Over the last decade, we have made tremendous strides in communication, and technology has helped make information readily available to many. Now a lot of employers will allow for telecommuting and flexible schedules, as long as people remain accessible via cellphones or the internet. An amazing new set of options now exist that did not just 10 years ago, and yet with all these gains I am painfully aware of the losses to our privacy, personal boundaries and above all to the corrosion of the legal profession.
For some reason, people seem to understand that you have to pay for most services– whether it is your hairdresser, doctor or even your mechanic. Some public services are covered through your taxes, such as public schools, the fire department, police, etc. And yet inexplicably when it comes to legal services, so many people seem outraged by the lack of free consults or payment plans. Personally, I don’t know of anyone else that does work for free or delivers a product first without any assurance of payment. Perhaps it is the hourly rates that seem to not sit well with people, but the fact is that 1/3 goes to taxes, 1/3 goes to overhead, so the actual amount received by the lawyer rendering a service is the remaining 1/3.
A lot of information and sample documents are now readily available on-line, so the overall client base across many fields of law has decreased. Furthermore, as a result of the recession, many litigants are attempting to navigate the legal system on their own. The remaining clients that want legal assistance now have souring expectations about an attorney’s availability without any regard to the sanctity of family time, or our need to simply decompress.
Unfortunately, the increased competition within the profession has resulted in a rapidly evaporating sense of loyalty within firms. It used to be that an associate would put in 6-8 years at a firm, and eventually s/he would make partner with the firm acting as a safety net ensuring a secure, promising future for that attorney. Now, there is little assurance of a partner track, and once you are partner, the pressure to make it rain for the firm never seems to end– the second you do, you might well find your partners have turned their backs on you and left you out in the cold.
For the last three years, after each of my lectures at the law schoools, I am constantly asked by law students to provide some insight into firm life, what firms are looking for, etc. For their sake, I try to remain optimistic, for I do know of a few good firms run by partners that still have a soul– but the key word is few. This harsh corporate mentality is undoubtedly having a trickle-down effect that impacts the entire profession in private practice. For those of us that went to law school to help people and believed in the practice of law as a profession, not a cut-throat business, it is disheartening to see so many sharks take over and muddy our waters.
If revolts across the Middle East and other parts of the world could start with use of the social media, then perhaps that is the best place for some of us rebels within the legal profession to start. Using the very source that may be the cause of the demise of my profession to help fix it is ironic, I realize that, but then again my life is full of ironies– the greatest one being that here I am the poster child of divorce, when all I ever dreamed of was an intact family. Luckily, I have a strong spirit, and just as I hold out hope that one day I may get my wish in my personal life, I continue to believe it is possible for those in my profession to return to their original mission– to assist those in need with dignity and respect.