Ch 14 Opportunities For Lawyers

Opportunities for Lawyers

For all of the lawyers like Levy who take the drastic step of suicide at least in part due to lack of professional opportunities — to their “inability to construct a future” — how many more lawyers experience the same frustrations?

It is estimated that only two-thirds of graduating law students are able to find jobs in the legal field.[1] Of those who do find work in law firms, 57% have left law firm work by their fifth year of practice.[2]

The numbers are even bleaker for women and minorities — women make up 47% of law graduates, but they make up just 33% of the legal profession, and just 15% of equity partners in law firms.[3] By mid-career, nearly 40% of women have left the legal profession all together.[4]

Minorities (men and women) make up 18.1% of law firm associates, but just 5.4% of partners; minority women make up 10.1% of law firm associates and just 1.7% of law firm partners.[5] The situation for minority women is the most acute: more than 75% leave law firms within five years.[6]

Of all employed lawyers, 45% are dissatisfied with their jobs,[7] and fewer than half describe themselves as happy. [8] Lawyers are two times as likely as the general population to suffer from drug or alcohol abuse, and they have one of the highest rates of depression compared to other professions, as well as one of the highest rates of suicide.[9]

The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs recently stated: “Our research indicates that lawyers and law students use and abuse alcohol at rates far higher than the public in general and suffer from mental health disorders, particularly depression and anxiety, leading to both debilitation and suicide in inordinate numbers.”[10]

What is happening in the legal profession? What is happening to all these lawyers, either who cannot find jobs or who, once they have them, leave in droves, often by killing themselves?[11]

Many rationales have been offered for such high levels of discontent in the profession: lawyers are by nature pessimistic and so prone to depression, the adversarial nature of law makes it a stressful profession with enormous pressure to win at all costs, negative attitudes of the public towards lawyers, a bad economy.[12]

Brian Clarke, now Assistant Professor at Charlotte School of Law, explained his 11 years in practice like this:

Practicing law is hard. The law part is not that hard (that was the fun part for me), but the business side of law is a bear. Finding clients, billing time, and collecting money, are just a few aspects of the business of law of which I was not a big fan. Keeping tasks and deadlines in dozens (or hundreds) of cases straight and getting everything done well and on time is a constant challenge. The fear of letting one of those balls drop can be terrifying, especially for the type A perfectionist who is always terrified of making a mistake or doing a less than perfect job. Forget work-life balance. Forget vacations. Every day out of the office is another day you are behind.[13]

What we know about opportunities in the legal profession in the United States is this:

  • There are far fewer available jobs in the law than there are people seeking them. This is true at all levels, but the situation is acute for law graduates looking to start their careers as they leave law school with high debt.
  • Traditional law firms operate under the same basic business model, called a “leveraged pyramid,” where the money the partners make depends upon the number of hours their associates bill. Under this model, in order to keep partner profits high, there is pressure to keep the ratio of associates to partners high, as well as pressure for associates to bill as many hours as possible.
  • This model necessarily places a limit on the number of people that can make partner. Most who do not make partner are expected to leave — some stay for an often temporary period under a reduced status commonly referred to as “of counsel.”
  • A partner’s compensation is dependent upon the billings that are attributable to that partner’s clients. The number of clients a partner controls also determines the ease with which a partner can move to another firm. For these reasons, partners are often reluctant to share important responsibilities and client relationships with other partners as well as associates in the firm (one consequence of this is that the lawyer’s “brand” is just as important, if not more important, than the brand of the firm).
  • While there are many barriers and challenges for white men to make partner, the statistics above demonstrate that the barriers and challenges for women and minorities to make partner are, for most, insurmountable.
  • Becoming a sole practitioner is a viable Plan B only for a few: Since 1988, the average compensation of solo practitioners has declined sharply. In 1988, the average solo practitioner earned 190% of what the average US worker earned. In 2012, that percentage had fallen to 110%. One estimate suggests that the median earnings for solo practitioners in the US may be less than $35,000 per year.[14]

