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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Why Your Lawyer Sucks: More Headwinds For The Economy

America has never had so many lawyers.

And, apparently, so many absolutely mediocre ones!

Recent data shows that applications to the most competitive law schools in America have generally declined nearly 20 percent since the recession
-- which was nearly a decade ago! These schools (measured using the U.S. News annual rankings) report having reduced their entering classes by about five percent.

So fewer lawyers from the top schools, right? And maybe, fewer brilliant lawyers if you assume a brain drain from law school to other fields?

What about the rest of the law schools pumping out new graduates into the workforce? Other data reports a nationwide decline in applicants of between 40-45 percent post-recession. One prominent Northeastern law school reports a 60 percent decline.

Despite this significant applicant decline, the American legal profession continues to mint new lawyers at a consistent rate. The profession's leading industry organization, the American Bar Association, reports the number of active resident lawyers has never been higher! The ABA's latest data for 2016 shows approximately 1.315 million "resident active attorneys" nationwide, a number which has consistently been growing at over one percent annually, and which is currently an all time high!

When new graduates keep flowing unabated while the incoming pipeline has been drying up markedly for nearly one decade, you can draw the inference that law schools dependent on tuition revenue for survival have had to accept lesser quality students to keep up their enrollment.

This, in the face of declining student demand. It's also in the face of the persistent anecdotal evidence throughout the industry (including from big law firm partners) that demand for legal services has been flat to down now for over ten years. (That roughly corresponds with the deflation of the mortgage credit bubble.)

The results? Great judgment remains rare and in demand by a discreet set of users. However, most other legal services are a commodity. Many consumers believe contracts and even court complaints are boilerplate and that legal advice is now a "DIY" commodity. Furthermore, new demand areas like compliance are at risk of obsolescence (and offshoring) if the Trump Administration declares its War on Regulation, as promised.

The glut of mediocrity -- or worse -- threatens to create new headwinds for an American economy that has been under siege from government overreach for the better part of the last quarter century.

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