Perception Versus Reality: "There Are Too Many Lawyers"

Published in 'My Case', May 15, 2013 by Nicole Black

The United States has 1.25 million lawyers, and the perception from a regular stream of news stories suggests that is far too many. Old and prestigious law firms have failed, lawyer layoffs have continued, law school graduates have sued their schools for misleading them about employment chances, and (according to The New York Times) law school admissions for the upcoming 2013 academic year are headed for a 30-year low (down 38 percent from 2010).

However, the reality is that these headlines, all focus on "BigLaw" – the large corporate firms with many hundreds or even thousands of lawyers. While doom-sayers proclaim that the legal profession's problem is too many lawyers, demand for legal services is still very large among the Main Street folks who can't pay $1,000 an hour legal fees. These people need and will continue to need help with wills, divorces, taxes and house purchases. Such customers offer a lot of work to firms with costs flexible enough to be affordable.

What work will these lawyers do? It's an undeniable fact that as society becomes more litigious, lawyers must deal with new causes of action all the time, and these affect the lives of everyday people. Here is just one example. In Los Angeles last year, the owner of a Honda Civic hybrid won an unusual Small Claims Court lawsuit against the auto giant for misleading statements about the high mileage her hybrid was supposed to, but did not, get. Experts said this judgment could transform product liability litigation nationwide for informed plaintiffs with a good small firm lawyer who can bring an individual lawsuit, rather than an expensive class action.

The point here is not so much the court action itself, but the fact that such causes of action affect the everyday lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people around the country. Such people will need lawyers to help them. The mega law firms with many hundreds or even thousands of lawyers may serve the 1% of the corporate world that is relentlessly pushing them for fee and overhead reductions. But, there will be a large group of customers – the 99% – who need sole practitioners and small firms

There is plenty of work available for those small firms that are affordable in their cost structures and nimble enough in their legal analysis. Legislators have to justify their existence and continue to write new laws, providing work for lawyers to interpret these laws and advise their clients on their benefits or perils. Clients still look to lawyers when they need help or want to right a wrong. The market is there for those lawyers who give up the perception that success as a lawyer means billing $1,000 an hour and making a million dollars a year – and who accept the reality that charging an affordable fee to help everyday people is a good way to make a living.

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