Altman Weil recently released: 2018 Law Firms in Transition, an Altman Weil Flash Survey.
From the introduction, comparing today to 2009 during the Great Recession:
The threat in 2018 is broader and more nuanced, arising primarily from the sweeping force of technology evolution over the last two decades that has resulted in the commoditization and commercialization of more and more legal services….
Most law firms continue to plan for short-term incremental improvements in performance, while deferring or slow-walking more forward-looking actions to address long-term, systemic threats.
That last line reminded me of many defense lawyers during the tort reform era of the early 2000’s. They were swamped with work and could not imagine ever not being busy.
At the time, I was a defense lawyer transitioning into a plaintiff practice (talk about rotten timing). Many fellow defense lawyers told me they would always be busy because plaintiff lawyers would always file cases. I know how crazy that sounds today, but it was a common belief in 2005.
Plaintiff lawyers certainly knew better. On the defense side, there were many lawyers drawing great paychecks sitting in mass tort depositions all day who never thought about workload next month, much less in a few years. Many of those legal eagles no longer practice law or have long since left the state for easier work.
Of the defense lawyers who did think about the future, maybe 20% had an inkling what was coming. The ones who did have done a better job adjusting to the new reality.
Divorce and criminal lawyers said less personal injury and consumer fraud litigation would not impact them because it wasn’t their practice area. Now they compete with former plaintiff and defense lawyers for that work.
The Altman survey is an interesting read. Among its conclusions:
- there is an oversupply of lawyers,
- billable hour demand is down,
- there are still too many lawyers in many law firms,
- more work is going in-house [to lawyers making less money but with a better quality of life],
- work is being redefined or eliminated through the application of technology, and
- the legal market will not be immune to the staggering changes wrought by modern tech.
The suggestions are bad news for big firm lawyers. They include weeding out more lawyers.
Final thoughts from Mr. Sunshine:
It’s sucked for people like me who graduated from law school in 1993. Ten years earlier, and we would have made a killing in the 90’s. Ten years later, and we wouldn’t had to so drastically adjust our professional expectations. On top of that, our retirement accounts have been halved. Twice.
We had to go through the period where no one knew how to use email yet and asshole emails were flying back and forth all day. We saw total idiots make millions. We saw great lawyers have breakdowns because their practices dried up. Many of those we started our careers with have left the state for greener pastures.
Of course, it hasn’t been all bad. I haven’t heard of a coke head lawyer in years. They can’t afford it anymore and have to stick to booze.
The worst part is that it used to be fun. Now, it’s just….not. Ask any lawyer–plaintiff or defense–if they are having fun. The answer will be ‘no.’ If you weren’t having fun practicing law in 2000, then you didn’t need to be a lawyer. Because it was a blast.