Key Trends in the Legal Profession
Trends are patterns of change over time. They are used to help predict what the future might be like. Although entirely predicting the future is impossible, we can create images of what might be in order to better conceive what should be. identifying the key trends which will take place in the legal profession and assessing their impact, we can start to plan how to respond to them by generating and playing out scenarios of possible strategies.
In the past two decades, we have witnessed extraordinary changes and trends which will have a lasting impact on the structure of the legal profession.1 This article identifies seven of the key trends which will alter the way law is practiced in the 21st century: skills training programs for beginning attorneys; the increase of paralegals and legal technicians; the increase of pro se litigation; the impact of technology on the legal workplace; the advancement of alternative dispute resolution; overcrowding in the legal marketplace; and the increase in the number of women attorneys. Together, these trends provide an overview of changes that will shape the legal profession and The Florida Bar as it enters the next century.
Skills Training Programs for Beginning Attorneys
A short time ago, a recent graduate from law school was able to receive mentoring and counseling within a law firm or legal office from a colleague or a judge. Today, due in large part to increased court filings, judges find themselves overbooked with less time to help teach and mold new talent while experienced lawyers are forced to spend the majority of their time working on obtaining additional billable hours instead of mentoring. The saturation of lawyers in the marketplace has forced a vast number of beginning attorneys to go directly from law school to opening their own solo practice, thus making it nearly impossible for new graduates to receive hands-on training from their more experienced colleagues.
Many legal experts have attributed a decline in professionalism over the past two decades directly to young lawyers and the lack of practical skills they possess when they leave law school. Today, in an effort to combat this problem, many law schools around the country are offering a variety of options for students to obtain skills training.
A continuing debate in the area of skills training between law school deans and members of the bench and the bar has focused on whether law schools should teach students the full range of skills they will need in the practice of law or focus primarily on teaching doctrine and analytical skills. At a public hearing, members of the Florida Bench/Bar Commission and other renowned judges and attorneys called for the establishment of a mandatory internship program, while Florida law school deans rejected the idea citing numerous reasons why such an internship program could never be feasible.
Florida attorneys are not alone in their concerns about a lack of skills training for new graduates. Several years ago, the ABA Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession released a report which later became known as the MacCrate Report, named after Robert MacCrate who served as chair of the task force.2 One of the key points made in the MacCrate Report was that law schools were not doing enough to prepare students to become lawyers.3 The task force recommended starting skills for new attorneys first be developed in the law school setting.4
The consensus of authors on this subject agree law school professors need to instill a more substantial dose of practical skills on students. A recent trend, however, is that those in favor of skills training are no longer putting the brunt of responsibility solely on the law schools to provide this training. Many legal experts now believe skills training for law students must be a shared responsibility; a cooperative effort involving the bar, the bench, and the law schools. The MacCrate Report proclaims both law schools and the practicing bar are responsible for developing competent, responsible lawyers.5 The report asserts state bars share the obligation for developing practical or applied lawyering skills in beginning attorneys.6
Haddon reiterates the bar has an obligation to help beginning attorneys attain practical skills and adds practicing lawyers also must share some responsibility for legal training.7 He suggests individual bars closely monitor how law firms supervise new attorneys and implores lawyers to get “back to basics” and start mentoring beginning lawyers.8 Haddon advises adopting a mentorship program requiring lawyers with six or more years of experience to provide guidance to at least one new lawyer every three years in exchange for CLE credit and other benefits.9
Menkel-Meadow said she would require new lawyers in the 21st century not only to be required to take CLE courses, but also to attend mandatory ongoing skills clinics to brush up on old skills, learn new ones, and receive feedback.10 She applauds the drive for more diversity in law school teaching techniques and recent attempts to cover more of what lawyers actually do.11
It is essential law schools continue to adapt and evolve to meet the needs of graduating students in the everchanging and increasingly diverse sociological, technological, economic, geographic, and intellectual context in which they will be spending their professional lives. Law schools have made excellent progress, but when considering that the current oversaturation in the job market will force more beginning attorneys into solo practice, it is obvious much more needs to be accomplished to ensure these new attorneys obtain the training needed to become successful, competent lawyers in the 21st century.
