You likely hear and read quite a bit about the struggles and transformation going on in the legal industry, most notably in big law firms. Cary Gray from Looper, Reed & McGraw (and also a Baylor regent) was just on campus Thursday to share his thoughts on the topic; hopefully you were able to attend. But what does it mean for you? How should what's going on impact what you do now in law school, both in preparing yourself to be a new attorney but from our standpoint how you go about looking for your first job? I would suggest two key ideas: 1) expand your idea of what a first year attorney can do and where they can work, and 2) look more critically at the leadership and direction of the traditional employers you consider.
Let's take the expand idea first. As Mr. Gray noted in his presentation, many of the tasks young associates used to do in a traditional law firm practice have gone away or have become unprofitable. Document review and legal research are prime examples; the former is being outsourced to less expensive labor markets and the latter may be done by associates, but in much less time due to technology. Less time means less billable hours and less profit. The result is firms are hiring fewer associates to do these tasks that they once hired scores of associates to do. Now don't misunderstand, you need to be excellent at both of these tasks, but you should also recognize the impact of outside forces on how those tasks are completed.
So how do you respond? Though certainly critical, this isn't the blog where I talk about the importance of developing skills like writing. That is key to make sure you can get the traditional associate jobs still being offered to perform these tasks. I'm sure we've addressed that in the past and will continue to in the future. Rather, my challenge to you is to expand your idea of what a new lawyer can do and what jobs they can have. Over the past year, we've had job or OCI postings from employers such as Alliant Group, Axiom, Grant Thornton, North Texas Tollway Authority and USAA among others. Have you considered working for any of these companies or agencies? Have you ever heard of these companies or agencies? You should, and there are many more like them who hire new lawyers to do a variety of tasks. We even know of new law grads going out to west Texas and working as landmen or with title companies to get into the oil/gas business. So rather than limit your search only to traditional law firm practice, consider where else your skills might be needed and valued.
Now how about the second point, looking critically at traditional employers' leadership and direction? My advice: decide whether you think Mr. Gray, the author he oft references Richard Susskind (The End of Lawyers, Tomorrow's Lawyers) and other commentators are correct in their assessment.
If you think they are, you need to be figuring out whether the leaders in law firms you're considering working for share a similar view, and what they're doing about it. It's safe to say that a decent number of law firms either believe: a) the structure of the legal industry is fine and once the economy is back we'll be back with it, or 2) yes the structure is broken, but there's nothing we can do about it (or we don't know what to do about it). Is that the place you want to be? If you believe they are right, then sure! If not, maybe you should look elsewhere. But you won't know unless you do some real digging, ask the right questions during interviews, talk to current/former employees, etc.
The future of the legal industry is filled with uncertainty right now. And while it may seem like there's little you can do about it as a law student, that's not remotely the case. Expand your idea of where you can work and then think through whether your prospective traditional employers share your view of the future of the legal industry. You'll be glad you did!
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