More generally, some have described a growing “sense of disillusionment,”[15] notably from young lawyers who, even when offered equity partnership, refuse it. One commentator described this as a “common occurrence” that is “causing havoc with growth, succession and transition plans.”[16] He explains:

[W]hile they want to be lawyers they do not want to take the financial and other business risks nor make the other work commitments such as working nights, weekends, and the 24-hour commitment that has historically been the requirements for equity partners in law firms.[17]

Some of the frustrations with the practice of law that lawyers typically express are:

  • The need to be salespersons, to become “rainmakers”: most lawyers do not go to law school because they want to become proficient at marketing legal services. But, once in practice, they discover that, large firm or small, a successful career often depends in large part upon their marketing abilities.[18]
  • Lack of control: those who do not become proficient rainmakers (that is, who have not succeeded in recruiting and retaining a critical mass of clients or business), work in deference to the rainmakers. They have little control over the work they do or the schedule that they work under, often at the sacrifice of their personal lives. As they progress in their careers, they can move to other firms only with great difficulty as most firms will bring on new partners only that can bring a “book of business” with them.
  • Law firm management and administration: In large firms, managers are often described, at best, as untrained and ineffective and, at worst, as abusive. (Certainly no one has ever held up a law firm as an exemplary model for management).[19]
  • Lawyers in small firms, and sole practitioners in particular, are overloaded with administrative matters that they didn’t sign up for when they decided to go to law school: recording time, billing and collecting, file and calendar management, maintaining accounts.[20]
  • Large firm or small, boredom with mundane and repetitive work: litigation as well as corporate work often involves long hours in front of a computer spent in tedious document review, routine document preparation, and socially isolating research.[21]

Women experience additional frustrations. The reasons that women typically give for leaving the profession are:

  • Business models that value billable hours over productivity.
  • Either flexible working arrangements are not available or, if they are, they are stigmatized positions that compromise the careers of those that ask for them.
  • They experience discrimination, both (i) before they have children, because there is a risk that they might have them, as well as (ii) after they have children because, regardless of whether they ask for flexible working arrangements or not, there is an assumption that if they have children, they are less committed to and less interested in their work.[22]

One woman, noticing that her East Coast firm did not have any minority women partners who were married with children, decided to leave the firm for a government position. She described her reasons for leaving in this way:

I didn’t want to take the gamble of altering the course of my life for these people — and if they didn’t make me partner, then what did I do? That, coupled with the fact that I am black and female, I thought it made my chances for being partner less, and I didn’t want to take that risk.[23]

Even if they make partner, conditions can be difficult for women in traditional law firm partnerships: In its 2015 survey of 73 of the country’s largest firms, the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) reports that, among other discriminatory practices, men outpace women in obtaining rainmaking credits, and there is a gender gap in revenues generated from client billings, even as women partners report higher working hours.[24] This reporting is borne out in lawsuits brought by former woman partners against, for example, the Richmond, Virginia based law firm of LeClairRyan,[25] and, in another lawsuit, the Miami, Florida based law firm of Greenberg Traurig.[26] In both lawsuits, the former partners alleged that the women partners at the respective firm are, again among other discriminatory practices, denied their fair share of origination credit and internal referrals, and are frozen out of the firm’s high-level management positions[27] and executive and compensation committees.[28] In light of these and a host of other discriminatory measures systematically practiced against both women and minorities over a period of many years, the NAWL report describes the situation as “a story of institutional failure.”[29]

In other words, the traditional law firm operating under the traditional law firm business model is an inhospitable place for many, many lawyers — a place where their success depends not upon their skills as a lawyer but upon their abilities in areas in which they have no training, interest or aptitude, as well as upon their gender and the color of their skin; a place that requires them to sacrifice their personal lives; a place where they do not feel valued or fulfilled in their work; a place and where opportunities are denied to them and only a very small number can reach positions of success. As a result, they leave. Some leave for positions in government agencies, in-house, or not-for-profits, and others simply leave the legal profession altogether. They leave not because they are poor lawyers or have poor legal skills — they leave because there is no place for them in the traditional law firm partnership model. Self-employment as a sole practitioner is viable option for only a few; in the words of an article in the Illinois Bar Journal (a publication of the Illinois State Bar Association) “The bottom line is that to be successful as a solo, you must want to be a solo.”[30]

But besides the traditional law firm partnership or self-employment as a sole practitioner, what other business models does Rule 5.4 allow?