A key trend in the next decade will be a concentrated effort by state bars, the law schools, the judiciary, and experienced attorneys to establish skills training and mentoring programs for beginning attorneys. Law school curricula, as well as bar admission requirements and CLE programs, must be assessed to provide new attorneys with the best possible preparation for performance in the legal profession. With these systems in place, vast improvements will occur in the legal profession in the areas of professionalism, ethics, and public perception.
Increase of Legal Technicians/Paralegals
The American Bar Association Commission on Nonlawyer Practice reports nonlawyers, both as paralegals accountable to lawyers and in independent roles, have become an important part of the delivery of legal services.12 The commission adds that its expertise and dedication to the system have led to improvements in public access and in affordable legal services.13 The commission recommends the range of activities of traditional paralegals be expanded, with lawyers remaining accountable for their activities.14 They also recommend individual states consider allowing nonlawyer representation of individuals in state administrative agency proceedings with these nonlawyers being subject to the agencies’ standards of practice and discipline.15 This has already started to occur in some Florida venues, such as proceedings before the Public Employee Relations Commission.
In Florida, the trend of legal assistants independently opening their own offices appeared to take off following a Supreme Court decision concerning The Florida Bar’s prosecution of Rosemary Furman, a former legal secretary who started a business preparing documents for self-representing persons in divorce cases. The case generated such negative public opinion toward The Florida Bar that the Florida Supreme Court eventually had to adopt a more permissive rule allowing nonlawyers to assist the public in preparing court-approved legal forms.16
Legal technicians are providing a variety of legal services to the public today and The Florida Bar’s unlicensed practice of law enforcement program has not deterred or prevented most of these activities, according to a 1992 report of The Florida Bar Legal Technician Study Committee. The report related there was no regulation of legal technicians and no uniformity regarding their qualifications, education, training, or experience.17 The committee even went as far to suggest The Florida Bar consider removing institutional barriers such as ethics and advertising rules currently inhibit the provision of low cost legal services by lawyers.18 The committee also recommended the Bar provide alternative methods of providing low-cost legal services to the public.19
Patricia Seitz, 1993-94 Florida Bar president, acknowledged legal technicians are filling a need lawyers are not meeting.20 She stated, “Constitutionally, we cannot close off someone who is filling such a need, unless we are able to provide an alternative at an equally affordable price.”21 The Florida Bar’s Report of the Special Committee on Nonlawyer Practice noted the Bar’s UPL effort, one of the most extensive in the United States, has been unable to control nonlawyer delivery of affordable legal services.22 The committee believes the proliferation of nonlawyers engaged in the delivery of affordable legal services results from consumer demand which the lawyers of Florida are simply not meeting.23
The Florida Bar is not alone in its acknowledgment that the unlicensed practice of law is virtually impossible to control. A 1988 State Bar of California report conceded the concept of unauthorized practice has become incapable of meaningful definition and, therefore, unenforceable.24 To date, no- body has been able to redefine what constitutes the practice of law in a manner that permits rational enforcement of unauthorized practice of law statutes. Brockmeyer suggests a problem involving UPL enforcement is that the public views UPL provisions as protecting lawyers and not consumers.25 That creates a severe public image problem. Rosemary Furman was contacted by thousands of people who also wrote and called the Governor of Florida about the sentencing she received. The amount of public support for Furman was so overwhelming the Governor commuted her sentence.
Other states are currently forming task forces consisting of the bench, the bar, and public citizens to examine the unlicensed practice of law and determine whether there is a need for regulation. Currently, over 20 states, as well as the ABA, are studying the problems that have arisen from the inability of lawyers to provide affordable legal services to the public.
