In the early 1800s, during the Industrial Revolution in England, laws and customs that had been designed to protect workers were first ignored and then abandoned. In 1808, for example, a bill passed that decreased the minimum wage, and the Combination Acts outlawed trade unions. High food prices and decreasing wages during this time also served to require more of each person's wages and make life very difficult for workers.

Why Law Firms Have Become More Like Factories in the Industrial Revolution than Simple Offices

 
 
A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes

A group of skilled artisans in the textile industry, who were called Luddites, became very unhappy with these conditions, even more so upon the introduction of machines designed to replace them. With the advent of machines, employers could pay skilled textile workers like the Luddites even less. Faced with the loss of work to the machines, the Luddites began rioting and breaking into factories and destroying the machines. The government eventually made the smashing of machines a crime punishable by death, the Luddites' activity stopped, and their organization fell apart.

This article examines the industrialization of the American law firm  over roughly the course of the past 30 years. While industrialization in the legal profession was more than 150 years behind industrialization of trade jobs in England, this recent industrialization contains the same lessons of industrialization that occurred in England nearly 200 years ago: The interests of capital and efficiency have the power to overwhelm organized groups and bring profound changes on a profession. In the case of the American law firm over the past 30 years, the interests of capital and efficiency have served to bring profound changes to the profession, making the traditional law firm we once knew a faint memory. The most significant event in American law firms over the past 30 years has been the industrialization of the law.

A. The Pre-industrialized Law Firm