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Sunday, May 19, 2013
In William Shakespeare’s “Henry VI, Part 2,” Dick the Butcher utters a line that has made it onto T-shirts and bumper stickers, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
The legal profession may be doing Dick’s bidding. Northwestern University adjunct law professor Steven Harper has taken a critical look at the business side of the legal profession, and what he sees is an education/business model that is programmed to fail.
Like the “Dot Com Bubble” and the “Real Estate Bubble,” the “Lawyer Bubble” is caused by a large number of people joining a profession where practitioners made large incomes. The large incomes draw more and more acolytes, and the field becomes so crowded that most of the practitioners make very little money. Then the bubble pops.
Harper notes that an estimated 73,000 legal jobs will be created in this decade. Each year, law schools graduate 45,000 students. Eighty-five percent of those graduates will have debts of $100,000 each.
Perhaps the bubble analogy is less apt than one too many straws breaking the back of camel, but then some destitute law school graduate would bring suit on behalf of an animal rights organization.
After having introduced the problem and explained its consequences, Harper offers some paths to redemption beginning with transparency for law schools recruiting new students. Let the students know their real prospects for income and advancement. Law firms must adopt new paradigms for billable hours and attaining partnership.
To his credit, Harper has retired as a litigator after 30 years with the firm he joined after his graduation from Harvard Law. His book shows a deep passion for the vocation he followed, and a hope for its return to an honorable profession.
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