Attendee Discussion: Changes in Medium and Small Law Firms (Including Solo Practices), and the Issues These Changes Raise
William Hornsby: Lawyering for Personal Legal Services - a Work in Progress
From the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, law firm structures did not change substantially. The practice of Abraham Lincoln did not look much different than that portrayed by Perry Mason on television in the 1960s. Over the past 50 years, however, a series of dynamics have led to substantial changes in the ways that lawyers find and serve people with personal legal needs.
The consumer movement of the 1960s and ‘70s resulted in dramatic practice management changes that were stimulated by the emergence of law firm clinics. The Supreme Court decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona enabled lawyers to advertise and facilitated a series of strategies to expand client development. Certification of specialty, improvements in lawyer referral services and advances in prepaid legal services expanded the pipeline driving middle class consumer with legal needs to lawyers who would provide those services at affordable costs.
The emergence of the Internet in the 1990s has had the same effect. It has created better outlets for client development, including online directories, templated web sites, Q & A forums, legal matching sites, group advertising models and consumer rating sites. Web 2.0 has presented additional opportunities as lawyers seek client both directly and indirectly through social networks, social media, blogs and twitter. However, the Internet has also resulted in competition for routine legal matters from other sources, including non-profit entities, courts and commercial enterprises. The Internet has also expanded opportunities for client interface through virtual law offices.
The economic downturn in the late 2000s may have lead to a contraction of legal services, which could stimulate important changes. Unbundled legal services to those who would otherwise go forward pro se is evolving. Also, niche practices are emerging.
The law schools, except for those in the top tier, should realize that a large percentage of their graduates will provide personal legal services and should prepare them for that type of practice. Teaching practice management skills should be embraced and considered as important as other courses. The law schools should reconsider their role in defining the values of society and prepare students to protect the interests of children in divorce cases with the same dignity and stature as they now prepare students to defend corporate interests that frequently cause great harm.
Gillian Hadfield; Jeanne Charn; William Hornsby; Ward B. Coe, III; and William L. Reynolds. "Attendee Discussion: Changes in Medium and Small Law Firms (Including Solo Practices), and the Issues These Changes Raise" The Profession and the Academy: Addressing Major Changes in Law Practice. Ceremonial Court Room. Apr. 2010.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/william_reynolds/48
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