As noted in an earlier post, the theoretical framework for my Law Firms as a Business Organization class is the Heinz-Laumann two-hemisphere theory, which posits that lawyers fall into one of two distinct "hemispheres": (1) lawyers who serve organizational clients, such as corporations, institutions, and labor unions; or (2) lawyers that provide personal services to individuals and small businesses. Heinz and Laumann created the hemisphere typology because their Chicago Lawyers research documented that these two groups had very little in common; they attended different law schools, hailed from different socio-economic and religious backgrounds, belonged to different bar organizations, and otherwise traveled in completely separate social and professional circles.
Like lots of other law professors, I don't have much firsthand exposure to the personal services hemisphere. Fortunately, there is some terrific sociolegal research that fills this void. Over the last two weeks, my class has covered excerpts from the following books:
- Lynn Mather, Craig A. McEwen, & Richard J. Maiman, Divorce Lawyers at Work: Varieties of Professionalism in Practice (Oxford 2001). This book, written by a trio of sociologists and political scientists, is a brilliant ethnography of New England divorce lawyers. We read Chapter 2, which offers five stylized examples of attorneys encountered during the field research. It is fascinating to learn how lawyers differ in their ability and willingness to help clients deal with the emotional issue surrounding the breakup of a marriage; how and why lawyers develop preferences for male or female clients--which surprised me; how a new breed of largely female divorce specialists has revolutionized the practice of family law; and how inattention to business fundamentals can reap havoc on a lawyer's life and ultimately undermine service to clients.
- Carroll Seron, The Business of Practicing Law: The Work Lives of Solo and Small-Firm Attorneys
(Temple 1996). Seron, who is a sociologist at UC Irvine, has put together an excellent ethnography that chronicles the professional struggles of solo and small firm lawyers in
greater NYC, particularly the rifts surrounding business getting
techniques. Successful lawyers with a substantial middle or upper
income client base are either in Manhattan or the burgeoning edge
cities of Greater New York. Other attorneys develop practice strategies for various working class neighborhoods and ethnic enclaves. Overall, success (or survivial) is
more a matter of organization and interpersonal skills rather than legal acumen. Indeed, the
most successul practices largely routinize their client matters through
the deft use of office staff. Seron also discusses how gender roles
within the home signficantly affect the career trajectories of male and
female attorneys. Portions of Seron's book are reprinted in Richard L. Abel, ed., Lawyers: A Critical Reader (New Press 1997).
- Michael J. Kelly, Lives of Lawyers: Journeys in the Organizations of Practice (Michigan 1994). This book, by a now-retired Georgetown law professor, explores the lives of attorneys working in five different practice settings. We read Chapter 6, which chronicles a financially struggling civil rights and criminal defense firm. Although the two name partners attended elite law schools and are highly respected trial lawyers in their region, their chronic inattention to business development strategies is catching up with them. Although financial worries are bad enough, one of the partners is dejected that his integrity and stellar reputation are inadequate to attract cases that fully tap into his abilities. Apparently being an outstanding lawyer is no guarantee of long-term professional success. Several students in my class noted that the partner should have read Jay Foonberg's How to Start and Build a Law Practice (ABA 5th ed. 2004).
- Jerry Van Hoy, Franchise Law Firms and the Transformation of Personal Legal Service (Quorum 1997). During the 1980s, there was much hoopla on "storefront revolution," which supposedly would deliver affordable legal services to the working class through highly routinized flat-fee law firms. This book, written by a Univ of Toledo sociologist, is based onsite observation and extensive interviews with lawyers, managers, and secretaries of two leading franchise firms (possibly, if I had to guess, Hyatt Legal Services and Jacoby and Meyers). Van Hoy is extremely objective, but there is no way to dress up the reality that franchise life was miserable for attorneys--long hours, low pay, pressure to make sales rather than practice law, and little time to provide truly personal services to clients. Indeed, the secretaries, who put together the requisite forms, are more indispensable than the attorneys, many of whom eventually leave the practice of law altogether. Van Hoy finished his research before the storefront revolution officially failed. These firms no longer exist in the same form. Hyatt Legal Services, which once had over 150 offices, is now Hyatt Pre-Paid Legal Services and a subsidiary of Met Life. In other words, Hyatt provides insurance coverage for customers who might need to consult with an attorney. Van Hoy also published a shorter account of franchise firms at 29 Law & Soc'y Rev. 703 (1995).