communications pro Katie Mayer) examines the starting salaries of new associates, and it offers a more nuanced gaze than you might expect. Yes, the author admits, those salaries are marginally higher. But that may be due to the fact that more large firms are providing data. And even in those big firms, new lawyers are seeing lower salaries than in the heyday of law. Why? As big firms gobble up regional ones, those “new” lawyers in the smaller cities are not being paid close to the $160,000 that their big-city colleagues get.

As Max Nisen writes, “According to NALP, … many large firms have been buying up smaller, more regional firms outside major urban centers where pay is higher. Those smaller firms often don’t pay their associates $160,000, which lowers the percentage of large law firm salaries that start at that rate.”

See? Nuanced.

The second article, in the ABA Journal, explores the job market for new law grads. But its author honestly admits that while prospects may be up, that may be due to having fewer graduates in the marketplace. As fewer people opt to enter the law, those who remain may see marginally better opportunities.

Mark Hansen writes:

“Nearly 60 percent of all 2014 law school graduates were employed in full-time, long-term legal jobs, requiring bar passage, as of March 15, according to data released Wednesday [on April 29] by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.”

That is up nearly three percent from last year, Hansen say. You can see that data yourself here.

If this all is the new normal, at least it’s a slightly better version of normal.

Do the two articles reflect your experience? Are you cautiously optimistic too?

survey-says

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%
101%

*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.

Shawn C Marsh, Ph.D.

Shawn C. Marsh, Ph.D.

Bias? Why should the legal profession be concerned about bias—explicit or implicit?

As surprising as it might be to hear attorneys utter those words, they represent a position firmly held by some.

Meantime, on May 8, lawyers who thought otherwise packed two rooms—in Phoenix and Tucson—to hear an expert discuss implicit bias in the legal profession.

Hosted by the State Bar of Arizona, the presentation by Dr. Shawn Marsh answered my opening question handily: Because, perhaps even more than other professions, the legal profession and the legal system are peppered with decision points, each of which may go horribly awry because human beings are susceptible to bias.

First, let me give you the good doctor’s bio:

“Shawn C. Marsh, Ph.D., is the Chief Program Officer of Juvenile Law at the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. Dr. Marsh is a social psychologist with research and teaching interests in the areas of psychology and the law, adolescent development, trauma, and juvenile justice. His background includes working with youth in detention and correction settings as an educator and mental health clinician, and he is a licensed school counselor, professional counselor, and clinical professional counselor. Dr. Marsh is affiliated with several academic departments at the University of Nevada, and his publications include numerous articles in scholarly journals such as Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice and Victims & Offenders, as well as chapters in textbooks such as Correctional Psychiatry and Juvenile Crime and Justice.”

His May 8 presentation to a standing-room-only room at the University Club explored the many ways our important decisions are steered by our biases. Spoiler alert: We cannot eliminate them; they are rooted in everyone’s cognitive processes. But we can be more mindful of them, and in so doing, work to minimize their effects.

His approach was humorous and non-confrontational. He shared the many ways we may be seeing the world through skewed eyes. Here is one humorous example that he offered:

Snoop Martha Stewart sterotype

So, Snoop and Martha Stewart give us pause. Excellent. Because pausing before we act is one of the strategy Marsh recommends as you make your way as a human. (Marsh listed about 14 strategies.)

Take a few minutes. Take the Implicit Association Test (which retired Chief Justice McGregor also recommends.) Educate yourself. Expose yourself to other cultures and people.

That last point led to one of the more intriguing anecdotes he shared. He explained that research has shown that relatively brief exposure to praiseworthy individuals in groups that are not yours (“out-group exemplars”) may lead us all to see the entire “other” group in a much more positive light. In fact, even a 30-second positive focus (perhaps in a news or sports story) may yield attitude and behavior changes that last 24 hours.

How can we maximize that effect? Marsh said at least a few courts have uploaded slideshows to serve as the screen-savers on the computers of judges and court staff. In a nation that exhibits disparate treatment (even in sentencing) based on race, viewing a continual slideshow of admirable people of color may have a long-term effect.

(That and other strategies are listed in this National Center for State Courts report.)

Finally, Marsh points out that though attitudes matter, so do behaviors. And those behaviors are often exhibited through our selection of words. So I leave you, as he did, with a great short video on the power that words may have on the actions of us and those around us.

 

 

Georgetown Law Report on the Legal Market 2014It’s still early in the year, so legal experts continue to offer predictions about the path of 2014’s legal economy. Today, I share a rather good report, this one from Georgetown Law School, specifically its Center for the Study of the Legal Profession. Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s titled “Report on the State of the Legal Market.” (Legal profession experts should begin hiring great headline-writers; they really should.)

I will let you dig into the blissfully brief (15-page) report. But I share just two of their charts so you can see the trajectory we’re on.

The first chart is in regard to legal demand:

Georgetown Law Report on the Legal Market legal demand chart

And the second table I share reflects the continued gap between hours worked, hours billed and (gulp) hours collected on:

Georgetown Law Report on the Legal Market rate progression chart

Here is a good summary of the Georgetown report, from the Wall Street Journal.

And I must offer a hat tip to the ever-watchful Katie Mayer of The Artigue Agency Public Relations for spotting the WSJ article. Thanks, Katie!

