|Legal Blog Watch|
Do Law Students Want a Revolution ... or a Union?
Both the WSJ Law Blog andWired GC offer coverage here and here on a newly formed law student group, Law Students Building a Better Legal Profession, that aims to change the modern law firm business model to make it more sustainable and profitable. To this end, the students have outlined goals that include: (1) Taking concrete steps towards a transactional billing system; (2) Reducing maximum billable-hour expectations for partnership; (3) Implementing balanced hours policies that work; and (4) Making work expectations clear.
Wired GC and WSJ Blog both pose this questions: Will law schools listen to students? That's hard to say. Law firms have listened in the past: The big law firm pro bono programs help firms with publicity, but they're also powerful recruitment tools. When I graduated from law school 19 years ago, formalized pro bono programs were just coming into existence. Now, they're de rigeur at most top firms. Maybe the programs don't handle many cases, or maybe new associates lack the time to participate, but nonetheless law firm pro bono is one example of law firm responsiveness to student demands.
At the same time, pro bono doesn't tackle the very heart of the large firm business model: the billable hour, the up or out partnership track (though these days many associates leave voluntarily before they're asked to leave) and the rites of passage that associates pass through en route to partnership. Thus, implementing pro bono is very different from adopting the reforms that the Law Students Building a Better Legal Profession propose.
My view on law firm reform has always been a pragmatic one. Law firms are profit-making businesses that will change when it's economically advantageous for them to do so. As mentioned, law firms developed pro bono service to attract angst-filled law students who wanted to work for a big firm but still do some good. As I've written here many times before, law firms are promoting diversity now that clients demand it. And law firms will change their internal economic structure when it's economically advantageous for them to do so.
I don't know that we've even come close to that point. For all the buzz in the blogosphere about discontent and disatisfaction, there are still enough law students graduating law school who want to work at large firms for a couple of years and are willing to defer gratification and work long hours. And there are enough law schools promoting law firms as the most prestigious career choice or the only option for new graduates. So I'm not sure where the law students will find the economic leverage to implement the reforms that they propose. Unless, of course, law students and associates unionize. Is that where our profession is headed?
RODRIGO GONZALEZ FERNANDEZ
TELEFONO: CEL. 76850061
RENATO SANCHEZ 3586 SANTIAGO,CHILE