Law Practice Management

As Law Firms Respond to Crisis, 21% of Law Students Regret Choice

It’s not surprising that law students are a discontented lot.

A new survey by LexisNexis found that, based on the changing legal marketplace, 21 percent of law students regret attending law school. Thirty-five percent said they don’t feel adequately prepared to succeed in the new marketplace, and 65 percent said law schools don’t teach the practical business skills needed in today’s economy, according to the survey summary (PDF posted by Legal Blog Watch).

And they face a changed world in the law firms where they are trying to land jobs. According to the outside lawyers surveyed, 43 percent of their law firms conducted layoffs, 33 percent implemented hiring freezes, 29 percent deferred start dates, and 26 percent reduced salaries.

Legal Blog Watch covered the results, and in a separate post covered a panel discussion on the survey in which lawyers differed over their predictions for the future of law practice.

Those students who do find jobs will find deep divisions between in-house lawyers and the law firms they hire, the survey shows. Only 38 percent of corporate counsel believe that law firms are being responsive about changing fees and costs given the current economic recession. Fifty-eight percent say they believe law firms are too profitable.

On the other side, 77 percent of private lawyers believe their clients are too focused on reducing costs, at the expense of quality and long-term results. The results show “widely divergent views on the state of the legal industry and the future of the law firm business model,” according to Legal Blog Watch.

The survey polled 300 private practice lawyers, 150 in-house counsel and 100 law students.

During the panel discussion, there was little agreement about how the future of law firms will change, Legal Blog Watch says. “All on the panel agreed that law firms should change how they do business. All did not agree, however, on what that change should look like. In fact, the one other point of consensus among the panelists may have been that there is no one-size-fits-all answer for firms or for clients.”

Some panelists suggested that corporate clients, rather than law firms, are the biggest opponents of alternative fees, according to the story. K&L Gates chairman Peter Kalis said his firm will generate 30 percent of its revenue this year from alternative fees, but many clients continue to oppose such billing arrangements.

Kalis also disagreed that demand for legal services is waning, according to the Legal Blog Watch report. “The prediction that the demand will be reduced is wishful thinking,” he said. He argued that government oversight and globalization will increase the demand for legal services, and law firms will respond with new structures that look like diamonds—with more mid-level expertise—rather than pyramids.

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