Atlanta Journal-Constitution Article About the Dearth of Lawyers in Rural Georgia

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an article today about the dearth of lawyers in rural Georgia.  The author, AJC’s Dan Chapman, queried whether the need for lawyers in rural lawyers might be an answer for law grads struggling to find jobs.  However, he concluded that rural Georgia practice is not going to be a solution for most grads, for a number of reasons.  Principal among these is that the fact that many potential clients cannot afford to pay for legal representation and recent law grads, with high debt burdens, cannot afford to represent them for little or not money.

Here is a link to the article:

AJC Article on Dearth of Lawyers in Rural Georgia and Legal Jobs Market

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Fulton County Daily Report’s Analysis of recent ABA law school placement reports for Georgia Law Schools

The Fulton County Daily Report published an analysis of 9 month placement reports for law schools in Georgia on May 2, 2013. Per the article, class of 2012 graduates of law schools in Georgia landed more long-term, full-time, bar-passage-required jobs than class of 2011. This would appear to confirm that 2011 was the bottom of the trough in the legal job’s market recession over the last several years.

Here is a link to the article:

More Ga. Grads Land Law Jobs

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Let’s not forget the law is a profession not a business

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With all the discussion out there about the economics of law firms and the collapse of the market for legal services following the the crash of 2008, it’s important to remember that lawyers are professionals first and foremost and that law firms are not traditional businesses.  Many observers of the legal industry discuss the depressed market for legal services at big firms using traditional business models to discuss things like profitability, profits per lawyer, profits per partner, billable hours, etc.  They also tend to prescribe solutions in purely economic terms without regard to the unique nature of law firms and the practice of law.  However, what those observers seem to miss is the fact that law firms cannot and should not be operated like traditional businesses.  Here are my thoughts as to why:

The fundamental problem underlying the dilemma that law firms face is that the law is a *profession* not a trade, and law firms cannot be managed or analyzed like traditional businesses for a number of reasons:

  • Lawyers are not in the business of selling widgets; they are in the business of selling their advice, counsel, and judgment. These things are not commodities that can be produced in ever greater numbers with ever greater efficiency and economies of scale. There is a limit on the number of hours of work that a lawyer can provide, based not only on the number of hours in the day, but also on the amount of work a human being can provide before burn out ensues and the judgment and advice offered begins to suffer.
  • Commoditizing legal services is totally at odds with the rules of professional responsibility and the fundamental role of attorneys as fiduciaries to their clients. Unless we are willing to entirely throw away this model, the idea of maximizing profits by treating legal services as a traditional business is based on a fundamental fiction that lawyers can sell ever increasing volumes of time and advice through a highly leveraged “assembly line” of associates consistent with the obligations of professional responsibility.  Advice and judgment cannot be produced on an assembly line. We need to stop thinking about lawyers as assembly line workers, and we need to stop demanding that big firms grow like businesses sold on the stock market.
  • Asking law firms to produce continuously increasing profits is like asking brain surgeons to create a brain surgery business and maximize profits of that business by maximizing the number of brain surgeries the business performs by delegating the brain surgery to armies of associate brain surgeons and asking them to perform brain surgeries constantly for 60-80 hours per week, 50 weeks a year. Would anyone want to go to Brain Surgery, Inc. as a “client” to have their own brain surgery performed?
  • What lawyers are trained to do, and what they do best is to offer sound advice and judgment. The current trend towards disaggregation of legal services is likely based in part on the recognition by business clients that lawyers are not good or efficient at providing goods and services outside their area of comparative advantage (i.e. providing legal advice). Lawyers and law firms should focus on their highest and best use, delivering legal advice and letting other providers (e.g. Legal process outsourcers, clients, etc) do the rest of it.
  • The flat management structure of law firms is inconsistent with the idea of maximizing efficiency and profit. First, for the reasons stated above, legal advice is not a commodity that can be generated through a system of hierarchical, matrixed departments. Second, in law firms the work is not effectively or efficiently divided efficiently among specialized teams. Law firms tend to adhere to the myth that lawyers that are “partner material” can do all things well. To the extent they do have specialized teams (e.g. a discovery center staffed by contract attorneys, or an IT group focused on document or matter management software), those specialized teams are not well compensated or respected by the partners that receive all the money, prestige and incentives to work hard. By contrast, businesses people tend to be better than law firms at recognizing that different employees have different skills and strengths and they organize employees accordingly into specialized teams and adequately reward them for their special contributions.
  • Rules of professional responsibility, including those that prohibit ownership of law firms by non lawyers and generally prevent lawyers from sharing in the profits of their clients, are designed to ensure that lawyers act as independent, trusted professionals, with a responsibility first and foremost to care for their clients as fiduciaries, not to extract maximum profit from them. These rules also prevent law firms from operating like a corporation, with business managers and investors deriving high levels of compensation and profits from “products” being manufacturd by the company’s factory workers (ie, the lawyers).

Simply put, the nature of the “product” sold by lawyers (legal advice) and the regulatory structure of the profession (embodied in the rules of professional responsibility), make it impossible for law firms to operate as a true business, and therefore attempts to analyze law firms and the legal services market like a traditional business market — and apply normal economic principles of growth, profitability etc. market — are fundamentally flawed.

