Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lawyers on Tap or Lawyers' Water Torture



It is a truth seldom told to students, but the legal profession is facing its most profound changes. As the recent UCL debate on legal education showed, legal academics are frightened by the future. So much so, they refuse to acknowledge it. Life will continue the same.

It won't.

Although October 6 was meant to be Legal Big Bang it turned out to be Unheard Whimper. This is frequently allied to the steady drip. All so subtle, it is virtually unnoticed.

If we add up various movements we see how the changes are slipping in with little awareness. The Lawyer carried a story on Eversheds' move into the temping lawyers market. Eversheds will second lawyers into clients' inhouse departments. This is similar to Berwin Leighton Paisner's Lawyers on Demand which will do contract work at the client's base or in the BLP office. These are cheap lawyers who will fill whatever gaps their clients perceive. These are not members of Eversheds or BLP in the way their "normal" lawyers are.

Contract lawyers are essentially lawyers who are either desperate to get a job or perhaps those who have deliberately stepped off the treadmill.

Perhaps the most sophisticated version of this is Axiom Law. But whereas BLP-Eversheds promises no more than cheaper contract lawyers, Axiom is offering a different style of legal career. If you want to opt out of the legal rat race, Axiom offers a way forward that is distinct from contract lawyering. It involves secondments or more multi-skills mixes of talents and expertise.

While these services concentrate on qualified lawyers who can be hired out when needed, Acculaw has shifted the delivery model to an earlier stage. Get them while they are training--farm them out to law firms that need to be seen to be fulfilling their service obligations by taking trainees--they'll feel good. What will happen to the trainees? Well there are no promises there....

Let us add DWF's new apprenticeship track for would-be lawyers as legal executives as an alternative to qualifying as a solicitor and altogether we can see how the deskilling of law is taking place. The rise of technology, legal process outsourcing with globalization has begun to create a global market for legal talent which is pitting expensive suppliers against lower-cost ones. Indian lawyers are still a lot cheaper than US and UK lawyers. Both of these regimes are trying to find ways of reducing their costs so they can maintain their lock on the global legal market. I'm not sure they can do it.

Both the UK and the US have problems with the costs of legal education (no links here just google this and you'll get more than you want, believe me). Students are angry while law school faculty are on the whole complacent. British universities are about to raise their tuitions next year, without any increase in the quality of their product. They are clearly forgetting they play in the global market--for example, the cost of law school tuition in Holland is 1600 euros a year (compared to 9000 pounds in the UK or 46000 dollars in the US) and they teach in English.

So who has their fingers in the dike? Anyone?




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