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Bar News - February 19, 2010

Opinion: Lack of Opportunity or Brave New World?


Last night I was listening to talk radio and I heard something which was both dismaying, yet exhilarating. Bear with me. The show was discussing two great professions, the medical field and the legal field; both were now closing in on being among the least desirable professions to pursue.

For the medical profession, the massive intrusion of the insurance industry was cited as dictating how one should practice in order to earn a respectable living. Also, an overall disrespect for doctors by patients (who now believe they know so much more than the doctor after just one hour on the Internet) was mentioned. And last, a massive drop in admissions to medical schools was noted. Why?

Because average college students today do not want to invest tremendous sums of money or endless years of poverty and exhaustion before they can turn a modest profit and start building their lives.

What was said about the legal profession? The number one drawback for lawyers was lack of opportunity. The radio station quoted the Wall Street Journal and various ABA studies, which I am paraphrasing: There is little opportunity for employment at large law firms, and minimal opportunity for the partnership track. In addition, 44 percent of lawyers would no longer recommend the profession and one out of every five lawyers will suffer major depression.

This information isnít stunning to me. It is the same old perspective and it is this perspective which is crippling the legal profession. Forgive the broad analogy, but to me todayís legal world is in the same position as the oppressed leaving England to discover America, with free enterprise and capitalism sans the horrific caste system. For lack of opportunity to be highlighted as the reason not to be in the profession and using the partnership track as the opportunity is flat-out wrong, but typical.

It is now that there is the greatest opportunity for the legal profession to be rebuilt, as the legal caste system is crashing.

Just like those entering the medical profession, lawyers donít want to run the gauntlet known as the "partnership track" before they can start controlling their lives. Now if we follow the analogy [of the early settlers] through, the settlers in America suffered harsh winters, hostile natives, famine. It was not easy, but it was apparently better than what they had left behind and were no longer willing to tolerate. This great country grew on the shoulders of these pioneers. And it was during this time of building that 90 percent of all those in business were entrepreneurs.

But back to 2010. What Iíve described in the preceding paragraph is exactly where the legal profession is heading. Opportunity is everywhere because todayís lawyers have the tools they never had before to go into small firm or solo practices and actively compete with the big boys, both in quality and demographic reach. The economy is deconstructing and reconstructing. Clients donít want "business as usual." The Internet is making almost every client a shrewd purchaser. Large legal services companies are crossing the moats and storming the castles of those who would shackle them to archaic methods of advertising and marketing...and they are winning.

Opportunity abounds. Itís unlimited. The only thing limited is the thinking. But beware. As opportunity abounds, so do the carpetbaggers, thieves and opportunists who will peddle you useless wares while relieving you of your money.

We are in many ways entering a brave new world in 2010. And it is very excitingóat least for those who realize this upheaval presents tremendous opportunity.

So start thinking about where you want to be positioned in the New World Order.

Susan Cartier Liebel is a Connecticut attorney who is a coach and consultant helping other attorneys start and build solo practices. Visit her blog at

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