A Midwest Attorney writes in this Presidents's Day weekend:
"In my few lucid moments in between bouts of economic paranoia this weekend - if it were summer, I'd be canning green beans and shooting squirrels to eat next winter - I'm having a hard time taking the whole death-of-law thing seriously. I think you are totally correct, Jane, in saying: 'It could drill down to what studying law, practicing it, and the thought or reality of giving it up, at least as a means of making a living, mean to you.' There have been hard times before and there will be again. Such times always are not a problem but an opportunity.
"For example, the decade of the 1970s was the gilded age of antitrust law. By far, it was the most prestigious specialty and also the most intellectually rigorous. Defining the relevant market in a particular way could be case changing, and the defense side was usually staffed with the best and brightest BigLaw partners who often had clerked for Supreme Court justices and prepared for law school by earning Ph.D. degrees in economics. When Ronald Reagan became president in 1980, he ensured that DOJ did MUCH less antitrust enforcement, which was viewed as a good thing from a policy standpoint, because federal prosecutors had gone a bit berserk. But the best and the brightest of a generation were suddenly scrambling for billable hours just like lawyers today are doing. Or losing their jobs in droves. Or learning a different specialty. Or leaving the profession to do something else, which they often found more satisfying.
"Environmental law followed a similar track. In the 1980s, thanks (grudgingly) to President Reagan, companies were desperate for environmental law advice and any warm bodied lawyer who could say the words 'Superfund' and 'PRP' with some confidence was suddenly a hot commodity. After about a decade, though, the specialty began to wane, for a number of reasons. For one thing, companies learned it was much cheaper to hire an in-house specialist than pay huge hourly rates to defense lawyers. The specialty shifted in the 1990s to wetlands and drainage law, but the good-old-days never returned. Greenhouse gas emission enforcement - if it develops in the next decade - could rescue the specialty, but that remains to be seen.
"BigLaw associates may have been lulled - through no fault of their own - to believe their stellar records were a virtual free-pass to the good life. Now they're waking up. But these are, demonstrably, the best and brightest of their law school generation. They will survive and thrive. I'm sure of it."
Further commentary welcome on the changing conditions in BigLaw. Please contact Mgenova981@aol.com.