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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