To The Readers of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:
The Future Of The Profession
I was the proverbial tree falling in the proverbial forest. I became president of the Boston Bar Association in the middle of the very quiet week before Labor Day, and though I fell, I didn't make a sound.
Day two was different, as I made my first public appearance in my new role. I debuted at Boston College Law School, where I had been asked to introduce a panel at the first-year law students' Legal Ethics Orientation. In my brief introduction, I explained that I was newer in my position than they were in theirs. I also told them how important an understanding of legal ethics is to the BBA and its members.
After my opening remarks, I stayed and watched the program unfold. Panel members played the roles of a law firm ethics committee, a partner and an associate trying to sort through difficult conflict of interest issues in a business setting.After break-out sessions, there was an open question and answer period. Not having attended law school for quite some time, I wasn't sure what to expect. Were the students cynical or open-minded? Would they engage on basic principles of lawyer-client confidentiality and conflicts? Would Professor Judith McMorrow, an excellent moderator, have to drag questions out of them, or would they engage on their own?
I was not disappointed. The students were very engaged, inquisitive, thoughtful, and smart. Most important, they were principled. They recognized instinctively that, where exceptions to the rules governing client confidentiality did not apply, confidentiality could not be compromised. They did not tolerate the argument that a law firm's business interests could trump the duty it owes one of its clients. I wanted to hire all of them.
Since becoming an officer of the BBA, I have had the opportunity to address students at the other end of their scholastic journey. Twice a year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court welcomes the newest class of Massachusetts attorneys at a swearing-in ceremony at Faneuil Hall. Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court preside over the official portion of the ceremony, preceded by an exceptionally entertaining and informative speech by Clerk Maura Doyle concerning the historic setting at which the ceremony takes place, the history of the Court, the Massachusetts constitution and the lawyers' oaths. Officers of the Boston and Massachusetts Bar Associations also make brief presentations to the new lawyers, introducing them to the roles of the two organizations and inviting them in for educational programs and networking opportunities.
I have been the BBA representative about a half dozen times over the last few years. Since the economic crisis of 2008, the experience has been bittersweet. The new lawyers and their families seem appropriately thrilled about the milestone they have reached. At the same time, we know they are entering the profession at a time of great uncertainty.
The challenges facing new attorneys today are greater than ever. Law firms are not hiring, hire and then defer, or hire much smaller classes than they have in recent memory. Legal services organizations face staggering budget cuts that force layoffs of large numbers of experienced lawyers at a time of unprecedented demand. Some corporate clients of private firms no longer want first year associates working on their cases. Because of a hiring freeze in our state courts, there are no longer opportunities for lawyers to begin their careers as law clerks. Although some hold hope that these are only temporary trends, the future of the profession seems unusually grim.
This year at the BBA we will begin a conversation among bar leaders from various settings who have experience with these issues and who can share their perspectives of the scope and causes of the problems and what, if anything can be done about them. The members of this working group will come from law firms, in-house legal departments, law schools, a legal services organization, and a career counseling practice. Co-chaired by Maureen O'Rourke, Dean of Boston University Law School and a member of the BBA Council, and Christine Netski of Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, the group will consider whether today's challenges are structural or merely cyclical, what law schools might do to prepare students for the new realities, what new practices might be adopted by legal employers, and what new programs can be set up within the BBA to help. We don't know where this adventure will take us, but what better way to start than to bring the right people together to talk, and what better place to do that than at your bar association?