Over the last several months, I have been involved in an effort to pull together a group of scholars who are interested in the economics and sociology of the legal profession. The Law Firms Working Group is part of this initiative. Another step in this direction is the creation of a Law & Society Association Collaborative Research Network (CRN), "Private Practice Lawyers," which will complement existing CRNs on "Cause Lawyering" and "Transnational Lawyering."
During the LSA Annual Meeting in Montreal (May 29-June 1), this new CRN will sponsor nine panels with a total of 36 papers. Here is the CRN description from the LSA website:
Over the last three decades, the proportion of legal work performed for the corporate legal sector has grown dramatically. This shift in employment patterns reflects a large and understudied sea change in the legal profession. The Collaborative Research Network studies the changing economics and sociology of private sector lawyers and law firms. Topics of interests to our researchers include: changing professional norms; labor markets; law firm management; the balance of power among interest groups (e.g., AAJ [formerly ALTA] versus the U.S. Chamber of Commerce); access to justice for the poor and middle class; the role of elite lawyers in the democratic process; the relationship between firm size, working conditions, professional autonomy, and lawyer satisfaction; and the viability of current models of self regulation. In addition to advancing scholarship on the legal profession, this CRN has two subsidiary goals: (1) creating and sharing of qualitative and quantitative data on private practice lawyers; (2) exploring the potential of socio-legal studies as teaching materials within law schools.
What is the longterm goal? From my perspective, it is to operationalize socio-legal research on the legal profession into law school course material that helps young lawyers construct careers that better serve personal, professional, and societal goals. If the organizational momentum continues, 20 years from now, every law school will have instructors who focus on the sociology and economics of the profession, not because of the winds of intellectual fashion but because applied social science has the potential to produce better results than good intentions plus folk wisdom.