I am writing this through tears.

Those tears have been caused by allergies.

I am allergic to lawyers.

Though some can privately be specimens of exalted humanity, too many are specimens of exalted venality.

That's why my lawyer-allergic tears have poured on reading a study performed by legal consulting firm Altman Weil. It's called "Law Firms In Transition."

You might imagine that law firms are in transition from bloated profits to positively Mr. Creosote profits.

I'm sure they want to be. However, there appears to be one thing standing in their way: there are too many lawyers.

Hark these words from the study's conclusion: " Overcapacity of equity and non-equity partners, especially in larger firms, is endemic and a drag on profitability."

I can imagine that drag weighing heavily on the finest legal minds. Will they have to find some way to charge $1000 an hour now? Will they have to cut back on, say, mightily frivolous lawsuits?

In this study of 797 leaders of law firms, 60 percent said that the presence of too many lawyers in their firms was causing a serious case of profit droop.

The big firms seem to be suffering the most. 74 percent of firms that employ more than 250 attorneys (doesn't that sound like a party house?) complained that there just wasn't enough to allow for a full feeding of the 250.

From gout to drought.

One reason for this sudden kvetching is that "non-traditional competitors are actively taking business from law firms and the threat is growing."

As I delved deeper into the report (or as deeply as I dared), I discovered that lawyers' greatest bogeyperson in all this is a classic: their clients.

When clients claim they don't get value, they move the work to their own legal departments.

And then there's that cold-hearted, lawless punk known as technology. 24 percent of respondents said it was already taking business away. 42 percent feared this would only increase. They are surely 100 percent correct.

It's easy to see this as a crisis of leadership. How do you manage change, as more and more people work different schemes not to pay you as much as they used to?

It may be that lawyers deserve sympathy. It's just that they haven't entirely earned it.

Some lawyers have, for too long, allowed for the impression (and sometimes the reality) that the only people who benefit from legal action are actually lawyers.

The legal business isn't alone in seemingly serving itself at least as well as it serves anyone else. Advertising is another practice where value to the clients was, for a very long time, rather secondary to value for the agency.

One day, somewhere near the turn of the century, clients became wiser. They paid their marketing executives more than ad agencies paid their staff. Astonishingly, agencies' magical powers for enormous profits suffered something of an embolism.

We all need lawyers at some point in our lives. Great lawyers can save us from ourselves, as well as from those who would wish us ill, or just wish they could take some of our money for the fun of it.

Some might conclude that what some lawyers need to do these days is to love us a little more and charge us a little less.

There might even be profit in that.

 

 

 

 

Published on: May 13, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.