Can’t-Miss Articles

There’s a lot of analysis these days about practice and law school in light of the recession and the recovering economy.  
Most of these articles are focused on large law firms (for a variety of reasons ranging from the better availability of data to the different economic pressures), but the discussions are relevant whether you’re a sole practitioner or working in one of the largest firms in the country.  Practices aren’t fungible, but the “legal industry” is a system, and what happens in one sector will create an effect in another sector.

Here are a few articles that you can’t miss.  I’d suggest you make time to read them today, but don’t let next week start without your having read and digested each of these.

1.  The Last Days of Big Law:  You can’t imaging the terror when the money dries up.  This articles takes a critical view of large firms (and the lawyers who inhabit them), using Mayer Brown as the prime example of all firms of its size and caliber.  While some of the points seem unduly negative (painting life for all partners as “demeaning” and “altogether soul-crushing” for associates), it makes some important points.  Most notably, the article recounts the challenges that more junior lawyers (associates and income partners) face in landing new business and receiving credit when they succeed in doing so.  (And see also this response from a former Mayer Brown partner.)

Who needs to read it?  Anyone working in an AmLaw 200, and most especially those who are midlevel or more senior but not yet equity partners.  Those who are in AmLaw 51-200 may want to read especially closely:  these firms are earning a decreasing share (48% in 2003 vs. 42% in 2013) of the market, which is itself increasing–3% in the last year and 84% in the last ten years.

And if you’re in a smaller firm, you’d better read it too, since there’s usually a trickle-down effect (positive and negative) from the larger firms.

My take is that there’s some interesting anecdotal information that’s heavily skewed to the negative, but there’s also some truth that deserves exploration.  I do think too many lawyers are hoping for a return to “business as usual” and that only those who can adapt to the changing economy and business landscape will prosper.  I’m dubious that the fear and predatory competition that the article describes is systemic, and I expect that the profession will continue to evolve to meet the business.  Still, this is the can’t-miss article of the week.

2.  Is Law School a Good Deal After All?  Analyzing a recent paper titled The Economic Value of a Law Degree, this article concludes that:

“over the course of a career, your average J.D.-holder will make almost $1 million more than a similar worker with just a bachelor’s degree (or about $700,000 after taxes).  Even law grads on the low end of the salary scale seem to fare better than their merely college-educated peers.  Crucially, the paper finds no evidence that the earnings premium has declined since the economy crashed.”

Worth a read, both for the pro and con points.

3.  Planting Trees, And The Reason Business Development Is Difficult.  This article illustrates one of the easily overlooked common-sense rules of business development:  it takes time.  No matter how talented or skilled you are, you have to invest time into listening, engaging in dialogue, and delivering value.  If you’ve wondered why your stop-and-start business development efforts haven’t paid off, this will explain it.

4.  The Small Firms Lawyer Considers Big Ideas.  It seems only fair to highlight an article that’s specific to small firm lawyers, and this is a good one because it highlights the advantages that small firms have in agility and entrepreneurial thinking.  In a larger firm?  The question, as always, is how you can apply similar principles to your own practice, even though your firm will operate very differently.

That rounds up my top four articles for this week.  What have you read that I missed?

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