Like thousands of other attorneys, I was laid off last year "due to the economy." True, my firm lost a lot of revenue last year, but was this really just due to the recession?
Or could it be that clients are finally just fed up with paying newly minted attorneys $250 per hour (or more) to perform simple tasks like document review and basic legal research when an experienced lawyer in India can do the same work for less than $25 per hour. In my opinion it's not so much that American lawyers charge more, but that the billable hour itself breeds inefficiency. Expressing its frustration, the Association of Corporate Counsel has finally written a position statement explaining that its members are no longer willing to be milked for top dollar by BigLaw (see ACC 2010 Value Challenge).
It's not just BigLaw that is feeling squeezed. Even solo practitioners are now being threatened by the proliferation of low cost pre-paid legal services available to individuals through multilevel marketing schemes, or as employee benefits. And don't forget all the boilerplate legal documents readily available online at a fraction of the cost attorneys would charge.
These days law firms and attorneys really need to ask ourselves what elements of our workload could be undertaken more quickly, more cheaply, more efficiently, or to a higher quality using different and new methods of working, such as outsourcing.
Richard Susskind argues in his visionary book The End of Lawyers? that the market is unlikely to tolerate expensive legal fees for tasks that can be better discharged with support of modern systems and techniques. He claims that the legal profession will be driven by two forces in the coming decade: by a market pull towards the commoditization of legal services, and by the pervasive development and uptake of new legal technologies.
The threat for lawyers is clear -- our jobs may well be eroded or eliminated. At the same time, Susskind foresees quite different law jobs emerging for entrepreneurial lawyers which may be highly rewarding, even if very different from those of today. (Two of my favorite sites featuring lawyers who think outside the box are Cutting Edge Law and Legal Rebels.)
Chuck Newton, another blogging attorney, writes about the Third Wave of successful legal practice, and how modern lawyers must embrace technology, cut unnecessary overhead, and "start going about your business from where you are...wherever you are...everywhere you are. As an attorney you must refuse to be confined by time, space and the restrictions that a typical law office employs."
Or, as a colleague of mine puts it, you must become a "Mo Pro" (mobile professional).
At least being mobile makes for a harder target to hit when they really do start "killing all the lawyers."