Over the past 10 years, the paralegal field has experienced tremendous growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, in 1992, almost 100,000 individuals were employed as paralegals.26 The bureau projects the employment of paralegals will continue to grow much faster than the national average as more people become aware paralegals can provide some of the same services as lawyers for a smaller cost.27 The legal assistant field is identified by the U.S. Department of Labor as one of the fastest growing occupations of the 1990s.28
The Florida Department of Labor and Employment Security projects Florida will have 9,681 paralegals by the year 2005.29 That 69 percent increase represents the fifth highest increase of all occupations in the state during that projected time period.30 Paralegals are only behind home health aides, physical therapists, physical therapy assistants, and systems analysts.31 Thompson believes increased government regulation, along with the desire of businesses to cut costs in addressing routine legal issues, are primarily responsible for the growth of the paralegal profession.32
Legal assistants are receiving more education prior to starting their legal careers. The NALA (National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc.) 1993 National Utilization and Compensation Survey Report reveals 40 percent of legal assistants have received bachelor degrees and an additional 22 percent have received associate degrees.33 Over 700 universities or colleges now offer paralegal education programs and several universities, such as Marymount University in Virginia and Webster University in Missouri, offer masters degree programs in legal assistant studies.
Regardless of efforts made by The Florida Bar and its lawyers to fill the needs for affordable legal services, the data reveals there will be intense competition for this business by nonlawyers. It appears legal technicians are here to stay and will continue to be in direct competition with lawyers for legal services in the future. The 21st century will bring a proliferation of independent legal technicians— it is important The Florida Bar and its membership recognize this and plan accordingly.
Increase in Pro Se Litigation
The number of citizens who are choosing to represent themselves in the courtroom is increasing rapidly throughout the country.34 It is reasoned the surge in the number of pro se litigants is occurring because of cost, public suspicion of lawyers, and increased public awareness of court proceedings.35 Clients have also changed as they have become more active, more educated, more questioning, and more demanding.
The proliferation of personal computers both in the workplace and in the home is another reason for the rise in the number of pro se litigants. The average citizen can now access regulations and statutes, court case information and research, legal documents, NEXIS, LEXIS, and other relevant legal citations from a home computer. For those who cannot afford to subscribe to on-line services, free public access to the Internet is available through a variety of entities including local libraries and law schools. Individuals requesting information may receive instant delivery of these materials through the use of a fax machine or modem. There is also a variety of different computer software packages designed to assist citizens in handling both routine legal matters and in preparing a pro se case in a courtroom. Almost all of these software packages contain a very similar marketing approach: The purchase of this product may enable one to avoid a large attorneys’ fee.
The availability of publications and do-it-yourself books has also made it easier for the public to learn more about the legal process and how it functions. A variety of publications, standardized forms, materials, and services are available from individuals, commercial or nonprofit organizations, support groups, the courts, and state bar associations. Today, there are more self-help books than ever before which contain forms on legal topics such as wills, bankruptcy, probate, real estate, and marriage. These materials are on sale in bookstores nationwide and are available at public libraries.
A recent trip to a bookstore found several customers reading or taking notes from a large selection of self-help legal books which encouraged citizens to represent themselves in a court of law. Most of these self-help books strongly encourage pro se litigation. Two of the most popular books were Represent Yourself in Court and How to Prepare and Try a Winning Case,36 and How to and When to Be Your Own Lawyer.37
A notable element of the latter book is that one of the authors, Quittner, is an attorney. This very thorough book seemed to imbue the reader with self-confidence; it discussed virtually everything about the court process from courtroom manner and appearance, to compiling research, to strategy, to presenting evidence, to negotiation tactics. It even provided examples of opening statements, closing arguments, and sample forms to further assist the pro se litigant.
Court TV also provides the public with education about legal proceedings. Several decades ago the average citizen only viewed television courtroom proceedings and trials through the eyes of Perry Mason. In 1995, the population became entranced with the daily national television production of the so-called “Trial of the Century” involving O.J. Simpson. Many states today provide a channel titled Court TV where viewers can watch live courtroom proceedings. With Court TV in place, viewers can not only watch court cases similar to theirs, but they have the opportunity to learn procedures, rules, strategies, and even watch other pro se litigants.
