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LawCrossing Feature

Changes in the Social Perception of a ‘’Successful Lawyer’’ Almost imperceptibly, three terrible socio-economic waves have struck the legal profession and changed its nature forever, even though a majority of lawyers and judges steadfastly refuse to recognize those changes. The first was the industrial revolution, the next was the revolution in information technology, and the third is the deadliest economic recession in the history of U.S. The delayed impact of the industrial revolution transformed the lawyerentrepreneur into an executive. The second wave of information technology turned the ‘man of learning’ into an information broker. The third wave has made money the ‘only measure’ of professional success.

These socio-economic changes have radically

A lawyer like Clarence Darrow would be laughed

transformed the social role of a lawyer. The hallowed

at today and pushed out of law firm boards – only

role of a lawyer as a business counselor has

the rainmakers matter, billable hours matter, and

practically vanished as business leaders have become

those who bring in the most money are glorified as

more learned and knowledgeable. The symbols of

successful. Who is more learned, or a better subject

professional success are no more those of the past.

expert or has better integrity is immaterial, the only

There is little public recognition of a lawyer as a person

thing that is material in measuring success as a lawyer

of consequence. The social status of a lawyer as a

today is money

‘learned person’ has vanished. Except for a handful of fortunate professionals, a lawyer has no individual

It’s a pity that even today lawyers remain culturally

identification separate from his/her law firm affiliation.

conditioned to believe in the likes of Clarence Darrow

The only symbol of success that remains in control of

ruling the court and in idolizing fantastic models of

an individual lawyer is money.

success which are totally out of sync with the reality of the 21st century. Perhaps there is no other profession

So, today, success is judged by income, and the worth

in the world which still loves to cling to its roots in the

of a lawyer is measured by his/her income. Titans of

guilds of medieval ages than that of lawyers. And that

learning are pushed to insignificant corners in law firms

creates misperceptions and takes a toll on individual

and billing partners glorified as rainmakers. Those in

careers. People fail to realize that an ‘independent’

charge of getting the money are the new heroes of law

practice or ‘solo’ practice is as much ‘interdependent’

firms, not those who get the work done and delivered.

as any other modern profession, and further fail to realize that for every lawyer out there, the game

Oh yes, such an attitude has its obvious consequences.

has changed and the ‘lawyer’ idolized in law schools

It leads to failing law firms whose existence does not

belongs to the 18th century, and is better left there.

depend upon loyal learned people, but on rainmakers who would leave as soon as they see signs of disaster.


In fact they are ready to bring in disaster by leaving without any concern for other lawyers hurt by their

Macklin Fleming, Lawyers, Money, and Success: The

selfish decisions. But why be selfless when the law firm

Consequences of Dollar Obsession (Westport, CT:

itself glorifies selfishness, and would not stand by you

Quorum Books, 1997)

in your hard times?


Changes in the Social Perception of a ''Successful Lawyer''  

The social perception of a lawyer as a learned professional is no longer true. The lawyer as a business counselor has practically vanished a...