The Trouble with Lawyers

The Trouble with Lawyers

The Trouble with Lawyers

The Trouble with Lawyers


By any measure, the law as a profession is in serious trouble. Americans' trust in lawyers is at a low, and many members of the profession wish they had chosen a different path. Law schools, with their endlessly rising tuitions, are churning out too many graduates for the jobs available. Yet despite the glut of lawyers, the United States ranks 67th (tied with Uganda) of 97 countries in access to justice and affordability of legal services. The upper echelons of the legal establishment remain heavily white and male. Most problematic of all, the professional organizations that could help remedy these concerns instead jealously protect their prerogatives, stifling necessary innovation and failing to hold practitioners accountable. Deborah Rhode's The Trouble with Lawyers is a comprehensive account of the challenges facing the American bar. She examines how the problems have affected (and originated within) law schools, firms, and governance institutions like bar associations; the impact on the justice system and access to lawyers for the poor; and the profession's underlying difficulties with diversity. She uncovers the structural problems, from the tyranny of law school rankings and billable hours to the lack of accountability and innovation built into legal governance - all of which do a disservice to lawyers, their clients, and the public. The Trouble with Lawyers is a clear call to fix a profession that has gone badly off the rails, and a source of innovative responses.


“American Law Firms Confront a Less Gilded Future” ran the title of an Economist profile. This pessimism reflects the prevailing view among commentators, and the mood among lawyers tends toward wistful resignation. Many lament the passing of some hypothesized happier era when law was more a profession than a business. In the current legal marketplace, competition and commercialization are on the rise, while civility and collegiality appear headed in the opposite direction. Yet while the stresses of practice seem likely to increase, the bar has shown little sign of being able to alter those dynamics or reshape its future.

This chapter explores the causes and consequences of recent trends in the American legal profession. It gives particular focus to lawyers in midsize and large firm practice, because they are the leading edge of the bar, and they exercise the greatest influence over the conditions of its workplace. However, many of the dynamics described have broader application and pose challenges for the profession as a whole. Not all of these trends in legal practice are unique to law. Some are a function of broader market and societal forces. But whatever the causes, lawyers have a stake in exercising greater control over the conditions that affect their professional lives.

The Drivers of Change


One of the most significant changes in the contemporary legal profession is the increase in its size and scale of practice. In 1960, the . . .

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