The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis

The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis

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by Steven J. Harper
     
 

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A noble profession is facing its defining moment. From law schools to the prestigious firms that represent the pinnacle of a legal career, a crisis is unfolding. News headlines tell part of the story—the growing oversupply of new lawyers, widespread career dissatisfaction, and spectacular implosions of pre-eminent law firms. Yet eager hordes of bright young… See more details below

Overview


A noble profession is facing its defining moment. From law schools to the prestigious firms that represent the pinnacle of a legal career, a crisis is unfolding. News headlines tell part of the story—the growing oversupply of new lawyers, widespread career dissatisfaction, and spectacular implosions of pre-eminent law firms. Yet eager hordes of bright young people continue to step over each other as they seek jobs with high rates of depression, life-consuming hours, and little assurance of financial stability. The Great Recession has only worsened these trends, but correction is possible and, now, imperative.

In The Lawyer Bubble, Steven J. Harper reveals how a culture of short-term thinking has blinded some of the nation’s finest minds to the long-run implications of their actions. Law school deans have ceded independent judgment to flawed U.S. News & World Report rankings criteria in the quest to maximize immediate results. Senior partners in the nation’s large law firms have focused on current profits to enhance American Lawyer rankings and individual wealth at great cost to their institutions. Yet, wiser decisions—being honest about the legal job market, revisiting the financial incentives currently driving bad behavior, eliminating the billable hour model, and more—can take the profession to a better place.

A devastating indictment of the greed, shortsightedness, and dishonesty that now permeate the legal profession, this insider account is essential reading for anyone who wants to know how things went so wrong and how the profession can right itself once again.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A former partner at megafirm Kirkland and Ellis burns his bridges in this scathing indictment of law schools and big law firms. Harper (Crossing Hoffa), who worked in the field for 30 years, has a lot of bones to pick with various bodies, and he begins by chastising law schools for misrepresenting the opportunities available to their heavily indebted students after graduation (some alumni have even sued their schools for “deceptive conduct”), and for privileging profit over adequately preparing their pupils for real-world practice. He dutifully lays some of the blame on students for ignoring “the persistent warnings” regarding the current state of law schools and the legal profession, but if prospective law students aren’t thoroughly discouraged by Harper’s initial volley at schools, his fusillade at the major firms should do the trick. He depicts big-firm culture as dominated by profit concerns and built on the leveraging of overworked associates. Some of his suggestions for improving the overall health of the industry are more realistic than others (he proposes, for example, that clients with clout push firms to charge less for services rendered by associates working “unproductively long hours”), and more time could be spent discussing small and midsized firms, but his insights and admonitions are consistently on point. Agent: Danielle Svetcov, Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

“The legal profession is facing some fundamental changes, and Harper deserves credit for sounding the alarm.... Harper’s big-picture argument is undoubtedly correct, and it is a real cause for concern.”
Time Magazine's Ideas blog

“Harper makes a strong case for rethinking the nature of legal education and the current business model for big law firms...a must read for managing partners, law school administrators and, most certainly, prospective law students.”—USA Today

“[Harper has] a complete mastery of his subject matter, both from an economic and legal perspective.... Not only is Harper a gifted lawyer able to marshal facts, but he is an especially deft writer, and he tells his story as only a gifted author can.... Harper does not simply criticize the current state of affairs; he offers solutions, if only we are wise enough either to embrace them, modify them, or come up with additional curatives.... The Lawyer Bubble is a wake up call for those of us who love our profession, and it is a book that all lawyers should read.”
Circuit Rider

The Lawyer Bubble is a most worthwhile read, both for people already in the legal profession and those thinking about entering it. The book is a clear-eyed, sometimes harsh, but always fair-minded indictment of our deeply troubled profession.... [Harper] does a fine job of synthesizing recent developments, analyzing their root causes, and providing sensible solutions.”
—David Lat, Above the Law

“In addition to actual solutions, along with a comprehensive analysis of the problems, Harper provides a masterpiece of fine writing.”
Law and More

