I had the opportunity and the privilege yesterday to make a presentation entitled “Think Small: Learning About and Locating Positions in Small Law Firms” for the New York State Bar Association. About 30 who registered were “live” in the “studio” at the law office of Lauren Wachtler, the chair of the Committee on Lawyers in Transition. An additional 175 registered for the webcast
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I initially talk about how we got to this point (my 50th year in the legal profession) where the vast majority of the public are unable to obtain the services of a lawyer and the vast majority of lawyers are dissatisfied. (I quote from the recent American Bar Foundation “After the JD” press release indicating that 59% of the associates from what they refer to as the “top ten law schools” intend to leave their present large firm employers within 2 years and that those in firms of greater than 250 lawyers are less satisfied than their counterparts in smaller firms.)
I state my belief that the culprit are the law schools which funnel their students to BigLaw through on-campus interviewing and ignore those unable to be interviewed and, in the process, neglect the legal needs of the public by failing to teach skills, values and career planning and charging outrageous amounts for tuition, far greater than the worth of the services delivered. My experience in the last 25 years leads me to conclude that lawyers who are unhappy because they are unable to find employment or dissatisfied at the law firm the law school “placed” them in, will invariably suffer from a lack of self-confidence, self-respect and self-worth.
The second part of the program begins with making lawyers aware of one of the four fundamental values of the legal profession – the commitment of a lawyer to take a position consistent with his or her professional goals and personal values. I then suggest how to go about finding a position in a small firm pointing out that 66% of all lawyers in private practice are in firms of 5 or less lawyers. I advise that they choose and area of law, find out who does it, make contact with some to promote and market yourself, keep doing something and eventually accept a position likely to provide career satisfaction.
I also suggest that, as they implement this process, they might want to look at themselves as independent contractors and, rather than limiting themselves to jobs as employees, look for opportunities to work part-time for one lawyer, then one or two others until they are full time partners, associates or solos.
The program raised a number of issues. Whether or not you view the webinar, I invite you to comment and share what you think about these or any related topics: the legal needs of the public; the need for major restructuring of legal education; OCI and the funnel; dissatisfaction of lawyers in BigLaw; the lack of self-confidence of lawyers generally; the opportunities in small firms.
Ron Fox .