Being an ethics lawyer these days sometimes feels like being in a front row seat at the death of a profession. Word arrived this week that law school applications have dropped so dramatically that some law schools will inevitably close. We also learned that Avvo, the website that rates lawyers, has opened a bidding service for traffic ticket work.
Economist Joseph Schumpeter is famous for popularizing the term “creative destruction”. The legal profession is undergoing that process and the destruction part has a human cost that is painful to watch. Counselors to the profession see that human cost most directly in our clients. Almost as painful is seeing the professional ethos erode under economic pressure.
But then there is the creative part. The State Bar of California is considering creating new classes of legal professionals who would be licensed to provide some legal services without being members of the bar. I wrote about this years ago and now it is coming to pass, an inevitable adaptation to drastically changed economic (and sociological) circumstances. Other innovations will follow. The challenge will be preserving the best part of the professional ethos in an era where the commodification of legal practice reaches new levels.
Mourning the death of a profession is a wasted energy. Much better to be present at the creation of a new one, and play some role in shaping it.