Bar News - May 18, 2016|
Book Review: ‘Trouble’ Encapsulates Problems New Lawyers Have Inherited
By: Review by Charles Putnam
The Trouble with Lawyers
By Deborah L. Rhode
Oxford University Press (2015)
The Trouble with Lawyers is a short book (149 pages before the endnotes) worth recommending to those considering becoming lawyers, new lawyers and old students of trends in the profession.
For someone considering entry to the profession, Trouble offers a good inventory of the trends that cause many experienced attorneys (a.k.a. “codgers”) to warn people away from the profession: levels of attorney dissatisfaction, sources of attorney dissatisfaction, distortions created by the billable hour, the inability of the modern profession (so far) to discover ways to make legal services available to poor persons and persons of modest means, etc.
For young lawyers, Trouble offers glimpses of what makes getting ahead so difficult (student loan debt, lack of mentorship, problems with diversity, lack of lateral opportunities, problems in legal education) that can be bookmarked and casually left within reach of elders who fail to grasp the peculiarly toxic professional landscape that young attorneys inhabit. Finally, for students of the structural transformations that the profession has been experiencing, the book offers both a spirited Jeremiad and some intriguing prescriptions for change.
Author Deborah Rhode is a law professor and advocate for expanded legal services. Like many modern scholars, she is perhaps too quick to attribute institutionalized discriminatory bias to research into relatively “soft” attitudes. Nonetheless, she writes and argues well, and her arguments are worth attention, especially from bar leaders and law school deans. She is a fierce critic of the bar’s ability to self-regulate, but unfortunately doesn’t offer especially practical alternatives, and her argument is unlikely to gain much traction in New Hampshire, with its strong traditions of self-regulation by licensing boards.
Rhode saves her toughest arguments, however, for the system of legal education in which she herself works. She asserts that law schools have served their students and society less well than their faculty at the beginning of the 21st century. She argues that law reviews, curricula, financing and even the values that law schools embody fail to equip modern students for the task of reforming the profession to better serve the needs of society, or for maintaining the basic living standards of its practitioners. Her critique is strong stuff, but not far out of step with the ABA’s own report on legal education.
Though I don’t entirely agree with Rhode’s critique or her prescriptions, I was impressed enough by the book to recommend The Trouble with Lawyers to my oldest child, who, after foreswearing the profession innumerable times during her undergraduate years, is headed to law school herself in fall 2016. Ultimately, it is the next generation of lawyers who will have to create a better ecology for the people who practice law and who will identify new ways for the profession to serve society. This book may help them understand the challenges they have inherited.
Charles Putnam is a clinical professor of justice studies at the UNH.