California Bar Journal
CBJ - September 2012 #01.
Legal job market woes complicate work of task force
The California LawyerSeptember 2012Legal job market woes complicate work of task forceBy Laura ErndeStaff writerA task force researching the preparedness of newly minted California attorneys got a grim reality check last month from an out-of-state law professor: Practical skills may not help students overcome the bleakest job market in decades.
William D. Henderson, director of the Center on the Global Legal Profession at the University of Indiana, warned that the changing economics of the profession, which have switched from boom to bust, will complicate the task force's goals.
Between 1978 and 2003, legal services as a percentage of the nation's GDP increased from .4 percent to 1.8 percent. But the high-end corporate work that was fueling that growth bottomed out in 2008. Still, law schools continue to churn out more and more lawyers who face grim employment prospects.
"Professional skills are not going to change this," Henderson said, presenting a dizzying array of charts and graphics to back up his presentation.
"This makes my head spin," said Jon Streeter, State Bar president and chair of the task force. "We're in a period of rapid change, and we need to pay attention."
Henderson said lawyers and law firms need to adapt to a market that has lost ground to inexpensive packaged legal services offered by the new players in the legal industry, such as Axiom Legal and the online LegalZoom.com.
The goal of the Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform is to make sure lawyers are prepared to serve clients the day they get their license to practice. In its first two meetings since being assembled in April, the task force has heard testimony from a wide range of people, from academics to regulators of other professions.
The message from law school deans has been clear - tread lightly. A number of academics said market demand has already spurred an increase in practical skills course offerings, including externships, clinics and moot court exercises. Any regulation could have the unintended consequence of reversing that trend, they said.
"This is really not your parents' legal education," Dean Steven R. Smith of California Western School of Law told the task force at its first meeting in June.