“The perfect book for a terrible time. If every Biglaw partner, law professor, and law school dean read this book and followed its prescriptions, we just might get our profession back on track.... Harper’s analysis is spot-on.”
—Lawyerist.com

“This is an important and timely book. It's two books, really. The first is a powerful recitation of how we got into this ‘unfortunate place,’ which may be more of a revelation to civilians than to lawyers who have paid attention to their alma mater's struggles or their firm's business plans. The second may not be so easy for lawyers to shrug off. It's a call to remedy the problems he so vividly describes. His answers aren't neat or in many cases likely. But he's identified the root problem—and he's looking at you!”
American Lawyer

“This exposé is by a lawyer who has worked in the trenches.... Startling and depressing…. Readable, well-researched, and scholarly.”
Library Journal

“It should be required reading for anyone in the large-law-firm world—and especially anyone who thinks they want to get into that business.”
—Paul Barrett, BusinessWeek

The Lawyer Bubble is a cogent critique of the legal profession by Steven J. Harper, who speaks with authority.... With the thoroughness of a skilled trial lawyer, Harper marshals impressive statistics and other materials to make his case.”
Shelf Awareness

“Harper is a seasoned insider unafraid to say what many other lawyers in his position might...written with keen insight and scathing accusations.... Harper brings his analytical and persuasive abilities to bear in a highly entertaining and riveting narrative.... The Lawyer Bubble is recommended reading for anyone working in a law related field. And for law school students—especially prospective ones—it really should be required reading.”
New York Journal of Books

“Anyone looking into a career in law would be well advised to read this thoroughly eye-opening warning.”
Booklist, starred review

“[Harper] is perfectly positioned to reflect on alarming developments that have brought the legal profession to a most unfortunate place.... Essential reading for anyone contemplating a legal career.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“[Harper] burns his bridges in this scathing indictment of law schools and big law firms.... his insights and admonitions are consistently on point.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Imagine that the elite lawyers of BigLaw and the legal academy were put on trial for their alleged negligence and failed stewardship. Imagine further that the State had at its disposal one of the nation’s most tenacious trial lawyers to doggedly build a complete factual record and then argue the case. The result would be The Lawyer Bubble. If I were counsel to the elite lawyers of BigLaw and the legal academy, I would advise my clients to settle the case.”
—William Henderson, Professor of Law and Director of the Center on the Global Legal Profession, Indiana University Maurer School of Law

The Lawyer Bubble is an important book, carefully researched, cogently argued and compellingly written. It demonstrates how two honorable callings – legal education and the practice of law – have become, far too often, unscrupulous rackets.”
—Scott Turow, author of Presumed Innocent and other novels

“Imagine that the elite lawyers of BigLaw and the legal academy were put on trial for their alleged negligence and failed stewardship. Imagine further that the State had at its disposal one of the nation’s most tenacious trial lawyers to doggedly build a complete factual record and then argue the case. The result would be The Lawyer Bubble. If I were counsel to the elite lawyers of BigLaw and the legal academy, I would advise my clients to settle the case.”
—William D. Henderson, Director of the Center on the Global Legal Profession and Professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law

“With wit and insight,The Lawyer Bubble offers a compelling portrait of the growing crisis in legal education and the practice of law. This book is essential reading for anyone concerned about the profession or contemplating a legal career.”
—Deborah L. Rhode, Professor of Law and Director of the Center on the Legal Profession, Stanford University

“This is a fine and important book, thoughtful and beautifully written. It makes the case — in a responsible and sober tone — that we are producing far too many lawyers for far too small a segment of American society. It is a must-read for leaders of law firms, law schools, and the bar, as the legal profession continues its wrenching transition from a profession into just another business.”
—Daniel S. Bowling III, Senior Lecturing Fellow, Duke Law School

“In this superb book, Steven Harper documents, ties together and suggests remedies for the deceit that motivates expanding law school enrollment in the face of a shrinking job market, the gaming of law school rankings and the pernicious effect of greed on the leadership of many of our nation’s leading law firms. The lessons he draws are symptomatic, and go well beyond the documented particulars.”
—Robert Helman, Partner and former Chairman (1984-98), Mayer Brown LLP; Lecturer, University of Chicago Law School

