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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Big Law-and Big Journalism

What counts as a crisis-or evidence of serious decline-in an industry?

My first scholarly writing in law, co-authored with wonderful mentor Michael Trebilcock, was about industrial policy and adjustment to economic change.  We looked at a number of industries across a variety of countries where consumer preferences, technological change, and foreign competition were dramatically influencing levels of employment and revenue.

That's the intellectual experience I bring to the journalistic obsession with the (supposed) end of Big Law.  The latest episode is a New Republic piece by Noam Scheiber, "The Crisis at Washington's Ultimate Power FIrm Patton, Boggs and the End of Big Law."  

So what is the evidence that Scheiber musters for the hypothesis of "the end of Big Law"?

Well, one law firm that (as Scheiber himself mentions) is challenged reputationally by a huge suit for fraud has a 6.5% decline in revenue in one particular year and is firing or laying off some highly-paid individuals. Then there is the fact that hiring of summer interns by a significant sample of law firms has gone down by a whopping 3.4%.  Then there are innovations in pricing and product packaging (but these  can often be a sign of healthy innovation in firms or industries, not imminent failure). And finally the mumblings and grumblings of various sources about how much clients are billed for junior associates' work. 

Crisis? Decline? Collapse? "Devastating"?  The facts offered simply don't support the inflated, grandiose language. The  Scheiber article justifies, if anything, the end of Big Journalism not the end of Big Law. (On the former, see Andrew Sullivan's take on Peter Maass's wonderful new piece http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2013/08/13/celebrating-the-blogger/ ) 

Posted by Rob Howse on August 13, 2013 at 11:47 PM | Permalink

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