Oh, but wait—first the lawyers may sink their own ships

BVWireIssue #125-2
February 13, 2013

The 2013 Report on the State of the Legal Market, just published by the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession (Georgetown University Law Center) and Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor, finds much ado about very little, which, all dramatic allusions aside, is never good news for the BV profession and its reliance on this crucial referral base. Overall, the 2012 demand for attorneys was up just 0.5% from the previous year, as measured by billable hours. In addition to “sluggish” growth, the U.S. legal market also suffers from “declining productivity, falling realization rates, and the need for further expense reductions.”

The U.S. was not alone; the U.K. legal market also slowed, and—with the stalling of economies in China and Brazil—demand for attorneys is also dragging in Asia and Latin America. “It is becoming increasingly apparent that the market for legal services in the United States and throughout the world has changed in fundamental ways,” the report says. If the legal profession is to stay afloat in this “increasingly difficult and challenging environment,” it will have to show a collective clear thinking, strategic focus, and flexibility in addressing rapidly changing realities.

“Is it time to burn the ships?” the report asks, alluding to the legend of Cortez—the Spanish conquistador who, upon landing on the shores of the Yucatan in 1519, ordered his men to burn their ships so they had no choice but to move forward and conquer the Aztec empire. On a less dramatic level, the report urges the profession “to force ourselves to think outside our traditional models and, however uncomfortable it might be, to imagine new and creative ways to deliver legal services more efficiently and build more sustainable models of law firm practice.”

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