New lawyers, old ones and NewLaw — a prediction that the profession will survive

This winter of the legal profession’s discontent.HiRes

Work is down across the profession. Revenues are flat. Job offers are down. Applications to law schools are down. Older lawyers are not retiring, even as the conclusion is being drawn that fewer lawyers are needed, and younger ones are said to be departing the profession for the lack of opportunities. Although paying work is down, the legal services needs of low wealth communities are not met.

But this winter shall pass. Old lawyers will pass. New ones will rise. I predict this.

Maybe, the work of the future will be distributed differently among law firms, law departments and alternative services providers. Maybe, computers will do more of the work. Maybe, law firms will no longer deliver “full service.” Maybe most firms will serve targeted niches and deliver limited modules of service.

Perhaps the practice of law will look little as it once did.  Perhaps lawyers (like doctors and academics) will carry more the mantle of technicians than professionals. Perhaps generalists will be supplanted by specialists — by non-lawyers and service bureaux and by machines.

In the end, the new will rise. So be it.

But there will remain a constant demand for professionals who can bring experience and judgment to legal questions that are complex, uncertain and ambiguous. And this is not work for the institutions of NewLaw. “Classical lawyering” will remain.

And, there will remain those questions posed here several years ago — but repeated now in the words of an observer today.

Most, if not all, contracted lawyers working under the auspices of one of the NewLaw firms are essentially self-employed with the freedom and positive challenges this brings. But they have no security of income, no superannuation, no permanent social work environment, no paid annual leave, no long service leave and, usually, no training and organised continuing professional development.

Especially for young practitioners there is no structured professional education program and no employer-provided training in the basics of practice. And certainly no apprenticeship – the foundation on which the next generation of the profession has been built for generations.

So, when that new day comes and the new lawyers rise, who will have prepared them? Who will have trained them? How will their judgment have been forged?

Today, when experienced lawyers are plentiful, the institutions that might invest for the needs of the future are hard to discern. Who will train, develop, sustain and marinate lawyers for that day? Legal departments? Alternative providers? Or, law firms?

Whither apprenticeship?


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