by Deborah L. Rhode, the Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law, the director of the Center on the Legal Profession, and the director of the Program in Law and Social Entrepreneurship at Stanford University. Her upcoming book, The Trouble with Lawyers, will be published by Oxford University Press in June 2015.
These are not the best of times for American lawyers. Less than a fifth of Americans rate the honesty and ethical standards of lawyers as very high or high, ranking them just above insurance salespeople. Competition and commercialization in the profession are on the rise, while civility and collegiality appear headed in the opposite direction. Paradoxically, the nation suffers from an oversupply of lawyers and an undersupply of legal services for people with low and moderate incomes.
This is a timely moment for a comprehensive account of challenges facing the American bar. The Trouble with Lawyers explores trends in the legal market that have posed increasing problems for the profession and the public that relies on their services. The book's central argument is that recent changes in legal education and legal practice have highlighted longstanding problems in the structure of bar regulatory processes and the priorities of lawyers and law firms.
Part of the problem is the relentless preoccupation with short-term profits that drives law firm decision making. The priority of profit is responsible for the escalation in billable hours over the last several decades, and the price is paid in quality of life. Most lawyers report that they do not have sufficient time for themselves and their families, and most are unable to devote even an hour a week to pro bono service. These trends have taken a toll in lawyers' workplace satisfaction. Law does not rank among the top twelve professions for satisfaction and a majority of lawyers would choose a different career if they had to make the decision again. Lawyers also have disproportionately high rates of depression, substance abuse, and related disorders. There is, in short, some room for improvement and the solution lies in making lawyers more informed about the sources of professional fulfillment and more proactive in shaping workplaces to meet their needs.