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What Will Law Jobs Look Like in Ten Years?


Occasionally, I am astounded by how quickly things change. Case in point, on December 25th my sister tried to tell me that the period of 2000-2009 was called the “aughts”, and I promptly informed her that she was an idiot. I felt confident that I was right, not only because “aught” was barely a world (unless you count sloppy slang for “should”) but also because I’m hard pressed to ever accept that I am wrong. Plus, my sister is younger than me, thus being correct is my birthright.

But then, the next day, I saw a publication referring to said period as the “aughts”. I chalked it up to a coincidence, and remained convinced I was right. Then, somewhere around the 27th, it happened again. Doubt started to creep into my mind. Incredibly, it happened again the 28th, then again the 29th, and again the 30th.

Then I left the country. Not necessarily because of the aughts, but more because I like to leave the country.

Far away, things seemed back to an “aughts”-less normal until, New Years Eve, while at a house party thousands of miles away from the US, I picked up an errant New York Magazine that somehow made its way overseas and read the back page (where I found some silly grid-like thing that was, I suppose, intended to impress people who don’t live in New York with just how much we judge others), and there was a lame joke referencing Jessica Simpson, Billy Corgan, the 1990’s and the … !!AUGHTS!!. Sigh.

Not being unreasonable, I admitted defeat. It seems the decade will be called, as much as it pains me that my sister knew it first, by this improbable term. Yet, I marveled at how quickly ten years could go from being entirely unnamed to neatly wrapped up in one made-up word. A week earlier and I was convinced we were still calling it the “New Millennium” (which remains my personal preference, along with bringing back this song), yet by the time the metaphorical ball dropped on the decade, I was saying good-bye to the aughts. As I said, sometimes change happens at an incredible pace.

And of course, the changes of the aughts consisted of much, much more than a mere moniker switch. Ten years ago I was a braces wearing, unibrow sporting, gangly teenager, harboring secret dreams of becoming a best selling novelist who would rival Michael Crichton. I was also nurturing a burning crush on Lance Bass. Today I’m one sixth of the way to a law degree, have established elaborate personal beautification rituals to disguise that ongoing awkward phase, and have accepted the fact that I will likely never fall in love with a straight man. It’s been quite the trip.

All in all, I’m pretty content with the trajectory of my life, and I think that Y2K Dixie would be satisfied with where I stand today. Unfortunately, the problem with celebrating milestones is that they tend to not only lead to reflection, but also predictions about where I’ll be the next time I pass a similar benchmark. Ten years is a long time, and 2020 is especially hard to picture when the future of the legal profession is so uncertain.

For example, an opinion piece in the LA Times by Mark Greenbaum pointed out, once again, that there are some really basic mathematical problems when one compares the number of law school graduates entering the work force each year to the number of job openings for those grads. If his numbers are correct, about 15 thousand new lawyers each year can expect to use their JD’s to take orders at the BK drive-through window instead of in the courtroom. And I will verify that, for one little law school student at least, his numbers on debt are accurate—if not even a bit conservative. So on one hand, there is considerable bleakness to any predictions about the next decade.

On the other hand, there are also plenty of news articles out there to get a young law student excited. For example, NJ attempts to prove once again that they can offer more to society than Guido beautification tips, as they move the fight for gay marriage back to the courts. And there are plenty of other states and civil rights issues that will need lawyers and activists willing to fight for the cause. Even if you are only really interested in making oodles of money, there is evidence the legal world could still work out for you (your soul, on the other hand, remains damned).

So it is with all this information that law students today stand ready to face the next decade, and try to predict where our mid thirties will land us. Will we be jobless, starving and bemoaning the inability to discharge tuition loans through bankruptcy? Or will we be working hard to change the world, or at least to make a comfortable living?

Personally, I just hope we decide to call decade the “tens” or the “teens” soon, and stick with our choice.