Public access kiosks have become very popular in California and Arizona. These kiosks (interactive computer systems) allow citizens to complete and print forms required to file for a divorce; obtain information on small claims court and alternative dispute resolution; obtain listings of landlord/tenant rights and responsibilities, and many other law related topics. Auto clerk kiosks are available in several shopping malls and courthouses in California and allow citizens to quickly pay moving violation tickets through credit cards. These kiosks provide court information and services, contain self-service traffic school registration, and allow citizens to access court information after hours. The Arizona Supreme Court acknowledged 23,548 transactions were conducted using the “quick court” kiosk system. The Supreme Court noted quick court had an impact in educating citizens and has helped to alleviate some of the workload for court staff. Future plans call for probate matters and system-generated small claims complaint forms to be readily available.
The pro se tradition sets its roots on one of the most fundamental of American constitutional rights—the right to be heard. With the availability of computerized technology, self-help books, computer software, combined with the declining public image of lawyers, more citizens will continue to represent themselves in a court of law as America’s do-it-yourself movement continues to prosper. In order for attorneys to adjust to the rising number of pro se litigants in the 21st century, they will need to adapt their services to include some form of discrete task representation in serving as a “consultant” to clients who wish to represent themselves in legal proceedings. assuming the role of a consultant to the pro se litigant, an attorney will be able to offer a cost-effective menu of various services to the consumer. There is every indication pro se litigation will continue to increase in the early part of the next century. Therefore, it is imperative all lawyers recognize this fact and plan accordingly to meet the changing needs of the public.
Impact of Technology on the Legal Workplace
Technology has drastically altered the way attorneys practice law in 1997 and will continue to have a major impact on lawyers and how they practice in the 21st century. Technology now enables lawyers to do things they once could not, and creates choice where there once was none. The era of information processing and computer technology has transformed a lawyer’s daily life as information overload and computer resources have widened our access to data and reduced or eliminated the need for manual labor across a range of enterprises, especially in recordkeeping and publishing. What is so amazing about the technological revolution is what we know and work with today only represents a small fraction of what will be available to us in 50 years.
With each passing year, lawyers will have to know more about the legal profession and technology in order to be successful. Lawyers must get a grip on the technological changes which lie ahead and be prepared for the 21st century. Those lawyers who become self-adapting will thrive as they discover and take advantage of the rapidly changing technologies. Those lawyers who try to resist technology will most likely find themselves fighting a losing battle.
Feuerstein asserts there are currently three waves in law firm technology.38 The first wave required personal computers to become an important part of a legal secretary’s, paralegal’s, or legal accountant’s workday.39 The second wave was accountable for the creation of network systems and added some junior attorneys.40 Feuerstein says the third wave will involve the spreading of litigation workgroup software and databases to allow attorneys to share work products and institutional knowledge.41 He quotes a manager at a large New York law firm: “Firms still involved in first or second wave changes are going to find it difficult to compete with firms riding the third wave.”42
According to a 1995 Florida Bar survey, there are many attorneys who are not going to be part of that third wave and this may form a dangerous generation gap.43 The survey reports 72 percent of Florida attorneys personally use a computer.44 Of concern, however, is that a generation gap exists in that far more younger attorneys are using computers and developing the necessary skills while older attorneys prefer not to use computers.45 In the 1995 survey, it is reported 89 percent of those under the age of 35 are personally using computers in their daily practice compared to only 34 percent of those above the age of 65.46 The elder attorneys reason they don’t use a computer because they either get along fine without one or are too busy to start to learn how to use one.47 (See box on next page.)
Creative innovations involving the computer and the telephone have unleashed a dynamic digital revolution which has altered the way people live and work. While on a recent excursion to Chicago, I discovered Chicagoans had found a unique way to utilize technology to turn an adverse situation into an advantage. Each morning, as traffic crawled into the city at a snail’s pace, commuters were already beginning their work day from their cars. On the left, a woman talked on a cellular phone with paperwork in her free hand. On the right, a man typed away on a small laptop computer which was propped up against the dash. Another person ahead had a voice recorder in his hand and was dictating. Other vehicles contained small keyboards propped on dashboards and people talking into what appeared to be speaker phones or using cellular phones. Technology may have coined a new phrase— “if you can’t come to the office, the office will come to you.” As I arrived at my destination, I was delayed by a man in a parking lot who apologized for not noticing I was behind him—he was receiving a lengthy fax in his car.
