I’m again teaching at the University of Ottawa Law School during its unique January term in which students take one course for three hours per day. We discuss how the practice of law is irreversably transforming and how they’re going into the worse articling market in history with a pilot LPP program that is being set up for failure by Benchers who delayed the LPP decision far too long.
Layer on top of that, technology that reduces the number of lawyers needed for certain tasks, the conflict between hours targets and the “do more for less” challenge, alternative legal providers, the growth of contract lawyers, permanent associates, partners who aren’t permanent, the growth of paralegals, as well as a clear message from partners at most law firms that there is no more room at the top.
And judging from some of the shocked looks, some in my class may have wished they had taken something else!
So it’s little wonder that I always hear Billy Joel in my head before each class:
Well we’re waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave
If we worked hard
If we behaved…….
So the graduations hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No they never taught us what was real….
And we’re waiting here in Allentown.
But they’ve taken all the coal from the ground
And the union people crawled away….
Every child had a pretty good shot
To get at least as far as their old man got.
but something happened on the way to that place……
Do students have a right to feel that they’ve been sold a bill of goods by a generation of lawyers who’ve ridden the golden age of lawyering and now simply look at the new crop of graduates and exhort them to “work hard” and be a “damn good lawyer” and everything will magically work out?
On the other hand, as President Obama’s team was fond of saying in 2009, “never waste a good crisis.”
For those students graduating this year, next year and in the coming years – you have the opportunity to fix the profession, in terms of how it’s structured and operates, in terms of what the real purpose of law is, and by extension what the purpose of lawyers truly is.
You have the opportunity to repair the tarnished image of lawyers, not through schlocky advertisements, but by taking stock of your environment, using new tools, methods and processes and re-envisioning what lawyers can be to their communities.
As hard as these times are, and will be, on all of you – please, don’t waste this crisis.