Lawyers should go where the competition ain’t

In a recent NY Times article, several recent law school graduates lamented the recent economic changes, as well as they might.  Big Law has, in effect, shut down their recruiting efforts and the lush $160,000 starting salaries seem to have evaporated. "Lock step" compensation models have been transformed to merit based models. And a number of law firm’s recruiting programs have been either postponed or canceled entirely.

How can these recent graduates, and even some experienced lawyers laid off from their large firms, survive or even thrive? One way might be to lower one’s income expectations. Where is it written that lawyers are entitled to earn $X?

Helping others deal with the intricacies of our society with its many complexities can be rewarding. Will we earn $1,000,000 by doing so? Perhaps not. Can we earn a very good income? Yes.

One suggestion is to go where the competition ain’t. Go to the smaller communities, to the "second tier" communities. They are still large enough to have prospective clients with sophisticated challenges. But, many of these communities have been ignored by Big Law and even large regional law firms.

In the interim, until there is a new balancing of economics, quality law school graduates and lawyers who have left larger law firms might set up shop in these smaller areas; they might join smaller law firms even in the large cities. Here, smaller law firms have a unique opportunity to engage outstanding talent at substantially lower cost .. and expand the services they provide to their existing client base, as well as expand their client base.

What will be the impact on law schools? That is an interesting question. Big law firms have postponed and even canceled many of their recruiting efforts. That will provide a glut of talented graduates looking for a diminishing number of positions in law firms. And the anticipated assurance, guarantee if you will, of gainful employment on graduation from their school may be passing. If so, will law schools still be able to charge high tuition as they have? Will students be willing to take on huge student loans when employment is no longer assured?

Economics will continue to control the legal profession as in the past. Those economics today include greater supply of talent (lawyers), clients with greater power of the purse (reduced demand) and lawyers who are becoming more attuned to improving their efficiencies … and thereby lower cost to clients … and thereby again impacting the relationships between lawyers and clients.




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