If we want to ReInvent the market for legal services in this country then we must first understand what is wrong with it. But I am not going to engage in a lengthy discussion of the challenges we face. The purpose of this post is to share my vision of future and explain how we can make it become a reality. I plan on writing a sequel to this article after I have attended the conference this Friday.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE MARKET FOR LEGAL SERVICES IN THE UNITED STATES?
- Businesses believe that lawyers do not add value and are therefore less willing than ever to pay for our services.
- Individuals under-consume legal services because they frequently cannot afford to purchase them.
- Many law students cannot find jobs and are saddled with mountains of debt.
- Despite (1), (2), and (3) the need for legal services is increasing because the regulatory environment is becoming increasingly complex.
- Key stakeholders within the legal profession refuse to implement changes that would solve problems (1) – (4).
Law Firms: A Less Gilded Future by The Economist
The Law School Bubble by William Henderson
WHAT SHOULD THE MARKET FOR LEGAL SERVICES IN THE UNITED STATES LOOK LIKE IN TEN YEARS?
- The latent demand for legal services no longer exists.
The “latent demand” for legal services exists because there are a large number of individuals in the United States who need legal services but nonetheless decide not to purchase them. Many times people simply cannot afford to pay the lawyer. Similarly, lawyers and law firms (as they are currently structured) cannot afford to represent this large mass of potential clients. They would go out of business if they tried. Other times it is a question of value. The potential client can afford to hire a lawyer but the value of a successful representation is dwarfed by the cost.
In ten years, the consumption of legal services will become as ubiquitous as internet usage. Everyone in the United States will consume legal services in some form and they will do so twenty four hours per day, seven days per week, and three hundred sixty five days per year. The services will be of the highest quality and they will be provided ethically and competently. For lawyers that are properly positioned this will be a panacea. The owners of the best legal services providers in each segment of the market will become wealthy beyond their wildest dreams even though the average price of a “unit” of legal services has decreased dramatically. This will occur because technology in combination with new work processes and new business models will drive down the cost of providing legal services below what even the neediest customers are willing or able to pay. Most importantly, the billable hour will be dead. The owners of legal service businesses (who may or may not be lawyers) will finally be able to make money while they sleep.
- There are far fewer law firms but there are many more businesses that provide legal services.
In ten years, lawyers will still be the only people who can provide legal advice but they will no longer have a monopoly on the provision of legal services. “Practicing law” and “providing legal advice” cover an extremely narrow set of activities. Innovative businesses that do not provide legal advice but do provide other valuable legal services (document review, contract management, dispute resolution etc.) are now large publicly traded companies that dominate their specific niche of the legal services market. They employ lawyers but they are completely non-lawyer owned. These companies are large but they are highly focused specialists. They are not one-stop shops. Therefore, there are many niches but there is mini “magic circle” group of firms in each niche. A small group of elite law firms exist at each tier of the market but all of their former competitors no longer exist.
- There are far fewer licensed attorneys but many more people understand the law.
Knowledge about what the law is and how it affects our lives is evenly distributed. All citizens can readily solve the vast majority of their legal needs as the events that give rise to them occur. The law will still be voluminous and byzantine but everyone will have powerful tools that help them navigate its intricacies with minimal assistance from lawyers. In other words, the law will no longer be a black box.
HOW CAN WE MAKE THIS FUTURE A REALITY?
Restructure Legal Education
- Allow high school students to apply directly to law school
- Shorten the completion time from 3 Years to 2 Years
- Begin the year in January instead of August
- Eliminate summer vacation and semester break
- Create a micro credentialing system with MOOCs
Recruit And Train Young Lawyers Differently
- Create more nuanced hiring criteria. Stop blindly relying on GPA and standardized test scores.
- Create robust apprenticeship programs
Regulate The Practice of Law Differently
- Allow non-lawyers to have ownership interests in firms that provide legal services
*I will have each of these points more substantively fleshed out soon. Not enough time in the day. . .