Lawyers from around the country continue to call me, asking for information on how to sell their practices. In response,we recently opened our LawBiz® Registry. Visit the archives for articles about buying and selling law practices and other ways to monetize the goodwill that you have spent so many years to build. In addition, you may want to buy one of our books or tapes in our store on the profitable law office exit strategy or planning for your next 6000 days.
Contact me at any time if you have additional questions.
“The state bar is overcharging its cases.” Thus started the commentary by Carol M Langford, in the newspaper, The Recorder, in San Francisco. Langford is a defense counsel and former chair of the State Bar’s Law Practice Management and Technology Section. She quotes the California Supreme Court to the effect that “bar matters are ‘quasi criminal’ in nature.” She asserts that respondents before the State Bar Court have none of the usual constitutional safeguards in a normal criminal proceeding.
She further asserts that the Chief Trial Counsel (Jayne Kim) commented that the bar had to be “tougher” as evidenced by the Supreme Court’s rejection of 24 stipulations in 2012. Ms. Kim responded to Langford’s August 28th Viewpoint column, claiming she was misquoted.
This sounds a bit like the classic prosecutor/defense counsel “difference” of opinion. Ms. Langford would obviously prefer more stipulations that favor respondent attorneys; Ms. Kim would obviously prefer that those attorneys being “charged” be locked in jail and the key thrown away. The bottom line is that the general fund of the State Bar of California is $64 million, 75 to 80% of which goes to fund the bar’s disciplinary system. That is a whopping $48 million, give or take, that is expended to discipline attorneys who allegedly violate the rules of professional conduct.
I have watched this scenario for more than 40 years. In that time, there is only one State Bar president who indicated that the goal of the State Bar was twofold, one to protect the public and two to educate lawyers in more effectively running their law practice. By doing the latter, we do achieve the former as well. But for Jim Heiting, the president who suggested this, the State Bar is now in an adversarial position with its members, lawyers.
Langford suggests that the State Bar should make “real offers to respondents to settle matters…” A lawyer signs a stipulation still receives punishment. In none of the comments made by Langford did she suggest that the respondent lawyer not receive discipline. The focus is whether there be a stipulation without a trial (and the concomitant additional cost to both the State Bar and to the respondent) or whether all matters need to go to trial. Why does the State Bar trial department not focus its energies against lawyers who turned down good offers reflective of the misconduct at issue.
This is a good question and one that is not answered merely by suggesting that the current legislation in California mandates that the public be protected. “Cleaning out a backlog” by offering reasonable stipulations, educating lawyers (members of the bar) on client relations and economics of the practice of law and developing a mutually respectful relationship between the Bar and its members will go a long way toward reducing the cost of attorney discipline and (Heaven help us) reducing the cost of membership in the State Bar.
Many writers and “pundits” suggest a doom and gloom forecast for the legal profession, Among those who say, “Wait a minute,” Neil J. Squillante puts a different spin on our world. See Neil J. Squillante. First, he separates the legal business into segments. Not every segment will be impacted in the same manner. And thus the close to 80% of the legal profession who represent the “consumer” market of individual customers are likely not to be affected, at least in the short run.
And yes, while technology will impact every lawyer, the impact will have different ramifications and benefit lawyers and legal consumers differently. First, being more efficient, lawyers can be more profitable … or at the very least, get off the annual rate increase treadmill. Not all consumers will need or understand the effects of technology on a lawyer’s practice. Richard Susskind, a thought leader in our profession, suggests four elements of change that will dramatically alter the profession. I concur with him in only one of his four elements, and that is technology. The others can have their impact traced to earlier times, just as in other industries. But, technology, that is an area where the legal community has lagged far behind in innovation. Today, such innovation is moving ahead at lightning speed. And its impact has been recognized even by the organized Bar which is including technology proficiency as an element of the definition of “competency” to practice law.
Being more efficient and effective in using technology to perform legal services will, for the first time, enable and encourage lawyers to alter their billing modalities and move away from the billable hour should they choose to do so … and this will have a major impact on consumers, both large and small. This will be a game changer. While technology itself will not be the catalyst for major change, the changes wrought from technology’s utilization will. This will not happen overnight, but when we look back in the rear-view mirror, we will ask ourselves “how did that happen so quickly?”
