Annual Meeting 2010

Harvard Prof Sees Legal Profession in Turmoil

  • Print. video of the special presentation
by Prof. Wilkins.

The legal profession is “seeing the acceleration of large-scale trends which were accentuated [by the recession]. They will have a profound impact on all lawyers’ practices and how we regulate, compensate and train lawyers,” Harvard Law School professor David B. Wilkins told the ABA House of Delegates on Monday.

ABA House leaders invited Wilkins to deliver a 30-minute presentation about the changing legal profession “to scare the bejesus out of you,” he said.

“We’re much less in control—[lawyers] used to control pretty much everything,” Wilkins said. “Today, in many areas, the state actively intervenes in the way the profession operates.” He cited the Korean government, which made the Korean bar increase the number of lawyers it trains each year.

“We’re in a complex, mixed world, where on the one hand globalization is the order of the day, but local knowledge is more important than ever before,” said Wilkins, who has given a similar presentation to a group of managing partners from major law firms.

America and American lawyers are less and less at the center of the legal universe, he said. “Even before the crash, many would argue that London had become the center of the economic world. How far east or south will it go? Shanghai, Mumbai, Sao Paulo or all of the above?”

Governments are investing in law and legal innovation as an export item. China and India have both created transnational law schools in which students are trained in English about U.S. and international law. The school in China even plans to seek ABA accreditation so its graduates can take the bar in any U.S. state, he said.

“We’re facing a different kind of competition. We used to think of the quality of legal services was measured by inputs, like where a lawyer went to law school or how much time was put into the matter,” Wilkins said. “Now people are looking at outputs—how much value was delivered.”

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