June 26, 2015

GLASS HALF FULL FINALE – So that’s the book in a nutshell.  I lay out a pretty comprehensive overview of the American market for legal services and law schools, and at the end it seems like times are grim indeed.  And yet, every time the American legal profession has appeared down for the count, it has come roaring back.  During the 19th Century era of Jacksonian democracy every effort was made to break the hold of courts and lawyers.  The practice was virtually unregulated in a majority of states, state judicial elections became the norm, and legislatures passed new codes of civil procedure to further erode lawyer hegemony.   Times looked grim for the profession.

But lawyers responded by becoming irreplaceable partners with all levels of businesses, working hand in hand with the makers of the industrial revolution.  The great legal historian Lawrence Friedman describes the rebirth in the post-Civil War era thusly:

Nevertheless, the lawyers prospered.  The truth was that the profession was exceedingly nimble at finding new kinds of work and new ways to do it.  Its nimbleness was no doubt due to the character of the bar: open-ended, unrestricted, uninhibited, attractive to sharp, ambitious men.”

Lawyers again faced an existential threat during the Depression, when the economy crumbled and earnings collapsed.  Lawyers did even worse in the 1930s than the economy as a whole.  When World War II ended, however, lawyers started on a historic run that lasted until the 1980s, partially assisted depression-era restrictions on entry like the bar examination and the law school requirement.

Don’t forget that – for better or worse (and from the comments I know many of y’all think that it is worse) – America’s legal profession is utterly unique in the world.  It is bigger, richer, and more intertwined in civic life than anywhere else.  Lawyers founded this country.  Thirty-two of the fifty-five framers of the constitution and twenty-five of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence were trained or practicing lawyers.  Twenty-five out of forty-four American Presidents have been lawyers, including three of the first four, six of the first eight, ten of the first thirteen.  Lawyers have always been a dominant force in Congress and state legislatures.

America and its legal profession have been intertwined from the beginning, and lawyers – sharp-elbowed and ambitious – will find a new purchase in these changed times.  They have before and they will again.  Whether that is good news or bad news I will leave to you.

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