Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



The legal profession has long embraced an ironic contradiction:lawyers help clients respond to or create change, yet at the same time lawyers steep themselves in tradition and pride themselves on professional stability. Thus we have the image of the conservative, pedigreed attorney, clad in dark wool, who helps his client accomplish new and daring objectives, but who generally resists changes in his or her relationship with the client. For many years this image has served as the ideal for the legal profession, and rules and standards evolved to preserve that ideal.For generations the legal profession has adhered to its traditions and lashed out at any legal iconoclast. Pressures on the legal profession,however, have challenged the ability of the organized bar to resist the onslaught of change. While the legal profession was once homogenous, comprised largely of white, male protestants, today members of the legal profession include increasing numbers of women, blacks, Jews, and members of other ethnic groups. This diversity has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in the sheer number of lawyers, which has naturally raised the level of competition in a profession that once considered itself an exclusive club. An explosion of regulatory legislation over the last fifty years has created new demands on lawyers and clients alike,altering both the needs of the client and the tasks of the lawyer.These changes have manifested themselves in ways that have alarmed many and spurred a debate within the organized bar about the present and future character of the legal profession. While once lawyers remained with the same firm for their entire careers, today associates and partners commonly move from firm to firm. Indeed, it is not uncommon for whole groups of partners and associates to leave one firm either to join another firm or to create a new firm. While once associates proceeded in lockstep to partnership, today associates scramble to-wards partnership, hoping that they have billed enough hours and can generate enough business to justify their presence in the firm. While once lawyers worked hard, did their jobs and went home, today a law firm's preoccupation with the bottom line forces lawyers, partners and associates alike, to keep one eye on the client and one eye on the billable hours.