What lawyers must understand about technology is that courtroom proceedings will never be the same again. Documents can be obtained from just about anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes; computer animation and simulation make it possible to reenact events juries and panels never would have been able to envision in the past; computerized depositions enable proceedings to run more smoothly and give the jury the impression an attorney is more prepared; video technology enables conferencing and hearings to be held without all parties being present; and there is so much more technology will be responsible for in the future.
Technology will have a great effect on the amount of time an attorney will spend at a law firm or legal office. Lawyers will be able to do more work at home in the future. With computers, high speed modems, faxes, and the Internet, information will be readily available and accessible wherever a lawyer may be—even in the car. The number of legal software programs available for attorneys also has eased a lot of the time-consuming paper and recordkeeping work.
Technology will increase the access, convenience, and ease of use for all citizens and attorneys. It is the most dominant driving force of the future. Technology will increase productivity in the legal profession, improve services, and provide widespread access for attorneys to obtain an abundance of data and legal resources within a mere matter of minutes. Technology holds enormous opportunities for lawyers to become more efficient. All lawyers in the profession must grasp the opportunity or be in danger of severely lagging behind in the 21st century.
Advancement of Alternative Dispute Resolution
There is a growing trend across the United States toward alternative dispute resolution and mediation. Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is defined as a full range of alternative processes may be used to resolve a dispute. The most prominent forms are adjudication, arbitration, mediation, negotiation, and summary jury trial. ADR programs are funded by many different entities: private individuals and institutions, courts, foundations, government agencies, municipalities, and universities. ADR has evolved because many times nonadjudicatory conflict resolution techniques produce more satisfying results. It is currently gaining momentum and there are growing numbers of trained neutrals (mediators and others) who are providing ADR services.
Alfini states alternative dispute resolution has blossomed because it has grabbed the attention of the two most important constituencies to lawyers: clients and judges.48 Alfini reasons clients, particularly large corporate clients, have great use for ADR because it assists in keeping fees down.49 Judges are using ADR more because it provides relief from an already overcrowded court docket. Judges are not only referring minor civil and criminal cases, but they are now referring major civil cases to court-annexed arbitration and mediation programs.
The ADR revolution has spread into the classroom as law schools around the country have developed courses for students which teach specific skills such as alternative dispute resolution, and have opened centers to assist with negotiation and mediation. Stetson University created a University Center for Dispute Resolution which offers training programs, publications, and information exchange. The common theme for the majority of programs sponsored by the center is nonjudicial dispute resolution (negotiation, mediation, and arbitration).
The Supreme Court of Florida currently has two standing committees on mediation and arbitration, a mediation grievance committee, an ethics advisory panel, and a mediation training grievance committee. As of June 1996, over 8,000 individuals had completed Florida Supreme Court certified training programs and the Supreme Court had certified 1,636 county mediators, 1,478 family mediators, and 1,758 circuit mediators.
