Twiddling thumbs: decreasing demand for legal services ‘endemic’ in the profession, survey finds

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A quarter of US firms said their associates don’t have full workloads, and this number shoots up when you look at partners

It looks like the image of a stressed out, overworked, long hours-suffering lawyer is no longer a feature of the US legal landscape. An annual survey by US management consultancy Altman Weil has found that “decreasing demand for legal services is endemic” within private practice.

The report says: “Fifty-two percent of firms report their equity partners are not sufficiently busy, and 62% of firms said their non-equity partners are not busy enough. Lawyers other than partners and associates are not busy enough in 43% of law firms.”

Interestingly, the survey also found that in 25% of firms, even associates don’t have full workloads. Across the pond in the United Kingdom, however, junior lawyers certainly don’t seem to be twiddling their thumbs. Recent research by the Junior Lawyers Division found over 90% of young lawyers are suffering from work-related stress, and 65% of those blamed their “high workload” for this.

Back to the US survey, and it is unclear what the law firms believe is driving this low workload. According to 82% of firm leaders, “weak business development skills and efforts” are to blame (i.e. it’s ALL about selling these days). But at least 59% target “flat or declining market demand”.

A lot of this appears to be down to law firms losing out to the clients themselves who are choosing to insource their legal work and grow their in-house team rather than pay private practice charge-out rates. But also it is coming from other players entering the legal services market.

There are no similar statistics for the UK. However, some of the trends are also over here: the increase in insourcing (from 2000 to 2012 the number of in-house solicitors doubled to around 25,000), and new entrants to the legal services market (since deregulation in 2011).

A Legal Services Consumer Panel report predicted that by 2020 there will be “less involvement by lawyers in many of the tasks that until now have made up their staple diet”. Though the panel focuses on the more consumer end of legal services such as house-buying or will-writing, the panel envisages that consumers will seek alternatives to lawyers or use them in different ways:

In place of lawyers will be greater self-lawyering, online services, entry by unregulated businesses, and also by regulated providers, such as accountants and banks.

These trends identified in the US and the UK do not necessarily mean fewer jobs for those with legal training. Though it COULD mean that there will be fewer lawyers in traditional private practice following the traditional trainee-to-equity partner trajectory. There COULD also be more scope for lawyers who want to work in a non-orthodox way, as contract lawyers or, as the survey puts it, as “paraprofesssionals”.

In the US, the survey of almost 400 firms found that many are responding to their chronic over-supply problem by engaging with “alternative lawyer staffing, including using contract lawyers, staff lawyers and shifting work to paraprofessionals.”

Read Altman Weil’s report in full below:

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Was the kiss that the burglar gave the judge (see other article) an erotic one? It would be wonderful if they could reunite and become a loving couple.



And what sort of firms were sampled?
Are they regional US? Boutique? Full-service? Single-office? Inter-state? What size? Are these nationwide trends?

It really defeats the point to have to read the report in order to contextualise what this article attempts to report on…


Jones Day Partner

My trainee has just received a nice full load of something, it wasn’t work though.



I do find these Jones Day jokes funny, but whoever you are, you must have a massive chip on your shoulder about the firm to make such comments *every* day! Did you get a TC/vac scheme rejection (possibly lucky escape if so)?



Most definitely someone with a chip on their shoulder. I did a vacation scheme at the firm and thought it was great – exciting work, great offices (you share an office with another trainee instead of a partner/associate) and incredibly intelligent people. Unfortunately, I didn’t get offered the TC, but it’s not difficult to work out the vac scheme:traineeship ratio. They give out 72 vacation schemes per annum, and only offer 20 traineeships. Thats 52 disappointed people. My guess is that this ‘Jones Day Partner’ is just one of these disappointed people, who has gone as far to slander the firm.


Jones Day Partner

Wrong. I am actually a partner at Jones Day. It’s that suspicious attitude that lost you your TC young lady



Did it ever cross your mind that it could be different people? Obviously you find typing a name into a box too tricky a code to break.



Nice idea Watson, but probably not.


I’ve actually done a vac scheme at JD and it certainly was not bad but great either.

Firstly, some clearly unhappy, stressed and overworked trainees there (one of them burst out in tears in front of me saying they did not want to be at the firm and they hated it there).

Secondly, incredibly competitive dynamic on the vac scheme (circa 18 people put together against each-other and told they’re looking to recruit 4/5 max from this particular scheme). The socials were really boozy and very fun though.

Thirdly, the whole non-rotational system was very chaotic and probably not really suitable for a vac scheme (me, and quite a few other people struggled to find work at times and some of the partners / associates were actually pissed off when you knocked on their door and asked for work).

To wrap it up, it was a bit “meh” but I knew I had other vac schemes, so I was not particularly bothered. I went to one of the MCs firms in the end.



Define “busy”



The opposite of Rolf Harris’s diary manager?



Obviously being fully utilised in a white shoe is different to in a mid-sized – targets etc. considered.


Underutilised fool

Hah, “full” work load. You could grind your skin down to the bones at most firms (especially US firms) and they will would still want a pound more of flesh. I am sure that all of these people still do plenty of work, the slave driving partners will obviously be unhappy unless they hit an extra £100k PEP and don’t care whether or not you miss the birth of your first child, your grandma’s 90th, or whether you simply collapse in an exhausted heap in some gutter.



hear hear



Man got a point innit


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