The recently published Urban Lawyers: The New Social Structure of the Bar by John P. Heinz, Robert L. Nelson, Rebecca L. Sandefur, and Edward O. Laumann documents that the legal profession is largely divided into two hemispheres, where lawyers on one side represent large organization, primarily corporations, and practice in large firms, while on the other side, they represent individuals and small businesses and practice in small firms or as solo practitioners. More and more of the total of legal fees has been going to the big-firm, corporate sector, and the incomes in this sphere have been increasing dramatically. Meanwhile, with a smaller share of the legal services pie going to the personal-client sphere and with increasing competition as the number of lawyers has grown, the incomes of those representing individuals have been declining.
The two hemispheres of the legal profession are mirrored in legal education. Graduates of high-prestige law schools primarily work in the corporate sphere while those from what are often called local law schools primarily represent individuals. Local law schools must recognize that they are not primarily training attorneys for the same segment of the bar as elite schools but for the personal-client sphere where there has been increasing competition and falling incomes. To be successful and to justify their continued existence, local law schools must better prepare their graduates for the work they will actually do or else those schools may, and perhaps should, fail.
Personal-client attorneys need skills and training that are often not necessary in the corporate sector. They seldom face legally complex matters, and they seldom write briefs or memoranda, but, unlike corporate attorneys, they must be able to deal with often difficult human problems and relations. Personal-client attorneys need to be able to evaluate technology, manage a small business, and market in ways most corporate attorneys do not have to. Personal-client attorneys must be able to make decisions and take responsibility for them in ways that few corporate attorneys do. Local law schools must train their students better for these tasks and also recognize that the hiring path in the personal-client field is fundamentally different from that for large firms.
As long as local law schools are dominated, as they appear to be, by notions of prestige and success absorbed from elite schools and the legal profession, the likelihood of needed reform is not high.
51 N. Y. L. Sch. L. Rev. 863 (2006-2007)