At the most recent District of Minnesota’s Federal Bar Association monthly lunch, we heard from the four deans of the Twin Cities law schools (U of M, William Mitchell, Hamline, & St. Thomas) and the numbers were grim, as anyone with a clue about the current state of the U.S. legal profession already knows.
More than 200 law schools in the U.S. this past year pumped out 44,000 new graduates but the legal profession generated just 23,000 new jobs that require a law degree. Previous years have been as bad or worse. The widespread consensus is that this implosion is not cyclical; this is structural. In other words, jobs are going away that will not be coming back when the economy is back to “full strength.” So, the question that some very unfortunate young lawyers are confronted with is just how low will they go? Will they work as “interns” for free for experience? (Put another way, will lawyers exploit these desperate new grads?) Will inexperienced new lawyers hang out their own shingle and flirt with Rule 11, taking on every and any client regardless of the merits of claims or defenses? Will some take the few dollars remaining to a foreclosed home-owners with false promises of working with the home-owners to save their homes?
Yes to all of the above. Yes some will.
Dramatic downward economic shifts pull hard on the social fabric and threads will snap.
This sad fact, the inevitable increase in moral failings brought on by economic hardship (particularly hardship for which one bears no responsibility — one played by the rules, took out the loans, worked hard to get through law school, and for what?), cannot excuse individuals like Napoleon Thomas in the attached complaint (assuming the allegations in the complaint are true).
On the other hand, if our country cannot figure out a way to hold any of the extremely wealthy corporate leaders responsible in any degree for our collapsed economy while, at the same time, our country saddles so many innocents with overwhelming challenges, that social fabric, already worn out and strained, could really snap.
On a less foreboding closing note, St. Thomas Law School Dean, Robert Vischer, suggested that this is, actually, a “golden age” for law schools. Given the dramatic shifts in their businesses, law schools are pushed as hard as ever to innovate, to change, to adapt, to rise to the challenge when survival is at stake. This is a variant, of course, of the adage, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” or “no pain, no gain,” I suppose. These premises are debatable but, on the other hand, there is no question that keeping hope and aspiration alive can only help.