The sun never sets on legal un(der)employment

John Flood, a U.K. legal scholar and sociologist, comments on the well-documented travails of recent U.S. law graduates, noting that their U.K. counterparts are facing similar difficulties as globalization changes the practice of law the world over:

What we’ve seen in the UK is a disjunct between the numbers of law students coming into the academy and the numbers of jobs available. For many the problem is that the academy is producing too many law graduates and should be more sensitive to job availibility rates….[T]here is also a big rise in the use of paralegals and I don’t mean those trained to be paralegals. Rather the unemployed would-be lawyers are turning to paralegaling in the hope that a training contract might open up while they are there.

What will entrench the stratification of the market is the opening up (de- and re-regulation) of the legal services market that’s now taking place. Fewer jobs will need to be done by fully-qualified lawyers. They can instead be carried out by a range of people qualified for certain legal and quasi-legal tasks. This is where corporatized law meets Tesco Law. [Tesco is a U.K.-based retailer similar to Wal-Mart.]

The US legal profession still thinks it can maintain a headlock on the control of the profession. How long for? At the expense of a cheap shot, [Egyptian President] Mubarek is finding a 30-year rule coming to end; [former British Prime Minister] Tony Blair only lasted for 10 years before he was ejected. Permanent monopoly becomes increasingly hard to justifiy, especially in a global market.

Flood also references a recent Above the Law article, which noted that Thomson Reuters recently

announced that it was exploring the sale of BAR/BRI, its bar exam prep business, and purchasing Pangea3, a legal process outsourcing company. That’s a strong message that they think there’s more of a future in hiring people to do low-end legal work, work that technically doesn’t constitute “practicing law” under legal ethics rules, than in training the practitioners of the future.

I’d like to see a quantitative analysis backing up some of Flood’s assertions, but his general points are well taken:

  • There are more lawyers than jobs.
  • Many law jobs do not, objectively speaking, require lawyers.
  • Much legal work can be done at a distance–even across international borders–as a back-office service.
  • In the long- (and maybe even the short-) run, the established legal cartels are no match for these forces of globalization.