On your own.jpg

Today’s online edition of the Wall St. Journal features an article, “Law Schools Get Practical: With the Tight Job Market, Course Emphasis Shifts From Textbooks to Skill Sets.”  It makes a (thin) case that law schools are starting to get it, a topic for another day.

The significance, though, was the inclusion of the following quote from Stanford Law Dean Larry Kramer:

“Law firms are saying, ‘You’re sending us people who are not in a position to do anything useful for clients.’ This is a first effort to try and fix that.”

The article continues with:

“The moves come amid a prolonged downturn in the legal job market. Only about one-quarter of last year’s graduating law-school classes—down from 33% in 2009—snagged positions with big law firms, according to the National Association for Law Placement, an organization that collects employment data.”

And:

 “There are also fewer jobs to go around at a time when lawyers are in excess. In 2010, there were more than twice as many people—about 54,000—who passed the bar exam than there were legal job openings in the U.S., according to an analysis by consultants at Economic Modeling Specialists Inc.

My take is that while a percentage of law students affirmatively aspire to practice solo and run their own shows (I’ll defer that percentage to Carolyn Elefant and Susan Cartier Liebel, founders of, respectively, MyShingle.com and Solo Practice University, two authorities on solo practice), an increasing percentage are having that decision made for them by diminished demand among firms who in the past would have been likely employers.

In my comment to the WSJ story I pointed out that the “trend” they wrote about may marginally address the problem that Stanford’s Kramer acknowledges, and prepare those lawyers fortunate enough to land BigLaw jobs to do something that clients consider useful, perhaps even economic, it will do little to help either avowed- or virtual solos prepare for the part of law practice that determines success, even survival, i.e., client acquisition, retention, finance, and operations.

Since 2008, too many lawyers learned the hard way, i.e., by losing their jobs or having their pay gutted, that remaining complacent and relying for their business and billings on their firms' cache or the largesse of their sponsoring partners was a chimera. <strong>One way or another, you’re responsible for taking care of yourself. That means that you’re all solos, whether in fact or virtually.

Given the statistical trend, perhaps it’s time for law schools—and lawyers in private practice who may be complacent or in denial — to change their worldview to “I’m truly on my own, and nobody’s going to take care of me but me.” That way, attitudes and curricula alike might begin to reflect the real world.

Meanwhile, lawyers in all circumstances would be well served to get more serious about acquiring the business development capability they need to thrive in that world.

Mike O'Horo

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