PD Quarterly 18 (2019)
"The mission of IFLP is to produce more legal professionals who have strong legal knowledge plus foundational training in allied disciplines — in other words, “T-shaped” legal professionals."
You look down at your smartphone and see that you just got a text from a close family relative. They are asking to schedule a phone call.
The next line reads, “I’m thinking about going to law school.”
Well, if you read PD Quarterly, you’re likely a logical person to seek out for advice. You’ve got some time to think about it. What are you going to say?
Whatever your counsel, it is likely to be a mix of your views on where the legal industry is today (perhaps quite a bit different than when you started) and where you see the legal industry going over the next 10 to 20 years.
Let’s face it — this is a hard assignment to get right.
Over the years, many of my friends and colleagues have been placed in this situation. And a good number of them have concluded that the best course of action is to pass the buck to me, since much of my research focuses on the economics and structure of the legal profession.
When I picked this research area nearly two decades ago, the job was primarily to describe the functioning of the legal market. This worked wonderfully well to build a tenure file, particularly since the mid-2000s were a period of significant change and disruption for both lawyers and law firms.
But somewhere along the line, my thinking began to shift. As I gained a deeper knowledge of how legal education and the legal profession evolved over time, including deficiencies that were contrary to our professional values, I began to ask myself the question, “As a lawyer and law professor, do I have an obligation to use what I am learning to help shape and direct the future of law and legal education?”
As a matter of ethics, the Preamble to the ABA Model Rules provide clear guidance on duties as “public citizens.” That said, there is an immense gap between that exalted language and our actions as a profession. For me, this has taken on a moral dimension that I’ve found impossible to diminish or ignore.
For example, at the same time that state courts are increasingly glutted with self-represented litigants, solo and small firm lawyers are struggling to earn a living. At the other end of the client spectrum, corporate legal departments continue to push back on the use of first- and second-year associates, which in turn puts downward pressure on entry-level hiring in law firms. Indeed, since the Great Recession, the number of entry-level jobs in private practice has gone down. Yet, regardless of job prospects, law student debt continues to go up.
At least for me, it’s been impossible to study and write about the current state of the legal profession without asking the question, “Doesn’t anyone have a plan?”
Then, over time, I gradually accepted the reality that as a lawyer and law professor with an intimate knowledge of these very serious industry-level problems, I needed to help lead the effort to solve them. Fortunately, other fellow travelers from other parts of the profession were reaching similar conclusions.
However, before getting too deeply into that story, let me first introduce the Institute for the Future of Law Practice, which is the vehicle we created to drive beneficial industry-level change.
Henderson, William D., "The Institute for the Future of Law Practice: A New Narrative for Legal Education and the Legal Profession" (2019). Articles by Maurer Faculty. 3045.