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Who wants to be a lawyer?

November 11, 2013

Most US law schools have seen a decline in applicants of at least 25% in the last 3 years and that trend seems likely to continue. The numbers sitting the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) apparently fell by 11% in October, with the cumulative decline since 2009 being almost 45%.

Interestingly, the decline is greatest among the high-performers on the LSAT – in other words, the number of low-scoring test applicants has remained relatively static, leading to suggestions that the smartest students are now being attracted to other career paths.

The legal profession is certainly undergoing change and fee / salary levels remain under pressure. But the issue does not appear to be due to a decline in demand for legal services; it has more to do with pressure on price. Where and how work is done is transforming, primarily due to technology. On one level, technology is enabling greater efficiency. On another, it allows work to be undertaken remotely, supporting use of resources in low-cost locations. It is also permitting greater sharing and replication, which may reduce the level of experience needed.

What does this mean for future employment prospects? Interestingly, it is hard to discern precise patterns. In general, law firms seem to be under the greatest pressure – though some are reporting record revenues and profits. However, these are assisted by judicious use of technology, offshoring of work and (at least in some locations) hiring of lower-cost staff. In the UK, for example, the use of para-legals is reported to be on the rise – although in the US, the trend is apparently the opposite.  Most in-house legal groups have seen strong growth of workload and many responded by moving work offshore, either through captive or outsourced centers. However, many seem to be re-thinking this strategy and there is a growing trend to bring work back on-shore, but to cheaper locations.

One trend that does seem fairly universal is the pressure for lawyers to become more business-aware. There is greater demand for them to take a more holistic view of risk and opportunity and consequently to offer advice or support that reflects a broader understanding of process, context and environment. But for that to happen, the law schools will need to re-think the nature of the training and courseware that they offer ….





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