I continue to stumble across the notion that the challenges in the legal market center around the need for changes in approach and imagination (says the guy no longer in practice; easy for me to say). But I urge you to look at a previous post in which a change in view led to increased service delivery, increased client satisfaction—and, we assume, increased profitability.

Of course, that related to the medical profession. But who knows; we may learn something.

infographic Robert Half Legal job picture 2014 cropped

Another in a series of annual legal profession predictions wagers that most law firms will maintain their staff levels going forward. More surprising, more than a quarter of law firm leaders surveyed expect to increase lawyer positions.

Those are a few of the results from Robert Half Legal, released in December.

Below, I’ve included more of their findings. Read them and tell me: Do those results jive with your own experiences and expectations?

Here’s the opening of their press release:

An infographic depicting these survey results, also available at http://legal.rhi.mediaroom.com/file.php/1508/RHL_1213_GRAPH_Job_Opportunities_2014_US.jpg

An infographic depicting these survey results, also available at http://legal.rhi.mediaroom.com/file.php/1508/RHL_1213_GRAPH_Job_Opportunities_2014_US.jpg

What’s on the docket for the legal profession in the months ahead? Hiring seems to be on the minds of many, a new survey from Robert Half Legal indicates. Twenty-seven percent of lawyers interviewed said their law firm or company plans to expand or add new positions in the next six months. Fifty-five percent said their organizations expect to maintain current staff levels by filling vacant posts, while 12 percent of survey respondents said they will not fill vacant positions or create new ones and two percent anticipate staff reductions.

Litigation is expected to drive much of the hiring, the research shows. Nearly half (46 percent) of lawyers surveyed expect litigation to generate the greatest number of legal job opportunities from January through June of 2014. Within the litigation practice area, insurance defense was cited by 46 percent of lawyers as the leading driver of job growth, followed by commercial litigation (37 percent) and employment law (28 percent).

The survey was developed by Robert Half Legal, a legal staffing firm specializing in lawyers, paralegals and other highly skilled legal professionals. It was conducted by an independent research firm and is based on 200 telephone interviews with lawyers in the United States: 100 of the respondents are employed at law firms with 20 or more employees and 100 are employed at companies with 1,000 or more employees. All of the respondents have hiring authority within their organizations.

Lawyers were asked, “Which one of the following practice areas, in your opinion, will offer the greatest number of job opportunities in the first six months of 2014?” Their responses:

  • Litigation: 46%
  • General business/commercial law: 10%
  • Intellectual property: 6%
  • Real estate: 4%
  • Family law: 4%
  • Privacy, data security, information law: 3%
  • Regulatory/compliance: 2%
  • Insurance: 2%
  • Other: 12%
  • None/don’t know/no answer: 11%

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 2014? Their responses:* 

  • Insurance defense: 46%
  • Commercial litigation: 37%
  • Employment: 28%
  • Personal injury: 9%
  • Personal/family law: 5%
  • Class actions: 3%
  • Securities/corporate governance: 3%
  • Intellectual property: 1%
  • Other: 3%
  • Don’t know/no answer: 1%

*Multiple responses were permitted.

More information on the survey results is available here.

thumbs down button dislikeLet’s get the bad news over early in the week, shall we?

A report issued last week reveals that lawyers are held in pretty profound distaste by many Americans (until they need a lawyer, I assume).

As the report from the Pew Research Center says:

“While there have been modest declines in public appreciation for several occupations, the order of the ratings is roughly the same as it was in 2009. Among the 10 occupations the survey asked respondents to rate, lawyers are at the bottom of the list. About one-in-five Americans (18%) say lawyers contribute a lot to society, while 43% say they make some contribution; fully a third (34%) say lawyers contribute not very much or nothing at all.”

“Nothing at all.” Sheesh.

Media reaction that I’ve seen has been muted (maybe because they felt no surprise). And the press being as self-involved as any other profession, the area they seemed to focus on was the sharp decline in Americans’ views of journalists.

Salon managed to do both: navel-gaze at its own profession while writing a headline that disemboweled attorneys: “Poll: Journalists only slightly less despised than lawyers”

Pew Research Center profession table 2013

Don’t see lawyers? Keep looking down.

Touché.

The American Cities Business Journals examined the survey mainly in regard to its take on—you guessed it—business executives (who deserve more respect, one writer claims). But even as Washington Bureau Chief Kent Hoover decries the poor ranking of business leaders (valued by 24 percent of respondents), he still takes a moment to mention lawyers:

“Only 18 percent of Americans think lawyers contribute a lot to society, which comes as no surprise. Lots of people have detested lawyers since at least the days of William Shakespeare, who put these immortal words in the mouth of Dick the Butcher: ‘The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.’”

Hardy-har-har.

Lost amidst the numbers is the fact that business executives have risen in respondents’ eyes since 2009. Sure, their numbers aren’t great, but the impression they leave with people has increased over the past four years. (In fact, business execs are the only profession of the 10 studied whose perception was improved!)

Shall I list the business scandals and economic disasters wreaked by business mismanagement and worse in that time period? Wow.

But I don’t write today to fault the business community for its success in the public-perception game. But given recent criminal Wall Street activities that have rocked our nation to its core, and the valuable role lawyers have played throughout U.S. history, I have to wonder about how U.S. history is taught. And do Americans ever read a newspaper, or watch a news report?

Well, now I just sound like a curmudgeon. Why don’t you get a big cup of coffee and read the entire Pew study here?

Let’s hope the week improves.