The unauthorized practice of law is a major concern of bar associations as is evidenced by the North Carolina Bar Association’s litigation with Legal Zoom and its current effort to redefine the term. This effort is one more example of the shifting ground impacting lawyers and their economic security. Does the entry of software and “publications” help or hurt lawyers, help or hurt consumers? Here is one opinion.
In years gone by, many people attended law school because a legal education enhanced their skills. In today’s world, entry into law school is first evaluated based on ROI, return on investment. And, in some instances, the comparison is coming up short. After the Great Recession, getting a job after law school was not guaranteed. Law school graduates, in addition to being uncertain about their job market, faced extraordinary debt burden.
A 2012 survey indicates that at least 24% of law school graduates are not practicing law. Rather, they were finding their way into nonprofit and education sectors and the federal government. This compares with9% in a similar 2003 survey. One factor pushing this statistic is the need to reduce or pay some of that student debt.
And when considering whether lawyers are satisfied in their chosen career, measured against whether they would go to law school again if given the opportunity, almost 2 out of seven said “no.” This latter statistic seems to be consistent with similar statistics of earlier years. In the 1970s, in response to a survey that I commissioned with the State Bar of California, almost 1/3 of the respondents indicated they were not satisfied with the practice. But they didn’t have the huge amount of debt that today’s graduates are carrying. I suspect that what keeps people enrolling in law school is another statistic: those graduates with the highest grade point averages have median pay levels that exceed $121,500, more than those who achieve the lowest grades. This is a significant difference, and the reason for the continued attraction of law schools.
In today’s newspaper, Don J. DeBenedictis, staff writer for the Journal, discusses law schools’ new approach to help law school graduates find jobs. This idea is one of several being discussed to match the supply and demand of legal services. It is clear that there is a greater demand for legal services than is now being fulfilled. However, many contend there is an oversupply of lawyers. Some writers suggest, I believe correctly, that there is not an oversupply, but rather a mismatch between the two.
One reason for the mismatch is that most lawyers seek to work for the smaller percentage of affluent clients. Working for the less affluent client requires a reduced level of compensation. Sometimes it is difficult to match the reduced remuneration working from low to modest means clients with the debt level resulting from educational expenses.
The staff writer discusses law schools in California that are now providing funds to graduates who are willing to work for government or public interest employers. The amount of money received by the graduates is not grand. We’re talking about, perhaps, $15 per hour. However, the graduates are earning enough money to pay expenses and gain valuable experience preparatory for their next job. This program reminds me of one Southern law school that provided sufficient funds to open a new law practice if the graduate located in a rural or other geographic community that needed legal services. Provided the graduate remained in that location for five years, the “loan” would be forgiven.
It seems that any suggestion brings out adversaries. The positive side of seeking to match supply and demand is countered by those who say that law schools are merely disguising their percentage of graduates employed. While this may be true, it is also true that these graduates are employed, just not at a high level of income written about by the sensationalist media. It is also true that American Bar Association statistics separate between traditional jobs and “funded” jobs, thus disclosing the truth of the employment claims made by law schools.
One could also look at this as a postgraduate fellowship. This is an incredibly positive effort on the part of law schools and their funding sources for this program. My congratulations.
ABA Journal has just opened it’s 100 best legal blog list.
This is an annual list, compiled on the basis of votes by readers, of the best blogs that lawyers should know about. If you enjoy my blawg, please follow this link to nominate it! Of course, you can also vote for other blog authors too, but please consider voting for mine, and let the editors know why you appreciate it!
Customer service is appreciated whenever it occurs.
My wife and I (and I dare not forget Bandit) are spending a few days in
Tucson, AZ at the Lazydays RV Park.
Gathered with us are close to 100 other Airstream rigs, from trailers,
to motorhomes ... from new to vintage as is ours.
The amenities are outstanding and, as usual, it is the people that make
an experience memorable.
They go out of their way to be friendly and accommodating. Their brochure
says that all their employees take weekly service instruction.
Can you identify a law firm that has done that?