While no one can know what reason(s) drove Mark Levy to suicide, his story bears telling. A graduate of Yale Law School, Levy was of counsel at Kilpatrick Stockton in Washington DC. He was Chair of the firm’s Supreme Court and appellate advocacy practice, and was considered one of the most skilled appellate lawyers in the Unites States.[31] He had argued before the Supreme Court 16 times, and had won his most recent Supreme Court appeal with a unanimous (9-0) court decision.

In late April, 2009, Levy was told that he was one of 24 lawyers that the firm was laying off. He was asked to vacate his office within a few days.

On the morning of Thursday April 30, his last day at Kilpatrick Stockton, Levy went to his office and shot himself.

An article in the ABA Journal explains that while Levy loved the practice of law, there were elements that he struggled with. In particular, he did not relish marketing. One of Levy’s clients explained that Levy “was not the kind of guy who made a hard sell trying to get work. He was more collegial. He was more interested in the issues.”[32]

The article explains that throughout Levy’s career — at Kilpatrick Stockton at as well as at other law firms — he was highly dependent upon other lawyers in his firm to refer work to him, but that those lawyers often were reluctant to lose control over their files, even to a talented colleague. As a result, the firms Levy worked for felt he had underachieved, and Levy felt unsupported and underutilized. Despite his high rate of success in the cases he worked on, he was highly vulnerable in the legal partnership world, where “rainmaking is often valued over skill and judgment. For all his prestige, he had little real power behind his formidable status.”[33]

In the months leading up to his lay-off, Levy had approached several firms to see if they had a place for him, and also sought a political appointment in the Justice Department, but all proved to be dead ends. The day before his suicide, he had a 30-minute phone call with a close friend, who described him as “concerned about what he was going to do.”[34]

Why are some lawyers, like Levy, killing themselves? Patrick Krill, a lawyer and the Director of the Legal Professional Program at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, proposes this response:

Despite whatever preconceptions or judgments many people may have of lawyers and the work they do, there are some facts about the practice of law that can’t be denied: It’s tougher than most people think and frequently less fulfilling than they would ever believe.

The psychologist Rollo May famously defined depression as “the inability to construct a future.” And, unfortunately for many attorneys who define their existence by a hard-earned membership in the legal profession, the powerful despair they experience when that profession overwhelms and demoralizes them doesn’t leave them much psychological real estate for constructing a future they can believe in.

Not a future where the practice of law will be what they hoped for, not a future where their lives will have balance and joy, and not a future where their relationships will bring fulfillment and their stresses will seem manageable. They just can’t see it. Unable or unwilling to extract themselves from the psychological, financial and personal mire they never would have expected years of hard work and discipline to bring them, many lawyers then find themselves sinking into a funk, a bottle or a grave.[35]

Model Rule 5.4 essentially operates to allow for just one kind of business model for legal services: the traditional law firm partnership. But as we’ve seen, many good lawyers are not able to work within the confines of such a structure — either it places too much pressure and too many demands on them, and they leave it voluntarily, or they are not able to conform to its expectations, with the consequences that they are rejected from it. But once they leave, there are very few places for them to go.

Model Rule 5.4 operates to deny to so many lawyers the ability to construct a future.

