I ran across this gem in my research today:
Today’s law school graduate must view his future with considerable apprehension. Unless he has been foresighted enough to secure, by birth or marriage, the proper social, business or professional connections, his prospects must appear to him extremely discouraging, at best. Private practice? That seems utterly hopeless.
This observation was offered nearly a century ago by Stephen Love, a Northwestern University law professor in an essay written with Karl Llewellyn, Osmond Fraenkel and Malcolm Sharp (Economic Security and the Young Lawyer: Four Views, 32 Ill. L. Rev. 633 1937-1938). All four authors proposed a number of what now seem unsurprising courses of action, mostly variations on the same theme of what gets advanced to address the current “crisis” in the legal profession. Malcom Sharp’s recommendation was one after my own heart, calling for a “new kind of law office” to address “the great many real needs which the profession is supposed to serve [that] go unanswered or badly served”:
A group of capable young lawyers, on a salary and profit-sharing basis under mature business and legal direction, could set a precedent in specialized, low cost, large scale office organization. Coupled with group publicity, such an experiment would be likely to open up quickly considerable new business, and a method of handling it.
This is a version of what I’ve advocated for in my own teaching and writing, but seeing it articulated here left me feeling equally exasperated and expectant.
I’m exasperated by the reality that we still don’t have a vibrant community of Sharp’s “specialized, low cost, large scale” legal services organizations despite his call for it many years ago. I’m expectant as I do believe the time has arrived for the legal profession to expand in this way. Perhaps I’m overly optimistic having just returned from two weeks of studying new models and markets in legal services as part of MSU Law’s 21st Century Law Practice Summer Program in London. I will say that running across this article reminds me it isn’t enough to talk about ideas; we must do. And there are some terrific folks out there doing some pretty cool stuff in that specialized, low cost, large scale legal services space right now, for, example Wevorce, Modria, LegalForce, LegalZoom, Rocketlawyer, Docracy, and many others (see Stephanie Kimbro’s new book The Consumer Law Revolution: The Lawyer’s Guide to the Online Legal Marketplace for profiles of some these and more.) But these examples remain exceptions, not the norm. My hope for the legal profession–and more importantly for the public–is that this will no longer be true in 10 years, let alone a century from now.
(Cross-posted at the Legal Ethics Forum)