This past weekend, I attended the ISBA Solo & Small Firm Conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana (see related post at Legal Professions blog). I was asked to moderate the panel on the "Future of the Solo & Small Firm Practice." To prepare, I pulled together some interesting trend data.
Drawing upon the insights of Marc Galanter's seminal article, "The Vanishing Trial: An Examination of Trials and Related Matters in Federal and State Courts," 1 J. Empirical Leg. Studies 459 (2004), I obtained comparable data for Indiana. Here is what I found, with annotations and comments under each slide:
Since the mid-1970s, the percentage of civil matters resolved through a bench trial has dwindled by a factor of five.
Less than 3 in 1000 civil matters in Indiana state court are resolved through a jury trial. Back in the mid-1970s, 14 in 1000 ended this way. Obviously, this has an impact on the skill set of lawyers and, in turn, their ability to credibly bargain within a shadow of a jury trial.
More over the jump.
The above slide, based on survey data from the ABA Section on Tort Trial and Insurance Practice, suggests that lawyers believe that ADR is often in the best interests of the client, though not in their own financial self-interest.
According to data I collected from ISBA membership last year, solo and small firm lawyers appear to be under the most financial pressure. Note, however, that my recent article with Marc Galanter, entitled the Elastic Tournament, documents the heightened work pressures that now attend large law firm practice. Large firm lawyers are not always better off when non-economic attributes of a job are factored in.
One source of the earnings pressure may be increased competition among small firm lawyers. In 1970, we had approximately 160 lawyers per 100,00o population. As of 2002, the number increased to 360 lawyers per 100,000. These are daunting numbers for a profession that is ostensibly self-regulation. And unlike in years past, constricting competition is no longer an option.
The practitioners on my panel suggested that specialization based on changes in the law, excellent service, embracing technology, and personal integrity remain the cornerstones of a successful law practice. These are very interesting times for a profession that is, by its nature, very resistant to change.