With all of the above in mind: Aspiring lawyers should not go to law school with the idea that they will become rich like investment bankers if they want to pursue a traditional law practice upon graduation. They should do it because they find the work itself inherently rewarding and only if they are satisfied with a comfortable but not excessively high standard of living. If on the other hand they want to apply the skills of critical thinking, sound judgment, oral and written advocacy, etc. (ie skills that that one learns in law school) outside of a law practice (eg as business managers, investment bankers, entrepreneurs, etc.) then their skills may be well utilized in any number of areas that may lead to high levels of wealth and other rewards.

What do legal employers look for in job interviews?

Make the right moves to get the offer

Know what employers are looking for, in order to successfully navigate the interview process as a law student in the job market

As a law student interviewing for jobs, it’s important to keep in mind what employers are really looking for when they interview law students. Think about it from the standpoint of the employer: Who would you want to hire if you were the employer, and your reputation, business, and professional success depended on the people you hire? Once you start looking at it from this perspective, it starts to become clearer what employers will be looking for when they interview you. With that in mind, here are some key criteria that just about every employer will be considering as they interview you:

Ability to do the job: First and foremost, of course, an employer wants to know that you have the requisite intelligence, skills and qualifications to do the job. Likely if they have chosen you for an interview, you meet this test, but it’s still important to keep in mind, because you will want to confirm this for them and show them not only that you can do the job, but do it exceedingly well.

Rapport/Likeability: Employers want to know whether you are somebody they will want to see 8 (or more) hours a day, 5 (or more) days a week. You want to come across as likeable and develop rapport with the interviewers. In order to do this, it will be important to be as relaxed and engaging as you can be, while still maintaining a professional demeanor. You should also try and be yourself, since if you are trying to be someone else, employers will instantly read that and it will make you look fake. Also, if you are yourself, then you are more likely to allow your natural charm and charisma to show through, while coming across as genuine, solid, and trustworthy.

Match with Company/Firm Culture: Somewhat related to the previous criterion, interviewers will want to see that you are a good match for the firm’s “culture”. This one is a bit harder to prepare for, and is more of a crap shoot, since different employers will have different cultures, and there is no way to be all things to all employers. However, you can maximize your ability to meet this standard in at least three ways. First, you can convey all the other good things employers like (e.g. strong skills, general likeability, maturity, etc.) since most company cultures will value these types of things. Second, you try and learn about the employer’s culture by researching the firm/company beforehand (something you should be doing to prepare in general for the interview). Third, it will be important to read the interviewers’ tone and demeanor, and mirror what they are projecting to some extent. This will ensure that you meet their expectations of how the interview should be conducted, and also will to some extent, maximize your chance of demonstrating that you fit within their firm’s culture. Thus, if they are conducting the interview in a formal manner, then you should be more formal. If they are more relaxed and conversational, then you should be as well. However, always maintain a professional and respectful demeanor no matter how informal the interviewers may be. Finally, keep in mind that if you do a good job interviewing and are genuine, and you still are not perceived as a good fit for the employer’s culture, then it’s probably not a place where you would be happy.

Passion for the Job: Employers want to know not only whether you could do a good job for them, but also whether you want to. It’s important to show that you are enthusiastic about the employer and the particular job you are applying for. Employers know that employees produce far better work when they enjoy what they do and are happy with their employer. Therefore, you will want to research everything you can about the company and the position, so you can point to specific reasons why you want to work at that employer in that position. Conversely, if you know (or learn) that you would not be happy in the position, then you should not apply for it (or withdraw your application).

Maturity: One critical thing that employers are trying to assess is your maturity. Most law students are recent college graduates and perhaps still transitioning between a carefree youthful lifestyle and the responsibilities of being an adult professional. If an employer senses that you are not quite ready for prime time because you are still in the stage of being an irresponsible college kid, they will not want to hire you. So be sure to convey stability and maturity. Show them that they can put you in front of clients and you will reflect well on them.

Solid Judgment: Employers are looking not only for intelligent people with strong skills, they are also looking for people with solid judgment. No matter how brilliant a candidate is, if they are prone to making bad or risky decisions because they lack good judgment and prudent decision making skills, the candidate will be seen as a significant potential liability to an employer. This is especially true of legal employers, as they are in the business of selling their ability to deliver level-headed, prudent and careful advice to clients. The last thing you want to do is to get an interviewer thinking about all the nightmare malpractice scenarios you could generate for them by making poor decisions after they bring you on board. Therefore, be sure to show employers that you possess good judgment, and where you can, point to examples in your background showing that you have made sound, prudent decisions that have helped previous employers with difficult challenges.

Confidence: Everybody likes confidence, and legal employers are no exception. Confidence achieves a lot of things at once. First, it suggests that you possess the skills necessary to do a great job. Second, it puts people at ease and makes it much easier to develop rapport with interviewers. Third, it suggests maturity and stability. In other words, confidence tends to show that you meet the various other criteria discussed above that they are looking to find in a candidate. This does not mean however, that you should be cocky, as that would suggest a lot of bad things and undercut all the good things you are trying to convey – e.g., you will come across as immature, unlikable, unstable, etc. Instead simply try to convey relaxed, calm, and stable confidence, while still showing deference and respectfulness to the interviewer.

The above is not meant to be an exhaustive list of things employers are looking for, and every interviewer will have their own unique set of expectations. However, these general criteria are likely to be very important to just about every company or firm with whom you interview, so keep them in mind next time you are preparing for interviews.