April 01, 2013

A 40-Year Retrospective on Litigation

What has changed in law—and what has not—since the inception of this publication.

Mark Neubauer

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Anniversaries and birthdays are appropriate times to look back and reflect on the changes that time has wrought, while at the same time trying to predict the future. Litigation journal’s 40th anniversary is no exception.

Time tends to dim the memory of the defects of the “good old days,” and the pressures of modernity tend to heighten our disappointment with the present. Yet, like all change, a comparison of the practice of law at the beginning of Litigation in 1975 with the practice today is a mixed bag. Many things in today’s practice of law are an improvement over what existed at the onset of Litigation, but by the same token, some of the innocence of those earlier years has been sadly lost.

Most dramatic has been the change affecting trial lawyers and their professionalism. Forty years ago, a large law firm employed 30 to 75 lawyers and was located in a single city. The people who practiced together actually knew one another, their spouses, and their children. They were not only professional colleagues but also personal friends and so were their families. Today, law has followed the accounting profession and become not just nationalized but internationalized. Firms are now multi-office with thousands of lawyers, many of whose “partners” do not know each other by sight much less by name. Partnership has become a misnomer. Large monolithic law firms are too often governed by a corporate structure the size of which simply precludes participatory democracy. Many large firms have adopted blind compensation systems, in which partners are not even allowed to know what their so-called equal partners are earning.

These modern partners do not share clients or cases. It’s each lawyer for himself or herself, and the theme is “What can you do for me today?” Standing by a partner in the downs of a professional or personal life is a rarity.

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