The law firms of the early 21st century are, for all their success, a reflection of a different kind of legal system than that that produced in the 1950s and 60s.
The success of those firms is more closely tied to the kinds of jobs they fill than the particular skills they’re supposed to be able to bring to the table, according to an analysis of data from the National Center for State Courts by the University of Texas Law School.
This is partly because the law firms themselves often don’t take on a large number of new cases, and partly because many of them are so focused on their own particular business interests.
For example, the firms that produce the most books, according the analysis, tend to specialize in the kind of case management that’s seen in the practice of law.
The firms that do most of their work in the private sector, on the other hand, tend toward more traditional legal work, focusing on disputes or claims involving commercial disputes or contracts between businesses.
“Law firms tend to focus on a lot of the same kinds of cases, they tend to be relatively large and very good at their work, they’re not focused on what other firms are doing, and they tend not to have a large workforce,” said J. Michael Davis, a professor of law at the University at Buffalo who specializes in the legal profession.
In other words, the law firm is the best fit for the particular kinds of work that lawyers are trained to do, said Davis.
The analysis looked at the number of cases filed by lawyers and found that in the 20 years after the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision in Roe v.
Wade legalized abortion, the number that came before a court in a particular case rose by about 25 percent.
But by 2011, it had fallen to about 5 percent.
The trend was more pronounced in the five years after that decision, when there were more cases filed in the federal courts.
In addition, lawyers who work in law firms have a greater chance of finding work as attorneys than other types of legal workers, Davis said.
And the rise in the number and size of law firms is largely a result of the rise of technology, he said.
“I don’t think it’s any surprise that the number [of law firms] is so much larger today than it was in the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s,” he said, adding that the rise was not a consequence of the Supreme Judicial Court decision.
“The rise of the Internet, the rise and growth of the information economy, and of the ability of the private firms to compete with the public firms, all of that combined to make the demand for lawyers more significant.”
And there are signs that the demand will continue to grow, as firms continue to hire more people.
As of March 31, there were 1.3 million lawyers working in the United States, up from 1.2 million at the end of last year, according data from Thomson Reuters.
As for the number working as lawyers, the figures are still very small.
The National Center’s analysis looked only at lawyers who worked full time, which means they are part-time lawyers, meaning they don’t work for their clients full time.
The data also doesn’t take into account the work that some lawyers do on a contract basis, which has risen significantly in the past two decades.
That work has grown to more than a third of all legal work in 2011, and lawyers have begun to shift their work from working full time to working part time, Davis noted.
“So they have a substantial share of the work in a very small amount of time, and it’s a very hard and lucrative market,” Davis said, and a market that could expand as more lawyers are hired.