A couple weeks ago, I read an article on Slate that aimed to explain why there has been a sudden shift in the number of people applying to law school this year. Whereas law school applications were on a steady rise from 2007 to 2009, the number of law-school applicants this year is down 11.5% from a year ago. In the article, the Slate author stated that the “falling demand for legal services is the ultimate root of the problem.”
Is the Demand for Legal Services Really Falling?
Consumers are still getting divorces, filing for bankruptcy, starting new businesses, defending themselves in court, and doing tons of other things that involve the need for legal expertise. While the Internet has increased free access to information, that doesn’t mean the average person wants or even can handle complex legal matters own his own.
Instead, I believe the demand for legal services is as high as ever and growing, but the way in which consumers shop for and consume those services is changing. With that, there are more alternatives for the ways in which lawyers can practice law, and attorneys will take advantage of those alternatives if they want to be successful.
Technology and Today’s Legal Industry
In today’s legal industry, attorneys can use web-based practice management software to put their entire practice online. They can communicate with clients, share files and manage cases from the comfort of a laptop, and they can avoid the expensive cost of office space and storage.
Where traditional firms hire full-time paralegals and receptionists, attorneys today can hire a virtual receptionist, virtual paralegal or contract attorney as needed, and they don’t have to worry about benefits, salaries and other employment costs. By offering unbundled services, attorneys can lower the costs of services and tap into a new market of consumers who traditionally thought hiring attorneys was too expensive.
While traditional law firm jobs that rely on inefficient offices and large hourly rates are on the decline, technology and new business models are increasing opportunities for attorneys to practice law in new ways that provide more affordable options for clients.
As attorneys align their practices with the current needs of consumers and use new technology to build more cost-effective and efficient businesses, the study and practice of law will become a popular path for people who seek independence, autonomy and flexibility in their careers.