In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, I read the following in an article by Jennifer Smith and Ashby Jones:
The embattled New York law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP has filed for bankruptcy protection, a move that effectively ends what had been at its height a 1,300-lawyer global enterprise and marks one of the largest law-firm failures in U.S. history.
Should we be surprised? America produces more lawyers than the rest of the world combined. In fact our recurring bumper crop of barristers is leading some institutions to offer subsidies for law students to not complete their legal education. And sadly, it’s led other US law firms besides Dewey & LeBoeuf to liquidate their partnerships. In the current soft economy the over-supply of billable hours is depressing the price per billable hour. The free market is at work in the business of law.
So what’s a lawyer to do? Perhaps emigration could work for some of the surplus. After all, the rule of law is essential for the orderly creation, preservation and transfer of wealth and property in free markets. Places like Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and China really could use more law and order to protect their burgeoning capitalist class from the predations of criminals, swindlers and politicians (but bring a gun just in case). It would certainly pave the way to more amicable dealings with the USA via the common language of law. Much of the greatness of America today was built by past generations of immigrants. Perhaps American lawyers are the vanguard of the next emigration cycle. But I doubt that many American lawyers will find solace in this option.
That leaves two other choices- quit lawyering or find something that is under-lawyered. There are many that would applaud the former option but I am not one of them. Instead what this army of disenfranchised lawyers can do is help to turn the universe of intellectual property assets (IP) into new investments. This is the mission of Carthage Intellectual Capital Management. We can show lawyers through the principles of contracts and licensing how to turn IP- patents trademarks and copyrights- into cash for IP owners and royalty revenues for investors, bankers and financial institutions. There’s a real shortage of knowledgeable lawyers for IP based transactions. The money will be quite good and much safer than guns.