Legal entrepreneurship key to the future

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics updated its 2010-2020 Employment Projections in February, with reportedly 31,000 lost attorney jobs since the last projection and with the alarming estimate that only 48% of law graduates this decade can be expected to get a legal job.

The reason for this coming jobs crisis is, simply put, that lawyer jobs are starting to disappear. More clients are using lawyer substitutes like contract lawyers, overseas lawyers, paralegals, legal assistants and even accountants. Lawyers’ monopoly over legal services is dissolving, with new legal actors like Co-op, LegalZoom and RocketLawyer. Clients also have access to lawyer-like technology like the ACC Contract Advisor and to legal advice and documents online, often for free, via collaboration portals or sites like the Association of Corporate Counsel, Legal OnRamp, Law Pivot and Pinsent Masons’s Out-Law to name some.

This means that new graduates will have to look beyond the traditional “getting a job”-concept. This concept and how legal employment most likely will evolve has been knowingly examined by Jordan Furlong in recent blog post – “The future of legal employment“. As Jordan Furlong puts it, today, “jobs” are becoming more difficult to define and measure. At the same time, independent workers and entrepreneurs are gaining increasing traction in the economy. The concept of “getting a job” – securing a reliable, medium-term engagement of steady activity in return for steady compensation – might yet prove to be a product of its economic era. Entrepreneurship is the best weapon to get through the legal jobs crisis. There just aren’t going to be as many “lawyer jobs”, as we’ve traditionally understood the term in the future. But there should be a growing number of “lawyer opportunities”, some of which the market will make for us and some of which we’ll have to make for ourselves.

Here is the list by Jordan Furlong on such legal entrepreneurship opportunities (please read his blog post for more details):

  • General Contractor
  • Knowledge Tailor
  • Strategic Auditor
  • Accreditation Monitor
  • Proficiency Analyst
  • Legal Physician
  • Informal Arbiter

The list could also be supplemented with the new roles for lawyers or legal hybrids, i.e. multi-disciplinary practitioners who provide sophisticated legal advice that bridges specialties, predicted by Professor Richard Susskind in presentations and in the book “The End of Lawyers?“, like for example:

  • Legal Knowledge Engineer
  • Legal Process Analyst
  • Legal Projec t Manager
  • ODR Practitioner
  • Risk Manager
  • Legal Management Consultant

Unfortunately, law schools seem to fail in preparing students for the future and in providing them with practical experience and tools to deal with globalization, new disruptive technologies and complementary disciplines. Instead, legal education is focused on training lawyers to be craftsmen at a time when that role is being phased out. The threat here for lawyers is clear – their jobs may well be eroded or even displaced. At the same time, for entrepreneurial lawyers, Richard Susskind foresees quite different law jobs emerging which may be highly rewarding, even if very different from those of today.

Jordan Furlong has the same faith in entrepreneurship as the salvation and his advice to new lawyers is therefore not to gear all career efforts towards “getting a job”. “So instead, plan for independence. More and more legal employment will be small and entrepreneurial in nature, rewarding the self-starter who builds a reputation for value, effectiveness and foresight. Look at the legal market around you and ask: What’s missing? What client needs aren’t being met? What needs have clients not even thought of yet? What innovative new industries will flourish in the next ten years, and in what ways will they require assistance that lawyer training and legal skills can deliver? What demographic trends will take full effect in the 2010s, and what are their law-related implications? What technological advances in the legal market, no matter how sophisticated, will still require complementary high-end lawyer services? Prove the predictions wrong. Create new opportunities. Identify and encourage unrealized demand. Find ways to apply your best legal skills – strategic analysis, critical thinking, incisive logic, intellectual coherence, principled persuasion, and more – to create value for clients. That’s the best way – and it might be the only way – to ensure your ongoing success as a 21st-century lawyer.”