From this Press Release, I learned about a new book, Urban Lawyers, by John Heinz and University of Chicago Professor Edward Laumann, that examines Chicago’s legal profession using data gathered as part of an American Bar Foundation study conducted in 1994/95. That’s too bad, because while the book sounds intriguiging and confirms much of what I’ve observed about the legal profession here in D.C., it’s also on the verge of being outdated because of the way that blogs are changing the practice of law.
One of the book’s primary findings is that:
serving corporate clients and those working for individuals and small
businesses inhabited two distinct hemispheres. The lawyers from the two
hemispheres seldom, if ever, crossed the equator, the researchers
concluded from their 1975 survey of Chicago lawyers….The book
concludes that the divide between the two sets of lawyers continues to
widen — to an extent that the two-hemispheres metaphor doesn’t even
work any more.
Because I went to a top law school and worked at large firms, I’ve had
the luxury of crossing over the divide in the profession. But few of
my colleagues share this experience. About a year ago, when I saw two
college friends who are now partners at biglaw firms in Boston, I asked
if either of them knew any solos personally. They did not. Likewise,
many of my solo colleagues have never worked with – or even opposed
lawyers – from an AmLaw Top 100 firm.
In many ways, I blame the large firms for the divide. The firms go out
of their way to segregate themselves even where not warranted. For
example, I’ve always thought that pro bono projects provide a terrific
avenue for large and small firms to work together. Large firms bring
the manpower and resources while solos often have experience that’s
more related to a pro bono client, not to mention, a knack for handling
cases on a shoe string. But rather than try to coordinate efforts,
most large firms staff an evening at the legal clinic by themselves,
rather than working intake with lawyers from government and small
firms. In fact, the large firms have even set up their own Pro Bono Institute where they can collaborate on pro bono projects indepedently, without coordinating with the bar or solo lawyers.
But that type of segregation is changing, abeit slowly. First, more
and more, large firm lawyers are crossing the line from biglaw to small
practice, helping to mix things up. But even more, blogging is
responsible for opening doors – because the blogosphere is one of the
few places in the profession where big firm attorneys, academics and
solos interact on equal footing. Look at the composition of Between Lawyers.
You’ve got one attorney from one of the largest firms in the country,
two others from fairly sizeable firms and two solos. And that type of
discourse is replicated between biglaw and small law and academic
bloggers in posts and comments and off-blog correspondence.
Of course, there’s another finding of the book, that’s also going to change through blogging. The book found that:
Among lawyers in private practice, solo practitioners have the lowest average prestige score.
That’s such a funny finding of course, because when you talk to people
in outside the profession, they often express more admiration for
lawyers who run their own shop than someone who works for a large firm,
even as a partner.
But in any event, one of my goals at MyShingle has been to change the
negative perceptions of solo practice held by other lawyers and the bar
associations themselves. I’m hopeful that by the book’s next edition,
I’ll have made a significant dent.