Several state bars and courts have developed innovative programs regarding dispute resolution.50 In one U.S. district court in California, six dispute resolution options were created: early neutral evaluation, court-annexed arbitration, consensual jury or court trial before a U.S. magistrate, settlement conference, nonbinding summary jury or bench trials, and special masters.51 In Mississippi, the young lawyers association devised a system to mediate minor criminal cases which relieved severely overbooked court dockets.52 Through this program, defendants are disciplined without receiving a public conviction record while mediators gain communication and mediation skills.53
The District of Columbia has maintained a multi-door dispute resolution division for 10 years.54 It started as an experimental program and became a full operating division of the court in 1989.55 The division offers small claims mediation programs where volunteers attempt to bring opposing parties to a mutually satisfactory solution to their problem.56 The division also has a domestic relations program, a court-annexed nonbinding arbitration program, as well as mediation and case evaluation provided by volunteers.57
Coleman said the adoption of mediation rules by the Alabama State Bar’s Task Force on ADR is an evolutionary step.58 During its two-year tenure, this task force worked to educate the bar, the bench, and the public about alternative dispute resolution.59 The Alabama Center for Dispute Resolution currently serves as the state’s clearinghouse for compiling and distributing information on ADR and for coordinating ADR programs.60 Coleman applauds the movement and said the mediation wave is apparent all around us.61
ADR was a term unknown in the legal profession 20 years ago. Today, ADR negotiation and mediation have become part of an attorney’s daily vocabulary. Alfini quotes Mark Twain when trying to explain why lawyers need to think differently and use dispute resolution: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”62 Alfini further states lawyers need to see their clients’ problems as more than nails and then utilize the appropriate dispute resolution alternatives.63
Alternative dispute resolution provides an array of dispute resolution alternatives which correspond to the everchanging needs of society. The growth has been rapid, and new emphasis must be placed on creating and providing alternative methods of resolution in order to expedite what should be a tremendously overcrowded legal system in the 21st century.
Overcrowding in the Legal Marketplace
The phenomenal growth in the number of practicing lawyers in the legal profession accompanied with the increasing number of citizens who are unable to afford legal representation has caused a standstill in the hiring of beginning lawyers in an already overcrowded marketplace. The American Bar Association’s Legal Education and Professional Development Division reports the ratio of the general population to lawyers continues to significantly decrease with each new decade.64 (See box on this page.)
The Florida Bar membership data also reveals a very steady increase in the amount of lawyers who practice law in Florida.65 The number of attorneys in the state of Florida has nearly tripled in the past 20 years.
in Good Standing
As the number of attorneys practicing in the United States continues to rapidly increase, the number of available job opportunities in the profession continues to decrease. A significant decrease in the amount of work available for lawyers has abruptly ended rapid growth in the profession, and many law firms today are in crisis, have limited growth, or are planning to downsize. A 1996 Florida Bar survey reports 74 percent of Florida law firms did not hire any beginning attorneys (attorneys without prior law experience) in 1995 while 79 percent of Florida law firms had no plans to hire any beginning attorneys in 1996.66
A recent National Association for Law Placement Employment survey declares that, of graduates for whom employment status is known, only 75 percent obtained legal positions in 1994.67 The proportion of jobs that are full-time positions continues to decrease as part-time positions become more common in law firms. Full-time legal employment rates for new graduates dropped to 69.6 percent in 1994.68 That percentage ranged from 89 percent to 92 percent during the 1983 to 1990 time period.69
Year % Unemployed
Recent law school graduates have found it increasingly difficult to find employment in the traditional practice of law as the percentage of beginning attorneys who are unemployed six months after graduation continues to increase each year. Concerning full-time employment, in 1988, 84.5 percent of law school students obtained full-time legal positions six months after graduation. In 1993, the percentage decreased to 70.3 percent. In 1994 and 1995, nearly half of the nation’s 250 biggest law firms cut the size of their legal staffs.
In Florida, job placement rates appear to be consistent with the national averages. The University of Florida reports 73 percent of its 1994 law school graduating class are currently employed in full-time legal positions. Nova University reports that, six months after graduation, 67 percent of its 1992 law school graduating class had found full-time employment, and St. Thomas University reports 70 percent of its 1993-94 law school graduating class was employed either full- or part-time six months after graduation.
Unfortunately, the job market situation for lawyers should only get worse in the future as law schools continue to graduate record numbers of students each year. In the 1965-66 academic year, there were 56,510 students taking classes in law schools. Twenty-five years later, the number of students enrolled more than doubled to 129,580. The 1994-95 academic year contained the highest number of law school students ever accepted for first-time enrollment (44,298).
While the number of students enrolled in law schools continues to climb, the number of ABA accredited law schools is remaining somewhat stable. As of December 1, 1996, there were 180 ABA-approved law schools. The number of ABA-approved law schools in 1991 was 176. It can be deduced from these statistics that many existing law schools are continuing to increase their enrollment.
