The Seamless Web Legal Economy

Lawyers are destroying the American economy.  The same way Seamless Web expands associate asses, the legal industry is expanding by putting on nothing but pure fat.

PhilaLawyer recently wrote this excellent piece about the Fattened Middle.  The Fattened Middle are generally middle and upper-middle class white collar workers (with a few lower-middles and lower-uppers in the mix) that don’t really contribute anything in their jobs, but constitute a huge portion of our economy.

They’re the HR personnel, middle managers, and people with titles like “senior computer analyst” who can never adequately explain what it is they do at their job.

Well, look, I already told you. I deal with the goddamn customers so the engineers don’t have to! I have people skills! I am good at dealing with people! Can’t you understand that?! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!

Their lives primarily consist of planning meetings to discuss plans to plan for a pre-meeting to the main meeting, and moving papers from one desk to another, or if they’re really effective in their jobs, moving papers from several desks to an even larger number of desks.

SERVE:

RE: ACME Co. Release

From: _______@______.com (Me)

To: bcarter@_____.com

Bob,

Here’s the release in the ACME matter. Let me know if this is OK.

RETURN:

RE: RE: ACME Co. Release

From: bcarter@____.com

To: ________@_______.com

Has Tim Perkins OK’d this? He’s got final say on these matters.

VOLLEY:

FW: RE: RE: ACME Co. Release

From: ________@______.com

To: tperkins@____.com

Tim,

Bob tells me you have final say on the release in the ACME case. Tell me if this is OK. We are obligated under court order to finalize it by Monday.

Thanks,

_________

- – – – – – – – – – – – – -

RE: FW: RE: RE: ACME Co. Release

From: tperkins@_____.com

To: ________@________.com

Actually, this release involves possible tax issues. Best to run this past Katherine.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – -

RE: RE: FW: RE: RE: ACME Co. Release

From: ________@_______.com

To: tperkins@____.com; bcarter@____.com

CC: korourke@_____.com

Tim/Bob,

I’ve already had this blessed by Katherine. So if its good with you two, its ready to go.

Let me know.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

RE: RE: RE: RE: FW: RE: ACME Co. Release

From: bcarter@____.com

To: _____@_____.com; tperkins@____.com; _______@______.com

Tim,

Are you good with this?

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

RE: RE: RE: RE: FW: RE: ACME Co. Release

From: tperkins@____.com

To: bcarter@_____.com; ______@_____.com; korourke@_____.com;

______@_______.com

We’ve all seen this sort of nonsense.  Even if your job is not a completely unproductive waste, dealing with the system will still eat up a lot of your time.  And sure, sometimes a few of these jobs need to exist.  You need people in payroll, but payroll shouldn’t be so big that you have a separate person who serves only as the payroll supervisor, who then needs a secretary, which creates more need for people in HR, which in turn creates even more need for people in the payroll department.  All these departments are connected, and the growth of one spirals upward into the growth of the others.  We might call this job growth, but it’s not economic growth.  Except for the people who handle HR and payroll for the tip top managers and the guys at the bottom doing substantive work, these people produce nothing.  Yet, they’re probably the biggest sector of our economy.  No wonder we’re going in the toilet.

The legal industry is headed the same way.  Fluster Cucked has provided some excellent stats on the number of lawyers per capita over the years.  No surprise, it’s skyrocketing.  In 1963 there was 1 lawyer for every 491 people.  In 2009 there was 1 lawyer for every 174 people.  While the lawyers per capita has nearly tripled, has the demand for lawyers also gone up?

Okay, not a fair question.  Let me try again.  …The present economic meltdown aside, has the demand for lawyers gone up as fast as the number?  The answer is, surprisingly, yes.  The reason is increased regulation.  As much as you’ll hear about how de-regulated Wall St. is, regulations keep getting stacked up and up and up.  Increased regulation happens every time three or more Congressmen are in the same room for more than twenty minutes.  Deregulation is extremely rare.  And, all these new regulations mean more lawyers are needed to help clients navigate them.

So what’s the problem?

This is the same inorganic, contrived job growth that we see with middle managers.  There isn’t an increased need for the typical roles for lawyers, like criminal defense, or writing wills.  The increased demand is purely a creature of our own making.  Interpreting environmental regulations and filing paperwork with the SEC does result in job growth for lawyers.  But, it does not translate into economic growth for our country.

We may be increasing the number of jobs there are, but we’re not increasing what we produce.  All that’s changed is it now takes more people to produce the exact same thing.  The rise of regulatory lawyers, like the rise of the fattened middle, is an almost certain sign that our economy has a lot further into the toilet to go.  Look out U-bend, here we come.

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10 Responses to “The Seamless Web Legal Economy”

  1. wlmingtonwave Says:

    Great read and fantastic Office Space reference.

  2. Bill Says:

    This is interesting sheed, man.

  3. wlmingtonwave Says:

    Also on a moral level this scares me. I need to be vested and care about what I do and I need to feel like I’m in something for the right reason. However, I also want to make bank and these two sides are not compatible or even reconcilable.

