I am a second year associate at a mid-size firm where there have been lay-offs. I know I am fortunate to still have a job but I feel disillusioned. This isn't what I signed up for. I worked so hard in law school and had my future mapped out. Now the whole legal industry is changing. I am asking myself a whole lot of questions about my career choice and how law firms are going to look in the next few years. Will law firms ever be the same?
Many young lawyers fear their futures have been hijacked. It has been depressing seeing so many people lose their jobs. Unfortunately, over the past few years the structure of a majority of law firm's compensation and billing systems had become unsound. They got so rigid and uniform that they were bound to break under the stress and lack of competition. That is why this painful transition was inevitable. However, the current uncertainty and suffering will lead to a brighter, more sustainable future for the profession in the coming months. Let me explain:
Firms have been forced to take stock, make tough choices, and implement changes. The most important change at many firms is being driven by pressure from clients to keep costs down. Firms are being forced to get more creative with their billing rates and structures. That could mean slower growth in terms of attorney compensation for a little while, but it means greater flexibility with respect to clients.
Modifying and coming up with more varied billing systems will open doors for business generation. That will have a ripple effect leading to vaster opportunities for attorneys to build books of business through a more diverse client base. A broader client base will be quickly followed by a higher margin of profit than was possible when firms were all competing for the same small pool of top-paying clients. Where the profits are derived from will be composed differently than we are used to. However the size of the pie as a whole will be much bigger in the not too distant future.
With business picking up due to the greater flexibility in billing structures, unemployed attorneys will be absorbed by firms in order to staff all of the new matters.
Your long term prospects are going to improve as a result of the angst we are enduring and your possibilities for professional growth will be much better. We are going through growing pains right now, but have faith. Law firms will adapt, flourish, and be better as a result.