Jones70 said, until 20 years ago, the legal profession was remarkably stable, having changed little in the preceding 100 years. He adds the last two decades have brought about extraordinary changes which will have a lasting impact in the structure of the legal profession.71 Jones reports that, years ago, a lawyer would join a law firm and stay there for an entire career because a lawyer leaving a firm was analogous to a divorce.72 Today, a lawyer may change firms three or four times in five years. Also, clients have changed greatly as they no longer choose to hire a single firm but now bid out for legal services. Jones states lawyers once could send out billing statements which declared: “for services rendered— $72,000” and these statements would almost always be accepted and paid by the client without question.73 Today, statements are scrutinized, questioned, and challenged. Alexander said many of the substantial changes in the profession are complex and related to changes that are occurring in American society.74 He reasons growing consumer awareness and assertiveness became a trend following Ralph Nader’s challenge of the safety of the General Motors Corvair.75 Clients expect more from attorneys today and a key factor for the success or failure of an attorney appears to be whether attorney can add value to a client’s activity. Another problem is many citizens cannot afford to pay attorneys’ fees so instead they are seeking out mediation, representing themselves in the courtroom, hiring paralegals to perform routine legal matters, and buying self-help books and software to assist them.
Growth in the profession also has altered the way law firms are structured and has created greater specialization in the practice of law today. Changing laws and increased competition have placed a demand on specialization to maintain competence and keep up with subject matter. Today, more than half of all lawyers spend a minimum of 50 percent of their time in one area of concentration. More and more attorneys are also limiting their practice to three areas of law or less.
The 21st century will be a very difficult time for a beginning attorney to enter the legal profession. The Florida Bar’s 1995 survey found one of lawyers’ main complaints was “there are too many attorneys and too much competition in the profession.”76 Many law school students report sending out hundreds of resumés without a positive response. The president of Harvard Law School; the former vice president of the United States, Dan Quayle; and an amendment presented at an ABA annual meeting several years ago have all called for law schools to reduce their enrollment. Something will need to be done soon to ease the amount of lawyer population and replenish the already diminished opportunities for beginning lawyers in today’s job market. If nothing is done to halt it, oversaturation may have the biggest negative impact on the legal profession in the 21st century.
Increase in Number of
One of the most significant changes to occur in the past few decades has been the growth of the number of women who have chosen law as a career. What once was a 96 to 4 male to female law school student ratio became 57 to 43 in 1991-92 and today, stands at almost 50-50.
Percentage of Women Enrolled in Law Schools
1965-66 2,374 4%
1970-71 6,682 9%
1980-81 40,834 34%
1991-92 55,110 43%
The University of Florida reports women encompass 42 percent of its law school enrollment while the University of Miami reports 43 percent. Nova University reports 43 percent; Florida State University reports 46 percent; and Stetson University reports 53 percent.
Year National Florida Bar
1970-71 2.8% N/A
1980-81 8.1% 8.3%
1990-91 22.0% 20.2%
As the ratio of male to female students enrolled in law school evens out, the profession is significantly impacted by the number of women who are now practicing law. In 1997, The Florida Bar reported 25 percent of its members are women—quite a significant rise from the 8 percent figure reported just over 15 years ago.
Issues such as flexible work hours, maternity and parental leave, day care, and work/family conflicts must be addressed by law firms as the percentage of women entering the profession increases. The internal structure of law firms will be greatly altered as more women attorneys enter the profession in the next century.
Some of the critically important interpersonal issues which have been brought to the attention of the law profession by female attorneys in recent years include judicial treatment of domestic violence, sexual relations between attorney and client, sexual harassment in the workplace, sexual stereotyping, and bias and discrimination in the courts. Also, Schafran believes female attorneys, because of their own experiences, will be better able to deal with the disenfranchised than men.77
The order of the sexes is quickly beginning to change in the legal profession. As the number of women entering the profession continues to increase, the goal of equal opportunity within the profession becomes more of a reality in the 21st century.
