Friday, May 8, 2015

ABA and Wisconsin Bar combine efforts to solve lawyers’ problems (but not really)

Many new law grads are saddled with staggering debt loads and have limited job prospects.  While six-figure debt is now commonplace, just over half of new law grads have been able to land full-time, long-term employment as lawyers.  And, thanks to the bimodal salary distribution, most of those “lucky” new lawyers aren’t even paid enough to make a dent in their student loans.  On the other hand, for established, practicing lawyers, things aren’t much better: fees have been stagnant or even falling — not only in real dollars, but often in nominal dollars as well.  But don’t worry.  A grinning bureaucrat from the ABA teamed up with the Wisconsin Bar to discuss the “great opportunities facing lawyers today.”  That’s funny; I thought we “faced” obstacles but were “presented with” opportunities.  But I’m not writing this to nitpick word choice, so let’s get to the real question: what exactly are these “great opportunities”?

Well, “86 percent of people, even at or below the poverty line, have smartphones.”  However, “[o]nly 1 out of 4 people with a legal problem go to a lawyer.”  Ergo, lawyers, get off your duffs, tap into this virgin market, and satisfy these unmet legal needs!  (How, exactly, we lawyers should go about doing this is not stated.  The article is high on hoopla but short on advice, and merely throws out buzzwords like “technologies,” “platforms,” and “delivery systems.”)

Lack of specifics aside, however, there might be some other problems with this nugget of advice.  What type of “legal problems” are these individuals with smartphones having and, more to the point, why aren’t they hiring lawyers?  The empiricists out there may take issue with my failure to cite hard data; however, based on my own knowledge, these unmet legal needs are likely comprised of retail theft tickets, bounced check cases, child support arrearages, disputes over unpaid rent, civil commitments for outstanding traffic tickets, etc.  The possession of smartphones not withstanding, these individuals are in these predicaments precisely because they are “at or below the poverty line” and, obviously, don’t have the money to spend on legal fees!

In fairness, the ABA’s grinning bureaucrat and the Wisconsin State Bar aren’t selling their vague scheme entirely via the “build your practice” angle.  The article’s title actually employs two angles: “Innovate to Get Clients, Close the Justice Gap.”  So as usual, they are using our bar dues to beat the “public service” drum.  We lawyers should be furious that, once again, these bar associations are working for everyone except their memberships.

Finally, I’d normally conclude by asking how this bureaucrat can spin such a yarn with a straight face, i.e., without crackin’ a grin.  But the video that accompanies the article renders that question moot. 

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