“Every sentient lawyer realizes that the legal profession is in crisis, but nobody explains the extent of the problem as well as Steven Harper. Fortunately, he also proposes some solutions – so there is still room for hope. This is an essential book.”
—Steven Lubet, author of Fugitive Justice and Lawyers’ Poker

“Steven Harper's The Lawyer Bubble is an expression of tough love for the law, law firms and the people who work in them. The clear message is take control of your destiny and your firm to avoid the serious jeopardy that confronts far too many firms today. Whether you are a partner, associate, or law student, you should read this compassionate and forceful work.”
—Edwin B. Reeser, Former managing partner, author, and consultant on law practice management

Library Journal
Unlike law professor Brian Z. Tamanaha's Failing Law Schools, this exposé is by a lawyer who has worked in the trenches. Experienced litigator Harper (Northwestern Univ. Sch. of Law; Crossing Hoffa: A Teamster's Story) has many of the same antagonists as Tamanaha—namely, U.S. News's rankings and the American Bar Association, which accredits law schools. His biggest complaints, however, are with the giant firms that have transformed law in the last 30 years. Many are organized as pyramid schemes, with junior associates working absurd hours to enable equity partners at the top to make seven-figure salaries. His chronicle of these firms is startling and depressing, particularly because of his report of the widespread dissatisfaction of many lawyers with their jobs and lives. His solutions seem impossible, as rich lawyers aren't going to spread the wealth, no law school is going to close because of the glut of lawyers, and law school professors can't teach practical skills because they have none. VERDICT Readable, well researched, and scholarly, this book will be of use to anyone thinking of going to law school.—Michael O. Eshleman, Hobbs, NM
Kirkus Reviews
An insider reports on the legal profession's impending implosion. Focusing on two vital institutions, the law schools who act as gatekeepers and "big law," the prestigious firms that set the tone, Harper (Law/Northwestern Univ.; The Partnership: A Novel, 2010, etc.), for 25 years a partner at the distinguished firm of Kirkland and Ellis, now an adjunct professor, is perfectly positioned to reflect on alarming developments that have brought the legal profession to a most unfortunate place. The lawyer bubble, he argues, as with the dot-com, real estate and financial bubbles that preceded it, cannot be blamed on the Great Recession. Rather, it's a creation of those charged with safeguarding the profession, who've abandoned any long-term vision out of greed for money, power and status. In thrall to the U.S. News and World Report's annual rankings, law schools regularly manipulate the methodology that determines the listings; deans focus on the short-term financial performance of their own institutions, encouraging an oversupply of applicants and graduating students into a job market already glutted. Similarly, big law takes its cues from the American Lawyer's list of the nation's top 100 firms, looking to maneuver for position, sacrificing long-established firm cultures in favor of immediate profit and maximum partner reward, and causing widespread dissatisfaction within the ranks. Harper describes associate labor in these firms as depressing, unfulfilling and unrelenting. Most readers will shed no tears at this sorry spectacle, but the author clearly cares deeply about the future of his beloved profession, and he reminds us of a time when a legal career was more about service, collegiality, community and shared purpose. He offers numerous suggestions that might allow the profession to cushion the consequences of the bubble about to burst, but given the pathologies he describes, their adoption appears unlikely anytime soon. Essential reading for anyone contemplating a legal career.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465058778
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
04/02/2013
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
584,887
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author


Steven J. Harper is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s Law School and Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences. He is a regular contributor to the American Lawyer and the author of three previous books, including Crossing Hoffa: A Teamster’s Story and The Partnership: A Novel. After a 30-year career as a litigator, he recently retired from Kirkland & Ellis LLP—the firm he joined immediately upon graduation from Harvard Law School. He is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and has been listed in numerous compilations of the best lawyers in America. Harper lives in Wilmette, Illinois.

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