Monday, January 19, 2015

Would the ABA please gete over its "Big Law" Obsession? And over itself too?

This is a post I started, actually, some years ago, but I never finished it for a variety of reasons.  Nonetheless, as I am an ABA member, and as I get disgusted with the ABA from time to time, I haven't "trashed" the old draft, and I'm finally completing it.

Anyhow, this, no doubt, is something that only matters to lawyers, and quite frankly only to a tiny number of lawyers at that, but the ABA needs to get over its obsession with "Big Law." At the same time, "Big Law" needs to get over itself, and so does the ABA.

Now, no doubt many non lawyers, upon hearing that term, would wonder what "Big Law" even is.

Well, Big Law is a term that legal commentators, within the legal community, have tagged on Super Sized East Coast law firms.  Like many Super Sized East Coast things, they're irrelevant to people in the country otherwise, but those who are located there are seemingly so fascinated with them, that they can't grasp the irrelevance.  Think of it like New York City. . . a vast metropolis that has passed its importance long ago, but doesn't realize it. And think of the ABA, in these regards, as a The New York Times, a once great public organ which is now a local newspaper, but which still believes that it speaks to the world, rather than wrap fish in Queens.

The ABA is constantly obsessed with what's going on in Big Law.  Members of the ABA can subscribe to some email lists which supposedly will inform you in on this or that, and one of the things you are going to see constant commentary on is Big Law.  Some big partnership back east will be laying people off, or the starting salaries of Big Law associates will be lower this year than last.

Well, so what?  It doesn't matter to most lawyer, or most clients.  Indeed, it doesn't matter to most "big time" lawyers.

But the commentary on it is so constant that other legal venues have picked it up. The legal Blawgs are full of "Big Law."

A dirty little secret of all of this is that a lot of Big Law commentary isn't about Big Law at all, but just regular old firms.  If all the people who claim Big Law angst really worked for law firms employing the same number of people who lived in the Ottoman Empire, there would be no lawyers left employed by anyone else.  I suspect that people who Blawg have, in their minds, converted their former occupation in a mid sized Mid Western firm to Big Law.

And maybe they should have, because much of the commentary and angst expressed about Big Law is really just stuff about general law.  Big Law seems mostly distinguished from regular old law by its size, salary, locations, and probably the deluded corporate desire of big corporations to make sure that they they hire big.

For the most part, Big Law doesn't matter.  Even the really big firms in big cities that handle lots and lots of important stuff in most places seemingly don't qualify as Big Law. So lawyers in a the Denver firm of Big, Huge, Giant and Titanic, which might have an office up in Casper and down in Albuquerque, don't count.  And certainly that century old firm downtown employing ten or twenty lawyers doesn't count either.

Frankly, except to the ABA, for most of us, Big Law doesn't count.  I don't care what some white shoe firm in New York does.  It doesn't matter to me.  Shoot, chances are good that I'll have a higher career total number of trials than most of them do, if I don't already.  I'll never make the money their lawyers do, but I've never paid New York rent nor have I had to live in a place so undesirable as New York.  I win.

But the ABA looses.  It should just ignore the Big Law firms this year and focus on what most real lawyers do.

And while the ABA is at it, it can dump social activism for the year.  I don't care, and nobody else does, on what the shining lights at the ABA think about gun control, or any such thing. Frankly, just because we're lawyers doesn't make us experts on social issues of any kind, and lawyers have been on both sides of every issue that ever was.  The fact that the ABA feels itself compelled to bother with issues is one of the reasons that its becoming increasingly irrelevant to real lawyers.

Indeed, if the ABA wants to make itself relevant, it ought to go back to its century old roots and focus on practice standards.  It could do that by working towards making legal education more rigorous and less frequent.  As shocking as it may sound, it would be doing the law a favor if it advocated for fewer people to go to, and get through, law school. And it should do something about the fact that in an increasing number of American states bar applicants aren't tested on their state's own laws.  If they want to be really bold, they could argue that judges should never be elected to office and ought to go off the bench when they hit 70, even if their Federal judges. I don't see the ABA making any of those arguments soon, however.

At the same time, we'll we're at it, perhaps everyone can just get over the Ivy League law schools.  Yawn. 

No comments: