Proof of the Profession's Crisis

, The Am Law Daily

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The leadership crisis that pervades much of big law is evident from many leaders' own words.

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What's being said

  • Law must be either a profession or a business; it cannot be both. Re-missioning of the law firm as a business pursuing profits and growth over clients' interests and collegiality has destroyed the profession over the past 30 years. Pursuit of growth is ever only realized by short-termism, by definition. The law firm as a professional entity never was a "collection of self-interested professionals" but a cooperative of professionals working together for the good of their clients and struggling to suppress the natural personal greed, envy, and competition destructive of the common bonds. It is no accident that the U.S. firms that grew in size to pre-dominate the profession derived the lock-step compensation formula, reviled by the ‘Me Generation’ of the 1980’s. The rot in law does lie in the compensation, but in the “eat what I kill or I leave” structure forced by the ‘young turks’, not recognizing that personal productivity comes and goes with economic cycles, business fad, and personal exigencies. More than one ‘young turk’ took a ‘sabbatical’ in the wake of family tragedy, personal burnout, or demise of area of specialization.



    Characterizing partners or shareholders, native or lateral, as "unproductive" simply feeds the internecine competition that is born of short-termism. Laterals more often are "unproductive" because their new partners were only interested in acquiring their clients and not the lawyers and thus never bring them into the fold, working cooperatively and logistically supporting the newcomers. And of course, in the ‘eat what I kill or I leave’ structure, every partner, every shareholder, and every associate is motivated not only to isolate but steal clients, doing so by undermining colleagues, forming piratical and predatory fiefdoms, and always having one foot poised at the door. Why should senior partners leave? Yesterday’s ‘young turks’, they built the rotting corpse—and never funded their firms’ pension liabilities.

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