Alternative structures permit lawyers to construct alternative futures. That is, they permit the creation of legal service firms:

  • Where lawyers who are either not skilled or not interested in marketing would not need to do marketing: The marketing work would be done by professionals trained and skilled in marketing, and the legal work would be done by professionals trained and skilled in law.
  • Where lawyers who do not want their jobs to depend upon on billing a high number of hours would not need to bill a high number of hours: Under a corporate structure, there would be no “leveraged pyramid” for partner compensation, fixed prices would be determined by professionals skilled in the pricing of legal services, and the lawyers’ jobs would depend upon their productivity.
  • Where small firm lawyers who are overwhelmed by administrative tasks would not need to do them: They could join a franchise, which, benefitting from external investment, would have the resources to develop and offer to a large number of small firms streamlined IT infrastructure, billing, marketing and file management, advertising, and a branded name and logo, freeing the lawyers to practice law.
  • Where lawyers who are demoralized by the mundane and repetitive elements of legal work would not need to do them: They would be done either by an automated process and/or by appropriately trained staff in accordance with a carefully developed procedure (all financed by external investment).

At the time of his death, one of Levy’s former law school classmates was quoted as saying: “If someone like him cannot prosper in law practice, you wonder what law practice has become.”[36]

What if, at the time Levy was laid off from Kilpatrick Stockton, alternative structures had existed in the US? What if one of those structures placed all sales and marketing responsibility with a sales and marketing team? Not a team of lawyers doing marketing on the side, but a team of professionals trained and experienced in sales and marketing, who only do sales and marketing? And what if it is also had another team — one trained and experienced in customer relations, who only do customer relations? Those teams would not jealously guard their files from someone like Levy — to the contrary, since they were not lawyers themselves, they would need someone like Levy — someone with the technical legal expertise to provide the underlying legal services. And they wouldn’t care about Levy’s aptitude for marketing or even for customer relations — they’d just need him to address the legal issues.

Those are a lot of what-ifs, of course. We cannot wind back the clock and replay Levy’s life, in order to know for sure if such a structure would have offered an opportunity to him — a chance for him to remain employed in the law and able to contribute his obviously considerable legal talents in a manner that enabled him to feel valued and fulfilled.

But we do not need to know for sure. We only need to know that it could have offered him such an opportunity; that the possibility is real.

And we know that Levy was not alone in his frustrations. For all of the lawyers like Levy who take the drastic step of suicide at least in part due to lack of professional opportunities — to their “inability to construct a future” — how many more lawyers experience the same frustrations? How many of them feel trapped — in an inhospitable and inflexible business model that requires them to be something they are not (skilled at marketing) and does not value what they are (technical lawyers)? How many of them leave the profession as a result, depriving the market of their contributions when we know that the market is in desperate need of more accessible legal services?

It would be unrealistic to expect alternative structures to be a panacea —a utopia or a universal remedy for all unhappy lawyers, or even for all good lawyers who are not suited for the traditional law firm model. But the potential they offer to many of those lawyers is real — the ability to construct a future outside of the traditional law firm model.


Rod Cunich, National Practice Group Leader, Slater and Gordon: Cunich explains why, in his opinion, a corporate structure offers a better working environment as compared to a traditional partnership. In particular, it promotes better decision making and more professional behavior and everyone, including the company’s employees, benefits from that.

Adrian Powell, Partner, Proelium Law: Powell finds the ABS structure beneficial because it allows him to rely upon different kinds of work, not just legal work, to earn a living, and it also allows him to work in a way that makes him happy.

William Robins, Operations Director, Keystone Law, and Warren Kalinko, CEO, Keypoint Law: Robins and Kalinko describe how the lawyers of Keystone and its subsidiary, Keypoint, work flexibly and without minimum billing targets. They also work without the pressure of financial responsibilities of law firm partnership, and without the administrative responsibilities of a sole practitioner.

Ken Jagger, CEO, AdventBalance: Jagger describes how, by working on a project basis, AdventBalance lawyers are able to take time off between projects without the fear of losing their jobs or being set back in their careers.

Andrea Pierce, Legal Services Director, Kings Court Trust: Pierce explains that KCT does not track time and it employs marketing and sales specialists who are responsible for bringing business to the company. In this context, the lawyers at KCT are not evaluated on the basis of either their billable hours or the business they bring in. Instead, they are evaluated on the basis of defined key performance indicators such as meeting service level requirements and deadlines.