In less than three years, lawyers in Florida will take part in a brand new millennium. To ease the transition, the bridge to the 21st century must be firmly rooted in the proven trends of the present. The combined effects of the seven trends addressed in this article, combined with new developments and the changing needs of the public will shape the way law is practiced in the future. Acknowledging and preparing for this new era will enhance and preserve the administration of justice for all citizens in the state of Florida. q
1 Jones, James W., The Challenge of Change: The Practice of Law in the Year 2000, 41 Vand. L. Rev. 683 (1988).
2 Legal Education and Professional Development and Educational Continuum, A.B.A. (1992).
7 Haddon, Phoebe A., Education for a Public Calling in the 21st Century, 69 Wash. L. Rev. 573 (1994).
10 Menkel-Meadow, Carrie, Culture Clash in the Quality of Life in the Law: Changes in the Economics, Diversification and Organization of Lawyering, 44:2 Case W. Res. L. Rev. 621 (1994).
12 Nonlawyer Activity in Law-Related Situations, A.B.A. Commission on Nonlaywer Practice (Aug. 1995) [hereinafter Nonlawyer Activity].
16 See R. Reg. Fla. Bar 10-2.1, which provides that nonlawyers may engage in limited oral communication necessary to assist a person in the completion of a legal form approved by the Supreme Court of Florida.
17 Report of the Legal Technician Study Committee, The Florida Bar (1992).
20 Johnston, Stephanie J., The Florida Bar Under Fire from Legal Technicians, 18 Bar Leader 8 (Jan.-Feb. 1994).
22 Report of the Special Committee on Nonlawyer Practice, The Florida Bar (1994).
24 Report of the Public Protection Committee, State Bar of California.
25 Brockmeyer, Michael F., Client Protection: Enforcing the Unauthorized Practice of Law, 24 Mary. B. J. 18-21 (Jan./Feb. 1991).
26 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Labor, 2450-55 (1994).
29 Florida Industry and Occupational Employment Projections 1994-2005, Florida Dept. of Labor and Employment Security, Division of Jobs and Benefits, Bureau of Labor Market Information (1996).
32 Thompson, L., Survey of Trends in Law Office Management, Wash. State B. News (Sept. 1992) at 27.
33 National Utilization and Compensation Survey Report, National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc. (1993).
34 Nonlawyer Activity, supra note 12.
35 Daniszewski, Robert M., Coping with the Pro Se Litigant, 36 New Hamp. B.J. 46 (Mar. 1995).
36 Bergman, P., Represent Yourself in Court and How to Prepare and Try a Winning Case (1993).
37 Schacher, R.W. & Quittner, M., How to and When to Be Your Own Lawyer (1993).
38 Feuerstein, J., Culture Clash: Technology Converges with Litigation, The American Lawyer, May 1995, at 17.
43 Report of the 1995 Membership Attitude Survey, The Florida Bar.
48 Alfini, James J., Dispute Resolution Alternatives: What We Know and What We Need to Know, 82 Illinois B.J. 130 (Mar. 1994).
50 Just Solutions—A Program Guide to Innovative Justice System Improvement, A.B.A.
58 Coleman, W.D., The Mediation Alternative: Participating in a Problem-Solving Process, Ala. Law. 100 (Mar. 1995).
62 Alfini, supra note 48, at 1.
64 Legal Education and Professional Development— an Educational Continuum, A.B.A. (July 1992).
65 Data Reference Handbook, The Florida Bar (1996).
66 Report of the 1996 Economics and Law Office Management Survey, The Florida Bar.
67 Employment Report and Salary Survey, National Association for Law Placement (1995).
70 Jones, supra note 1.
74 Alexander, R., Charting a Course of Change: Firms in Transition, 34 Nat’l L. J. 1 (1988).
76 Report of the 1995 Membership Attitude Survey, The Florida Bar.
77 Schafran, Lynn Hecht, Gender Bias in the Courts: An Emerging Focus for Judicial Reform, 21 Ariz. St. L.J. 237-73 (1989).
Mike Jay Garcia is the senior research, planning and evaluation analyst for The Florida Bar. He received his B.S. from Florida State University in media market communication and his M.S. from Florida State University in marketing communication.