Mitch Kowalski, Man to Watch in Tough Legal Times

Last week I met with Mitch Kowalski of the Legal Post. He mentioned our conversation earlier today on the site, which is the kick in the butt I needed to do my own write-up on it during our break from school.

Mitch is an alumn from my school, Western Law, but has chosen a career path unique from most. After practicing for many years on Bay St. he decided to open a writing center, first at Yorkville, and then moving to a more central location on Bloor West.

And just like those television infomercials, Mitch not only runs the place, but he’s a client too.

Mitch’s column on the Legal Post (RSS) has become a popular one among many lawyers and law students wary of these tough economic times.

Mitch forecasts that current graduates (2009) will probably have it the worst because nobody really knows what to expect. Canadian law school grads might just be fighting for shifts at Tim Horton’s for a few years. They should probably be looking at other careers such as NGOs or trying their hands at magic. In any case, it’s probably still better than doing porn.

Major law firms continue to be in denial in a scenario scarier than Halloween. Most of these firms have come into existence well after the Great Depression, and their size has never been tested by a serious and prolonged recession.

The problem is that lawyers don’t have a lot of work during a recession.

Some of the potential growth areas such as labour and employment, IP, and even bankruptcy and insolvency, won’t make up for shortages in major corporate work that employs massive numbers of lawyers within the major firms.

With every economic threat there are also opportunities, and Mitch thinks this is an opportunity to transform the legal profession. The very nature of law firms may change, with some even incorporating other professionals like accountants into their partnership structure, and others even going public.

Cost-saving may force firms to look overseas, instead of using inexpensive articling students (who get paid just over twice minimum wage in some firms when salary/hours is calculated).

The days of sending armies of students to the law library to photocopy into the wee hours of the morning may be ending, because these students still cost too much resources for their office space, workstations and training. Overhead from downtown rent continues to be one of the major costs after salaries in most large law firms. Associate turnover due to burnout and mismanagement is completely ignored and accepted as the price of doing business.

The billable hour also attracts considerable wrath from Mitch’s scrutiny.

Naysayers might shun worrying over the ‘sky is falling’ rhetoric. New grads might feel like they’ve been slipped a mickey by the legal industry. But those who want it raw and are entering the brave new economic world willing to turn to the blogs for advice, Mitch’s column is a good place to start for a translation of things to come.

The Legal Post is also up for an ABA Award, and you can vote for them here to help make Canadian blogs a prominent landmark in the legal blogosphere.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for pointing him out, Omar. Sounds to me like you have lots of insight yourself.

    For those who have never tapped into their entrepreneurial side, now is definitely the time!

  2. Connie, most of my insight has come from those far more experienced than me, including Mitch and Slaw contributors.
    This is really the education outside of a legal education that too many young lawyers neglect.
    It doesn’t even have to be entrepeneurial, because better management of law firms will provide a competitive edge and a better product to a client. But because firms are so hierarchal, change occurs very, very slowly.

  3. MK hung his remarks on the collapse of Thatcher Proffitt & Wood. However, we don’t know why TPW died so suddenly, and we do know that, despite the Chair of Sonnenschein saying it is a terrible legal market, Sonnenschein snapped up 100+ TPW lawyers in a heartbeat. Is the management of Sonnenschein idiotic? Possible, but doubtful.

    The amazing thing in previous recessions (and there have been a few nasty ones in my life) is how few law firms died or consolidated compared to most other kinds of enterprises. That may be because (cue heresy music, s.v.p.) a lawyers job description is very simple. Unlike other businesses, there was little opportunity to get confused about what the job was, or how the business model operated. Most other businesses have that opportunity to misunderstand the market or the business or what the managers are supposed to do.

    My prediction is that the firms that have died and will die are the ones who saw or see themselves as modern and dynamic in their management style. Who consider ideas like going public. I defy anyone to explain in 100 well-chosen words or less why taking a law firm public would lead to better provision of legal services. All thinking like this does is cater to vanity of professional managers who want to be associated with “innovation”.

    Law is a craft. If you want to survive, hone your craft.