Nadia Haque, Associate, Radiant Law: Haque explains that even if she is ambitious and wants to succeed, she does not want to do so in the environment of a traditional law firm and its focus on billable hours. For her, Radiant, as a non-traditional structure, is a place where she can be happy and where she can work flexibly and without politics.

Tamyn Hearne, Associate, Radiant Law: Hearne describes how Radiant’s business model speaks directly to her frustrations with a traditional firm and explains that she has learned more with Radiant than she has anywhere else.

Dina Tutungi, General Manager — Personal Injury Victoria, Slater and Gordon: Tutungi describes the many and varied opportunities in different roles she has had at the firm. She explains that the firm offers a high degree working flexibility to parents, and notably to women returning from maternity leave. Tutungi herself was promoted when she was out on her second maternity leave.

Sue Bence, Head of M&A Operations and Integration — UK, Slater and Gordon: Bence explains the variety of roles she has had with the firm in both Australia and the UK, and the highly unique experience she is gaining in her role as Head of M&A. She states that she finds working in a non-traditional structure to be liberating and inspiring.


[1] Marco Rabinowitz, “Legal Profession in Crisis? Law School Bubble, Weak Job Market Signal Precarious Changes,” Benzinga, May 2, 2012,

[2] Marlisse Silver Sweeney, “The Female Lawyer Exodus,” Daily Beast, July 31, 2013,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Susan Smith Blakely, “Why Do Women Lawyers Leave?,” Ms. JD, April 24, 2014,

[5] Gita Z. Wilder, “Are Minority Women Lawyers Leaving Their Jobs? Findings from the First Wave of the After the JD Study,” The NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education and the National Association for Law Placement, Inc., 2008, 4,

[6] Debra Cassens Weiss, “Why More than 75% of Minority Female Lawyers Leave Law Firms Within 5 Years,” ABA Journal, July 22, 2009, See also Liane Jackson, “Minority Women are Disappearing from BigLaw— and Here’s Why,” ABA Journal, March 1, 2016,

[7] Stephanie Francis Ward, “Pulse of the Legal Profession,” ABA Journal, October 1, 2007,

[8] Lawyers’ Assistance Program, “The Happy Lawyer: The Path from Stress to Well-Being,” Presentation for Continuing Legal Education Credit, April 13, 2015, on file with author (“The Happy Lawyer”).

[9] The Happy Lawyer; see also Ashby Jones, “In Down Times, Depression Taking Hold Among More Lawyers,” Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2009, See also MP McQueen, “The Legal Profession’s Drinking Problem Is Worse Than We Thought,” The American Lawyer, February 4, 2016,; Patrick R. Krill, Ryan Johnson, and Linda Albert, “The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys,” Journal of Addictive Medicine 10 (2016): 46-52,

[10] ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, “Proposed Resolution Regarding Model Regulatory Objectives,” October 28, 2015,

[11] The situation of lawyers in Canada appears to be comparable to the US. See, for example: Megan Seto, “Killing Ourselves: Depression as an Institutional, Workplace and Professionalism Problem,” Western Journal of Legal Studies 2 (2012) See also Fiona M. Kay, Stacey Alarie, and Jones Adjei, “Leaving Law and Barriers to Re-entry: A Study of Departures from and Re-entries to Private Practice,” A Report to the Law Society of Upper Canada , April 2013,; Lindsay Scott, “Young Lawyers, Read This LSUC Report” Canadian Lawyer, May 20, 2013,; Michael Dempster, “The Hurting Profession,” National, April-May 2012, 12-20,; Anastasia Jogal, “Less Than Half of All Law Grads Find Work After Call: Survey,” Canadian Lawyer Magazine, January 11, 2016, Also, see complaints brought against one of Canada’s most prestigious firms, McCarthy Tetrault: Kenneth Kidd, “Woman’s Fight Opens Legal Titans’ Secret Files,” The Star, September 3, 2009, A 2015 study of recent graduates of Canadian law schools has been cited as demonstration that Canadian lawyers are more satisfied than US lawyers, in spite of a similar regulatory environment. However, this study is limited to persons who are newly admitted to the bar (four years or less), who were employed upon admission to the bar (the study does not encompass unemployed law graduates) and it addresses lawyers in all professional contexts, including government positions. The study reveals that the rate of satisfaction of lawyers in government positions is significantly higher than the rate of lawyers in private practice. The rate of satisfaction of solo lawyers is particularly low for lawyers just two years out of law school — at just 71%, it begs the question of how 29% became disillusioned in such a short period of time. The study also shows low levels of satisfaction with respect to working conditions for beginning lawyers in medium and large law firm settings. Ronit Dinovitzer, “Law and Beyond: A National Study of Canadian Law Graduates,” May 27, 2015, 37-39, 41,

