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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Henderson: A Counterpoint to 'The Most Robust Legal Market that Ever Existed in This Country'

The Legal Whiteboard:  A Counterpoint to "The Most Robust Legal Market that Ever Existed in This Country", by William Henderson (Indiana-Bloomington):

There is a line in Professor Reich-Graefe's recent essay, Keep Calm and Carry On, 27 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 55 (2014), that is attracting a lot of interest among lawyers, law students, and legal academics: 

[R]ecent law school graduates and current and future law students are standing at the threshold of the most robust legal market that ever existed in this country—a legal market which will grow, exist for, and coincide with, their entire professional career.

This hopeful prediction is based on various trendlines, such as impending lawyer retirements, a massive intergenerational transfer of wealth that will take place over the coming decades, continued population growth, and the growing complexity of law and legal regulation.

Although I am bullish on future growth and dynamism in the legal industry, and I don't dispute the accuracy or relevant of any of the trendlines cited by Reich-Graefe, I think his primary prescriptive advice -- in essence, our problems will be cured with the passage of time -- is naive and potentially dangerous to those who follow it.

The primary defect in Reich-Graefe's analysis is that it is a one-sided argument that stacks up all impending positive trendlines without taking into account the substantial evidence that the artisan model of lawyering -- one-to-one consultative legal services that are tailored to the needs of individual clients -- is breaking down as a viable service delivery model.  ...

When I write about the changes occurring the legal marketplace, I worry whether the substance and methodology of U.S. legal education provides an excellent education for a legal world that is gradually fading away, and very little preparation for the highly disciplinary legal world that is coming into being. 

Legal educators are fiduciaries to our students and institutions. It is our job to worry about them and for them and act accordingly.  Surely, the minimum acceptable response to the facts at hand is unease and a willingness to engage in deliberation and planning.  Although I agree we need to stay calm, I disagree that we need to carry on.  The great law schools of the 21st century will be those that adapt and change to keep pace with the legal needs of the citizenry and broader society.  And that task has barely begun.

Update:  ABA Journal, Rosy Times Ahead for Law Grads? Another Law Prof Weighs In

Legal Education | Permalink


Bill Henderson is a wonderful human being. "Legal educators are fiduciaries to our students and institutions. It is our job to worry about them and for them and act accordingly."

Bill, you are one of about ten law professors in the United States who feels this way. I wish that they all believed themselves to have a fiduciary duty to their students. Allegations of "scam" would disappear overnight.

Posted by: Jojo | Mar 18, 2014 5:34:30 AM

The core analysis varies about what is "best" for 1. law schools, 2. law firms, 3. indebted law students, 4. law students who can pay off their law school debts, and 4. what is the best way to actually educate law students and to forewarn others from assuming the great debt loads. As Bill H. indicates there are so many variaables that no one has the answer. Those who proclaim the answer are defending turf and really ought to be embarrassed. What is going to happen is something none of us knows. BUT it will involve shrinkage of the number of law schools. It is very market driven at this point. We had a market that was stimulus-resistant and now it is responding to the "stimuli" of dropping applicants and enrollments. But somehow, that has is having only slight effect on what occurs in legal education. Somewhat strange?

Posted by: David | Mar 18, 2014 4:24:50 PM