Of those managing partners interviewed by CITI PRIVATE BANK LAW WATCH, 64% indicated things are going to get worse over the next six months and not recover any time soon. Consultants on the legal industry predict that recovery will bring a very different kind of law business - downsized, less lucrative, managed for more cost-efficiency.
Those changes, long overdue, are finally happening because, as Steve Lohr documents in THE NEW YORK TIMES - which itself isn't morphing fast enough - crisis "can serve to sharply accelerate trends already under way." Meanwhile the layoffs continue. Today they were announced at Reed Smith, Manatt and Stroock.
Yet, in the face of all this, too many unemployed lawyers remain determined to find a comparable job in the legal profession. Under other circumstances that fierceness about a goal might be laudatory. But, given the pessimistic indicators on all fronts, that determination might be downright reckless.
When the academic market for humanities professors collapsed in the early 1970s, those who remained determined wasted their best career-building years as gypsy scholars, in survival jobs to wait out the downturn in demand, and publishing dreary academic papers that, like Father McKenzie writing sermons, no one would hear. After two years of determination, I experimented with other career paths, failed fast, and wound up in corporate speechwriting and ghostwriting.
An excellent lesson on the perils of determination is writ large in the new book "The House of Wittenstein: A family at war" by Alexander Waugh. This clan, which produced the breakthrough philosopher Ludwig, also generated multiple suicides, severe breakdowns, and unhappiness that tended to drag others down in its net. The patriarch Karl, a prototype of business tycoon Joseph Kennedy, was hell-bent on his sons following him in commerce and the rest of the brood dancing to the tune of his values. Those who didn't actually self-destruct, such as Ludwig, were preoccupied with checking out.
Can the intensity of determination be replaced with the passion for experimentation - at least in coming up with work that suits us and pays decently? No matter what our chronological age, our former or current career path, or our prospects, good or bad, we are being pushed to remake how we approach earning a living. At the very least, we will be working in more settings and for shorter periods of time than we anticipated. We will have to leverage technology, which is mutating, for our employer's and client's advantage. We could lose everything if our industry collapses.
Is the 21st century mindset trial and error? Among survivors like Barack Obama, T. Boone Pickens and Arianna Huffington this seems the only way to see a career path.