[12] See, for example, Martin E. P. Seligman, “Why Are Lawyers So Unhappy?,” Lawyers with Depression, November 16, 2012,; Susan Swaim Daicoff, Lawyer, Know Thyself (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2004), 5.

[13] Brian S. Clarke, “Law Professors, Law Students and Depression . . . A Story of Coming Out,” Journal of Law 4 (2014): 219-234, 223,,%20TP4-2,%20Clarke.pdf.

[14] Paul Campos, “The Collapsing Economics of Solo Legal Practice,” Lawyers, Guns & Money, May 25, 2015,

[15] John W. Olmstead, “Best Practice: The Equity Partner Problem,” Illinois Lawyer Now, January 6, 2016,

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] See, for example, Silvia Hodges, “I Didn’t Go to Law School to Become a Salesperson — The Development of Marketing in Law Firms,” Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, 26 (2013): 225-260,

[19] See, for example, Deena Shanker, “Why are Lawyers Such Terrible Managers?,” Fortune, January 11, 2013,; Dale B. Evans, “Why Lawyers Can’t Manage,” Law Practice Management, 19 (October, 1993): 26,

[20] Suzanne Meehle, “10 Things I Hate About Being A Solo Practitioner (and Why I’m Still Happy Being Solo!),” Solo Practice University Blog, March 24, 2011;

[21] David Cheng, “Why So Many Lawyers Are Unhappy with Their Jobs,” Business Insider, August 29, 2013,

[22] See, for example, Marlisse Silver Sweeney, “The Female Lawyer Exodus,” Daily Beast, July 31, 2013,

[23] Jill Schachner Chanen, “Early Exits,” ABA Journal, August 6, 2006,

[24] National Association of Women Lawyers, “Report of the Ninth Annual NAWL National Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms,” October 27, 2015, 3, (hereinafter, NAWL Report”).

[25] Neil Gluckman, “Complaint Alleges Gender Discrimination at LeClairRyan,” The American Lawyer, January 7, 2016,

[26] Cindy Krischer Goodman, “Why Aren’t Women Lawyers Reaching the Top of Their Firms in Pay and Respect?” Miami Herald, April 12, 2012,

[27] Ibid.

[28] Michele Burke Craddock v. LeClairRyan, Complaint, In the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, January 6, 2016, 4, In both cases, the woman partners reported that the firm defended compensation differences with the explanation that the men partners needed the money because they have families to support. Debra Cassens Weiss, “$200M Class Action Claims ‘Boys Club’ at Greenberg Traurig Hogs Work and Origination Credit,” ABA Journal, December 3, 2012,; and Michele Burke Craddock v. LeClairRyan, Complaint, 6-7.

[29] NAWL Report, 2.

[30] “Solos’ Incomes Take a Deep Dive,” Illinois Bar Journal 103 (August, 2015) 49.

[31] Jonathan Turley, “D.C. Lawyer Mark Levy Reportedly Dead by Suicide at His Kilpatrick Stockton Office,” Jonathan Turley Blog, April 30, 2009,

[32] Richard B. Schmitt, “A Death in the Office,” ABA Journal, November 2, 2009,

[33] Ibid.

[34] “Mark I. Levy,” Wikipedia, last modified September 22, 2014,

[35] Patrick Krill, “Why Lawyers are Prone to Suicide,” CNN, January 21, 2014,

[36] Schmitt, “A Death in the Office.”


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