If you think that lawyers have had hard economic times in the last five years, wait until you read what University of Tennessee law professor Benjamin Barton predicts for the future. In his new book, “Glass Half Full: The Decline and Rebirth of the Legal Profession,” Prof. Barton warns that the legal profession is dying. In fact, he says it’s dying four deaths: death from above, death from below, death from the state, and death from the side.
Of particular concern to lawyers who practice in small law firms or as sole practitioners is the impact of LegalZoom and other online legal form providers. I refer to these companies as RoboLawyers. I warned in an article in September 2012 that the services provided by the RoboLawyers didn’t measure up to that provided by real lawyers. I wasn’t the only person criticizing the online legal form companies in September 2012; Consumer Reports reviewed the services provided by LegalZoom, RocketLawyer and Nolo, and found them lacking in quality. Nevertheless, those companies’ market share has increased, taking bread-and-butter legal work away from small law firms and sole practitioners.
The incomes of small firm lawyers and sole practitioners have fallen in recent years, but I had not seen it quantified until Prof. Barton’s book and an article he wrote for CNN.
In his article The fall and rise of lawyers, Prof. Barton states:
Since the 1960s the IRS has collected and published income levels for all American lawyers filing as solo practitioners. In 1988, solo practitioners earned an inflation-adjusted $70,747. By 2012, earnings had fallen to $49,130, a 30% decrease in real income. And note, $49,130 is not the starting salary for these lawyers. It is the average earnings of all 354,000 lawyers who filed as solo practitioners that year.
And the bad news has just started for these lawyers, who now face new competition from online providers of legal services such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer.
What is a lawyer to do? Sign up for our free American Legal Alliance newsletter to find out about new services we will soon be launching to network thousands of small firm and solo lawyers in a broad variety of practice areas. At the American Legal Alliance, we haven’t suffered due to the Internet revolution. We have thrived. We want to help other small law firms and solos thrive, too.