TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Ascendancy of the Agile Attorney

Legal RebelsABA Journal Legal Rebels:  The Agile Lawyer Will Rise as Permanent, Full-Time, Salaried Employment Vanishes, by Jordan Furlong:

Lawyer jobs are disappearing. Every day, law firms across the country reduce their ranks of associates and partners, removing more and more table settings as their revenue pie keeps shrinking. Over the past few years, only about 55 percent of law school graduates have been finding full-time, law-related work nine months after graduation. Would-be lawyers have taken the hint, and first-year enrollment in U.S. law schools has dropped to its lowest level since the 1970s.

Is this the end of lawyers? Hardly. (And that’s not really what Richard Susskind was saying, anyway.) But I do think we’re seeing the probably irreversible decline of the traditional “lawyer job,” which performs a range of tasks with defined responsibilities in a single location during specified hours at an agreed salary. In its place, we should expect to see the rise of agile “lawyer employment”—the multidimensional, customized application of a lawyer’s skills and talents to provide client value when and where it’s required. ...

We need to make our way through this transitional chaos towards a modern, functional, fair system for the application of lawyers’ skills to provide value for clients as appropriate opportunities arise. We need to create platforms that gather and organize good legal talent, align and match it with client opportunities, and facilitate the delivery of legal services in ways that serve the needs, schedules and budgets of both the client and the lawyer. ...

The coming legal market will still require competent, ethical, hard-working lawyers to solve problems and create value for clients. But lawyer employment is going to acquire some new characteristics. It will be:

  • Agile, requiring flexible availability and multiple short-term engagements.
  • Technology-enabled, using tools that automate or streamline repetitive processes.
  • Multidisciplinary, delivered in conjunction with other professionals and trades.
  • Creative, invoking rarely used skills and talents that, as it turns out, we actually have in abundance.

Lawyers who can meet these criteria, and the firms and clients that seek them out, will be the first winners in this rapidly evolving legal labor market. It won’t be easy, and it won’t always be pretty, but the sooner we adjust our settings to this new environment, the better.

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