Look to Your Left, Look to Your Right…

…One of you won’t be here next year.

Variations of that famous phrase, according to legend, are routinely directed at first year law students, though now mostly in jest. Many people have been credited as being the first to warn law students that at least 1 in 3 wouldn’t be able to handle the rigours of law school and would soon be seeking other pursuits, with records suggesting the first utterances came as early as the 1930s, if not earlier. If it were ever true for law students (Hint: I doubt it. And certainly not in living memory), it is seemingly now applicable to practicing lawyers (at least in the U.S.).

The American website Lawyerist.com today published an article entitled “25% Of Your Colleagues Will Quit Being Lawyers By 2022,”basing its headline on Bureau of Labor Statistics data crunched by another lawyer/blogger to reveal that the 2012-2022 “occupational transfer rate” is 25.5%. All underlying details from the Bureau of Labour Statistics are available here, and a quick review suggests the headline overstates matters slightly by omitting reference to the 2012 starting point of the exodus. However, the headline actually understates the impact of the overall change to the legal profession because it only refers to people who change careers and omits the 17.1% that simply leave the workforce for reason of retirement, family planning, etc…

Still the same legal profession?

If you change the blade twice and the handle thrice, is it still the same axe?

If 42% of lawyers exit the legal profession over any given 10-year period, at what point do the newcomers exert greater influence than the more seasoned members? Surely it’s just a matter of time before EVERYTHING CHANGES.

This could be a tricky question to answer because you need to know who is actually leaving and whether the influence of the new has any bearing on THE WAY THINGS ARE.

Assume for the sake of argument that the dividing line between “newcomers” and “seasoned” members is 15 years at the bar. Assume also that that newcomers represent a great proportion of career changers and that seasoned members represent a greater proportion of workforce exits. This could conceivably result in something approaching a balance between the two groups resulting in a slower march to change than a 42% decennial exit rate would suggest.

Change could come more slowly, but I doubt it.

Regardless of the mix in the exit rate as between newcomers and seasoned members, the handles and blades are still changing. Newcomers have different experiences and expectations, and seasoned members are neither a homogenous group nor blind or indifferent to the changes around them.

Change is inevitable and will be interesting, but the fascinating part will be seeing where we all come together to retain those elements of the profession that should not change.


* The above piece is cross-posted on my personal blog.

Comments are closed.