I knew from the time I was 10 years old that I wanted to be a lawyer. I remember being on the school bus one day and a tumbler clicking in place in my head to that effect as I watched the soybean field roll by from the window. I don’t recall there being a specific trigger for my decision – it was probably caused by the latent effects of watching endless Perry Mason reruns and my parents’ sincerely held belief that fairness is the most important civic virtue and one desperately desired by those without means or power. Lawyers were able to deliver that fairness.
Having made up my mind, I never questioned that I would actually become a lawyer. I assumed – and probably correctly for the times in which my opinions were formed – that it was up to me. If I worked hard and was smart enough, the rest of the tumblers would fall into place, unlocking my opportunity and a bright future doing what I wanted to do. Beyond my ability to know or understand at that time, macroeconomic forces likely encouraged (or at least made probable) my matriculation through the professional prerequisites.
You know the punch line. The macroeconomic forces have changed. Most graduating law students are not getting the law jobs they went to law school for or are not getting law jobs at all. Probably because of the economic downtown of the past several years, forces of globalization, and market pressures that are altering the actual and perceived need for lawyers by clients, the demand for lawyers is down in the United States. As a consequence, law school applications are down sharply over the past two years. The latter point is probably a reasonable and natural response to former point. But as the pipeline of lawyer capacity shrinks under the weight of those market forces, we’re left with an overcapacity of law school graduates now – those recent graduates that can’t find jobs as well as longer practicing lawyers displaced by the economic downturn.
You probably already knew all this. The question is what, if anything, we are going to do to help. We members of the professions, we members of the Indianapolis Bar Association, we lawyers. I suppose there is a choice. One possibility is laissez faire observance of the problem of unemployed and underemployed lawyers as an unfortunate matter that will correct itself in time. Another is action to assist unemployed and underemployed lawyers in getting a leg up on their current circumstances by spending time and resources finding and creating opportunities for them to perform meaningful legal work – work that will permit their careers to grow, even if more slowly than they had originally hoped.
You can probably guess my suggested choice. I say, let’s get everybody on the bus and work to letting them off at better stops. The IndyBar already offers resources that can assist unemployed and underemployed lawyers. Here are five – all described on the IndyBar’s website – www.indybar.org:
Use the IndyBar’s Free Document Library – forms available for contracts, criminal law, family law, proceedings supplemental, real estate, wills and estates and even specific court forms.
Visit the IndyBar Job Bank – post your resume, review available positions posted by employers, and consult the PDF entitled “Lawyers In Transition” which was put together by the IBA Standing Committee on Professionalism.
Take advantage of IndyBar Networking Opportunities – monthly lunches, Bench Bar, section meetings, IBF Trivia Night, and more.
Attend very low-cost Continuing Legal Education to stay up on the profession and meet new lawyer contacts.
Sign up for the IndyBar Lawyer Referral Service – an economical way to attract more clients to your practice.
We also realize that challenging times require innovative measures, and the IndyBar intends to do more. Recently, the IndyBar Executive Committee commissioned a task force to come up with additional resources and programs for unemployed and underemployed lawyers in our community. It has begun its work and soon will be in position to report its findings and recommendations to the IndyBar Board for implementation. So, please stay tuned on this issue.
Let’s be candid, this is a huge elephant that we have to eat one bite at a time. But every interaction and offer of assistance, no matter how seemingly small, probably makes a difference in the long run. As I have done before, let me again encourage those of you in position to do so to reach out to those who need your assistance, your advice, and your counsel.
We’re on this bus together.•