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Chinn: The Future of the Profession, Part 1

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iba-chinn-scottOctober 15, 2012 was a day 423 lawyers will remember for the rest of their lives. That’s because it was the day they were sworn into the Indiana bar. I was pleased to be there too on behalf of the Indianapolis Bar Association.

If you generally like lawyers and admire the contributions that most of them make toward creating a civil society, then it is hard not to feel happy for these (mostly) young people who stood before the Chief Justice Dickson and a stunning array of his fellow judicial officers. They looked great as they wore the uniform of the profession and also wore expressions that concealed what I suspect was elation and nervous excitement about beginning their careers. Their family members beamed with pride and joy, no doubt adhering to a self-imposed moratorium on lawyer jokes.

And there is every reason to think that these new members of the bar will have successful careers. But at the risk being labeled a killjoy, I must admit that as I listened to the words of wisdom and congratulations from the judges and lawyers, I was also concerned about their job prospects. How many of these new admittees have law jobs? How many have the law jobs they went to law school to garner? How many have education-related debt that will make it tough to make ends meet? A few years from now, how will the metrics of the economy and the state of the profession have evolved to shape the opportunities and contribute to the well being of these lawyers?

As I’ve mentioned in this column before, the IndyBar is working on a set or programs to assist lawyers, including new lawyers, who are looking for jobs or feel underemployed. But we should also recognize that the supply of new lawyers probably exceeds the demand for quality law jobs – jobs that afford adequate service of student debt loads and a quality of life, let alone personal fulfillment. One great question of the times is whether this condition will persist. I don’t want to be a pessimist, but I think we should assume it will. Our economy simply will demand fewer lawyers in the future – at least, fewer lawyers whose salary requirements (owing in substantial part to education costs) in turn require fees that price many consumers out of the market for legal services. Ironically, there likely won’t be less demand for legal services; there will be less demand for legal services provided by lawyers. Witness the success of LegalZoom and other low cost substitutes for traditional legal services.

Let me interject here that I do not mean to purvey gloom and doom. I remain bullish that lawyers will continue to be central to protecting the rights and interests Americans hold dearly and will promote the non-violent dispute resolution that is the hallmark of the American democracy. But getting a good law job and having a stable legal career just is and will be more difficult.

So, even as we address the current dilemma of trying to match lawyers with quality opportunities to work in our professions, we must also focus attention on the underlying demographics of the profession. Of course, that conversation is underway in law schools, journals, and among economists. But I don’t think we should be content to let it play out on a macroeconomic level. Rather, I think we should assess these conditions in our own community, draw some conclusions, and determine whether the practicing bar can make a difference. Should law schools be taking fewer students? How do we permit more students to leave school with less debt? And what do we do to address the apparent problem that law school applications from minority candidates are falling out of proportion to a decline in law school applications overall?

I know many others too think we ought to be weighing in on the number crunching and innovation required to change the status quo. I look forward to the IndyBar playing a role in that conversation.•

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  1. Someone off their meds? C'mon John, it is called the politics of Empire. Get with the program, will ya? How can we build one world under secularist ideals without breaking a few eggs? Of course, once it is fully built, is the American public who will feel the deadly grip of the velvet glove. One cannot lay down with dogs without getting fleas. The cup of wrath is nearly full, John Smith, nearly full. Oops, there I go, almost sounding as alarmist as Smith. Guess he and I both need to listen to this again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRnQ65J02XA

  2. Charles Rice was one of the greatest of the so-called great generation in America. I was privileged to count him among my mentors. He stood firm for Christ and Christ's Church in the Spirit of Thomas More, always quick to be a good servant of the King, but always God's first. I had Rice come speak to 700 in Fort Wayne as Obama took office. Rice was concerned that this rise of aggressive secularism and militant Islam were dual threats to Christendom,er, please forgive, I meant to say "Western Civilization". RIP Charlie. You are safe at home.

  3. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  4. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

  5. ACLU. Way to step up against the police state. I see a lot of things from the ACLU I don't like but this one is a gold star in its column.... instead of fighting it the authorities should apologize and back off.

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