The Bar’s Economic Survey

August 27, 2015 § 6 Comments

I was looking to find time to summarize the results of the Bar’s 2015 economic survey when — Voila! — Philip Thomas did it handily on his Mississippi Litigation Review and Commentary blog yesterday. You will find his article at this link.

Mr. Thomas likes to poke fun at himself for his somewhat gloomy outlook about the state of legal practice in Mississippi — he humorously refers to himself as “Mr. Sunshine.” Yet it’s hard to argue with the numbers that show the legal profession in economic decline. It’s too soon to conclude that the decline is permanent or even long-term. We all know and have experienced that cycles of boom and bust have occurred in the legal field for as long as there have been people paid for dealing with the law.

There are, however, some structural factors that point to a more pessimistic future:

  • The cap on damages has slowed down PI firms and defense firms alike, and that is not likely to change until the caps are removed.
  • The economy is slow. Most Mississippians have not been able to climb out of the hole they fell into in the 2008 recession. As a result, they have less money to spend on lawyers and litigation and lawyers are retained only when absolutely necessary; when they are retained, they are under pressure to keep costs low.
  • Another side effect of Mississippi’s sluggish economy is that case filings are down; in some districts they are ‘way down.
  • The commoditization of legal practice continues to expand, putting pressure on lawyers to innovate or go extinct.
  • Business has become on-demand, and people are used to having instant or near-instant access to what they want. Our court procedures, on the other hand, take months and years to reach even simple conclusions. Some of the ways that we practice law and administer our courts, using nineteenth-century techniques and concepts that are becoming increasingly unwieldy in the twenty-first century, encourage people to look for more efficient processes. They want to to avoid cumbersome court procedures and the expensive lawyers who work with them in favor of more streamlined, quicker means.

That’s the downside. The upside is that lawyers and judges are increasingly becoming awakened to these realities, and are beginning to find ways to adapt and survive. New forms of fee arrangements are making lawyers more affordable and accessible. Lawyers are using technology to speed up their communications with and service to clients. More and more state courts in Mississippi are using electronic access. And, as commoditization becomes more widespread, so will the need for lawyers to come in and clean up the self-inflicted mess.

I commend the economic survey to your study. It’s important to understand the trends, to think about how you will cope with them, and to plan for the future.

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§ 6 Responses to The Bar’s Economic Survey

  • Jane Tucker says:

    Criminal defense attorneys have to show up in court every week or so for docket call. It’s the most archaic practice ever. The other day I was thinking you could invent some computer program to handle it but then I realized no one would buy it. Judges appear to be happy to spend half their time scheduling cases as though they are secretaries.

  • thusbloggedanderson says:

    Re: speed of litigation, state courts need to abolish the motion hearing. If no one’s testifying, decide the motion – dispositive or not – on the pleadings. This would be a huge step. (And decide it with their own order, rather than wait on the parties.)

    Another step: require judges to report to the MSSC elapsed time between filing of motion replies & disposition of motions. For every motion. (MEC counties could be set up to record this, presumably.) After a year or two of that, the MSSC should set deadlines based on their results. I’d surmise 45 days or so, but let’s see how long courts take when instead of motion hearings, they’ve got more time to spend reading & deciding motions.

  • Bob Wolford says:

    I consider myself a “street lawyer”, meaning that I generally cater to the wage-earning working class that used to be able to put together $1500-$2500 toward a bankruptcy, divorce, contempt/modification, etc. There used to be a day when somebody would come into my office to discuss a legal matter, and if they liked me and my suggestions, they would simply make arrangements to gather up the fee and return later that week and pay me, sometimes this would take a couple of weeks. The following week, I’d have the case ready to go, and off we went in prosecuting or defending the case.

    Those days are over, at least in terms of trusting that you could land a couple of these clients over a 2 or 3 week period.

    Now, the first question asked is “how much do you charge”. I politely answer with an explanation. Next question is about a “free consultation”. I used to say “yes” I’ll be happy to spend 30 minutes to explain what I can do (I’ve always considered face time with a lawyer to be valuable and comforting to the potential client). Most of the time, the prospective client will then complain or nickel and dime me on my fee, question me about a payment plan and if they don’t do that they will take what they learned in the consultation and go to the law library where some Face-Book-addicted library attendant will gladly show them the assortment of legal forms spread out on top of the first book shelf by the door, any of which are free for the taking, including a pauper’s affidavit to waive the filing fee. This same library attendant will then stare at me when I use the copier and then demand 10 cents a page.

    To me, the problem is modern technology, fill-in-the-blank legal forms at the law library and the internet have “innovated” the small practice guy right out of the market.

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