These are grim days for large corporate law firms, which like everyone else were kneecapped by the recession, but have since emerged into a harsh new economic order where their old business model appears to be collapsing. Noam Scheiber has captured this sad state of affairs beautifully for The New Republic this week in a piece sure to make anyone who ever toyed with the idea taking the LSAT feel very, very vindicated.
But rather than revel in schadenfreude -- which I realize is pretty much the default emotion when discussing the travails of richly compensated lawyers -- I want to talk about why the industry collapse that Scheiber describes, is actually far more important than many are willing to admit.
And when I say many, I mean law schools. Talk to an academic about the changing value of a law degree, and there's a decent chance they'll play down the recent trouble in Big Law -- the semi-affectionate industry nickname for the 200 or so top firms. Their justification is pretty simple: the vast majority of lawyers don't work in Big Law and never will. There were about 1.5 million Americans with a J.D. in 2009, according to the Census bureau. According to The National Law Journal, meanwhile, the 350 biggest firms in the country by headcount only employed about 141,000 lawyers last year.