In an April 24, 2009 article in the Fulton County Daily Report, “Pro Bono: Atlanta lawyers step up to the plate in the wake of economic turmoil”, the reporter details (Atlanta, not Georgia) Big Law’s lawyer surplus and legal aid’s burgeoning case loads which, in fact, have always been characterized as burgeoning. Now, in addition to the ever-increasing pace of their growth, these legal needs are now presented by the “new poor”. On behalf of their memberships, bar associations, voluntary and mandatory alike, are making sincere and strong efforts to respond to the downswing in the legal services market.
There are two stories here- at a minimum. Let’s separate them.
One: Big Law has money problems. It needs more income.
Two: Legal aid for the poor (and- careful here- what’s left of the middle class) is a growth industry, but no one is building the factories and no one is hiring.
First, Big Law does indeed have a problem. Whether its business model is kaput or needs tweaking, well, that’s for someone else to analyze. I like Big Law. I wish it well. If you have been paying attention, you will have noted the new hire deferments, the rescission of employment offers, the cancellations of summer associate programs.
The second story here is more akin to a developing subplot: At what point in this miserable journey will someone ask the question, “Is legal aid now taking on clients worried about protecting their 401Ks?” Let’s hope not. Legal aid mission creep is worrisome.