Amid predictions that “the percentage of lawyers practicing in solo and small firm settings will continue to increase for the foreseeable future,” the Boston Bar Association Task Force on the Future of the Profession today released a report calling on the BBA to expand its programming for this rapidly growing population. The 15 person task force was co-chaired by Christine Netski, a partner at Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen and Maureen O’Rourke, Dean of Boston University School of Law, and was convened more than one year ago by then BBA President Donald R. Frederico.
“Don Frederico was really prescient in identifying the need for the BBA to see whether the changes we began seeing in the profession in 2008 were merely cyclical or whether those changes signified a need for us to respond to deeper shifts within the profession,” said BBA President Lisa C. Goodheart. “The report will provide us with essential guidance going forward.”
Frederico charged the task force with studying the challenges facing new lawyers in the current economic climate and exploring how the BBA might support new grads without jobs, as well as those laid off soon after graduating. Among the trends the task force observed are that law schools are finding it extremely difficult to place their students, law firm clients are refusing to pay for the services of newly-minted J.D.’s and young associates, and fundamental changes in the purchase and delivery of legal work.
“The difficult market facing new law graduates appears unlikely to improve in the near term, particularly in the ‘big law’ sector where many people entering law school had hoped to land,” said Netski. “But the BBA is well-positioned to assist new grads and lawyers in transition in developing the entrepreneurial skills that are essential to building a sustainable and fulfilling career as a solo or small firm practitioner.”
The report’s most salient point is that the BBA can help foster the development of innovative ways to serve clients in the rapidly changing marketplace and continue to deliver the message that there are many routes toward a successful career in the private sector.
According to the report, Boston, with its six law schools and a substantial share of Massachusetts’ 55,000 lawyers, faces challenges of unemployment and underemployment among both newer and more seasoned attorneys. In its report, the task force proposes that the BBA take the following measures:
Develop and offer an intensive educational series targeted to new lawyers who have started or are interested in starting their own practices, focusing on the basics of law firm practice management, how to develop a business plan, and how to identify unmet legal needs that translate into business opportunities.
Explore a pilot startup program that will offer a select group of lawyer entrepreneurs an opportunity to receive assistance from the BBA in setting up and succeeding in their own firms.
Continue expanding the BBA’s mentoring program. The mentoring program run by the BBA Diversity and Inclusion Section already has a group dedicated to lawyers establishing solo practices, and could provide a useful model.
“One thing is certain,” said Dean O’Rourke. “For the foreseeable future, more and more new law graduates and lawyers leaving careers at large firms are likely to enter solo or small firm practice. Although the profession at all stages has tended to focus on ‘big law,’ ABA figures show that nearly 50 per cent of all private lawyers in the U.S. are solo practitioners.”