    It just seems like all of the jobs I am interested in are consulting firms and I’m just not sure if I will be making any sort of difference or that they will be intellectually stimulating at all.

    Makes me think of the Wall Street and the dichotomy between Martin and Charlie Sheens’ characters…

  4. bl1y Says:

    The good news is that enjoying your work and doing something where you feel like you’re making a contribution can actually lead to more money. Being interested means you’re willing to put in more time and energy, and it’s probably going to be something you’re better at anyways.

  5. wlmingtonwave Says:

    Yeah, I have always been a big believer in that philosophy. I guess, the workforce like anything is a marathon rather than a sprint, so there is no shame sucking it up and doing something “meh” for a few years if it will give you the opportunity and experience to do what you really want to do later down the road.

    I think that is the main problem plaguing graduates, particularly those from top schools–doing something different/lesser than what they expected. In this culture where we are all spoon-fed what I like to call “participation-ribbon” bullshit it is no surprised. There are lots of entitled people, but in this world no one is entitled. I guess now is a good time to be a cynic.

  6. bl1y Says:

    One of the problems with the “paying your dues” mentality, where you take a job that you don’t really want, thinking you will later get the opportunity to do a job you really like, is that the first job you take may give you zero relevant experience, thus putting you no closer to your ideal job.

    The work force at large, and big law in particular, have become extremely compartmentalized. Once you get put into the securities box, you’re kinda stuck there, and you don’t gain experience in other practice areas. You won’t ever be able to lateral to an entertainment law boutique with that background.

    You’re also screwed if there’s a recession, like now. Maybe bankruptcy and some other departments pick up, but your knowledge of 8-Ks and no action letters is going to be of minimal use. Your skill set won’t be transferable, even within the same law firm.

    This may be more specific to the corporate/deals side. I don’t know how litigation practice groups tend to be structured, and I imagine court room experience is a bit more transferable from one type of litigation to another.

  7. wlmingtonwave Says:

    That is something I have been trying to consider. My current job is very niche and I would be afraid to stay here too long because of that—luckily it is just a temp position.

    At one firm I applied to (this is for consulting) the recruiter and a friend of mine who works reiterated the internal training opportunities, the fluid career trajectory, and the opportunity to “intern” within different departments. However, I am not sure whether this is just the usual BS that recruiters and what-not spew. I guess too when you have student loans and what not, I need to consider getting ready to pay them off. My hope is that I will be able to get lots of broad experience, because lets face it. At 22 I have no idea what the fuck I am doing.

    Out of curiosity, what are your employment plans if you don’t mind me asking. Given your criticism of the legal profession, but also you presumable interest in it (considering this blog) what type of law do you want to go back into?

  8. bl1y Says:

    Right now I plan on applying for a job as a legislative aide, because I should be able to get my school to forgive my loans if I do that for three years. If I don’t get that position (and it’s quite likely I won’t), who knows.

    I really don’t want to practice law though. The more interesting stuff usually requires a specialized background (like IP), or just isn’t particularly marketable (constitutional law, ethics), or it both requires a technical background and isn’t marketable (cyberlaw).

    Law is generally divided into two areas of tedium. You can either do important work on small cases you probably don’t give two shits about (like arguing a DUI defense, or handling a small divorce), or you work on a case that might be interesting, but you just do dull grunt work (due diligence on the deal of the century). I find neither prospect particularly inspiring.

    The other option on the table is move to LA and try to get a job in either writing or talent management. It’s a pretty risky move, but hell, I did the safe big-law thing and ended up with my loans overdue and losing my home. Can being a starving writer be any worse than that?

  9. wlmingtonwave Says:

    I was not aware that the career trajectories for the legal profession could be so inflexible. It makes me wonder what the hell all of my classmates are thinking when they say “Yeah, I am going to law school” and then “No…I don’t want to be a lawyer.”

    Well you certainly have a unique and humorous style of writing, but that is still interesting. However, I think you hit on another important point: the importance in this workplace of being flexible. Right now that is just so essential. It is not our parents generation anymore where we’d put in 20-25 years with company XYZ and get the gold watch, buy some white shoes, and move down to Florida. We need to be constantly innovating and adapting. Hell, moving to LA and throwing caution to the wind is probably the rational thing to do at this point.

  10. bl1y Says:

    Right, I’m not sure why so many people are ready to just do things however the Boomers did it despite how much the world has changed since then.

    Just think about how much legal work has changed (or has potential to have changed). Research is now 95-99% online, instead of in libraries. There are huge databases of white papers and client alerts that, if you keep up with, can save you tons of hours in research instead of re-inventing the wheel, which isn’t good if you’re billing by the hour, but great if you’re in-house counsel or a small operation doing flat fee work.

    If Gen Y was building the legal industry from the ground up, we’d have huge networks of attorneys who are building wikipedia-like networks, Q&A forums, etc. Research time would be reduced to almost nothing, and we’d all do flat fee and earn thousands of dollars an hour.

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