Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lawyers as Entrepreneurs: It is That Simple.


The role of entrepreneurship in the law is not something that is often discussed.  At the recent Inc.com GrowCo conference in New Orleans it is safe to say that there were few lawyers in the room of 550 small business owners, startups, and budding entrepreneurs.  Most likely there were none.  It is probably safe to say that thinking of oneself as being an entrepreneur is not something that naturally occurs to lawyers.  Why?  Are solos not small businesses?  Are they not entrepreneurs?  Aren’t law firms big and small considered businesses?  Of course they are.  Then why when we talk or think about entrepreneurship do want collectively forgo including ourselves, as lawyers.  Given the new normal of our profession and the reality of a shrinking job market for new lawyers it appears as though this thinking may need to change.  Entrepreneurship is not something traditionally taught in law school.  Nor are classes that focus on commerciality or business acumen. But this may need to change given our new normal of the law profession and the state of the job market for lawyers.

Recent reports continue to bear out that the trend that there are simply fewer and fewer jobs available to new lawyers.  At the large firms, summer associate hiring is anything but healthy.  A recent report by the National law Journal stated that the average summer class was 8 for the year.  That matches last year’s historic low.  Add to this the broader point that each year there are roughly 45,000 new law grads entering a job market where there are only 25,000 job openings.  This discrepancy is slated to hold until 2018. This while law school applications are indeed decreasing but not to any significant level that would offset the graduate – job gap.

To fill this gap one of two things will need to happen.  One option is that the number of law students, and therefore graduates, has to greatly decrease – by as much as 50%.  Obviously this would be hard to accomplish and result in a number of law schools closing their doors – given the money (profit) that law schools generate there is almost zero chance any would voluntarily reduce the number of students they accept.  So this leaves the other option of increasing the number of jobs available to new law grads.  It is not clear just how the NALP defines what jobs it counts and what it doesn’t.  But it is not too difficult to imply that most likely the NALP is looking at traditional jobs – such as first year associate position, public interest and perhaps government.  Usually any job that requires a JD would be counted.  Doing this however leaves entire sectors out of consideration.  Further it artificially deflates the number of jobs that new graduates might be able to secure if they just were aware of them or considered them.  

Perhaps the best way of attacking this problem is to expose law students to the concepts of entrepreneurship and business acumen while they are in school.  This would allow them to open their aperture on considering potential jobs while also gaining a basic skill set to enable to them to perform these jobs.  It would get them out of their silos and onto a more level playing field with other professionals.  We all hear valuable a law degree is – and not just for being able to call oneself a lawyer.  It is valuable because it provides a unique perspective on business – one that businesses need and pay for.  Taking a law degree out of the strict legal career landscape and into a broader field allows these graduates the opportunity to gain employment and maybe even find a new calling.

Now of course this is not as simple as it sounds and certainly there would need to be a collective effort on the part of law schools, potential employers and the legal profession itself.  But it can begin before that takes place.  It can begin in the minds of current law students and recent grads.  Think like an entrepreneur.  If you do not know what that means – there are plenty of resources.  Google “Guy Kawasaki” for starters.  Read Steve Job’s biography.  Check out a Startup Weekend

In the end the ultimate responsibility for finding a job falls on the lawyer – despite the recent class actions saying otherwise.  Think different.  Be unique and take a shot on expanding your thoughts on a job.  Great things can happen.  As they say in business school . . .the best job is the one you create for yourself.