An insider reports on the legal profession’s impending implosion.
Focusing on two vital institutions, the law schools who act as gatekeepers and “big law,” the prestigious firms that set the tone, Harper (Law/Northwestern Univ.; The Partnership: A Novel, 2010, etc.), for 25 years a partner at the distinguished firm of Kirkland and Ellis, now an adjunct professor, is perfectly positioned to reflect on alarming developments that have brought the legal profession to a most unfortunate place. The lawyer bubble, he argues, as with the dot-com, real estate and financial bubbles that preceded it, cannot be blamed on the Great Recession. Rather, it’s a creation of those charged with safeguarding the profession, who’ve abandoned any long-term vision out of greed for money, power and status. In thrall to the U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings, law schools regularly manipulate the methodology that determines the listings; deans focus on the short-term financial performance of their own institutions, encouraging an oversupply of applicants and graduating students into a job market already glutted. Similarly, big law takes its cues from the American Lawyer’s list of the nation’s top 100 firms, looking to maneuver for position, sacrificing long-established firm cultures in favor of immediate profit and maximum partner reward, and causing widespread dissatisfaction within the ranks. Harper describes associate labor in these firms as depressing, unfulfilling and unrelenting. Most readers will shed no tears at this sorry spectacle, but the author clearly cares deeply about the future of his beloved profession, and he reminds us of a time when a legal career was more about service, collegiality, community and shared purpose. He offers numerous suggestions that might allow the profession to cushion the consequences of the bubble about to burst, but given the pathologies he describes, their adoption appears unlikely anytime soon.
Essential reading for anyone contemplating a legal career.