I previously blogged about a California employer looking for a lawyer associate to work without pay. See New twist on an old ploy: work for free.
The employer was an enterprising law firm trolling on Craigslist
for a lawyer hard-up enough to trade free work for career experience.
But in yet another sign of our recessionary times, comes the unsurprising flip-side. There’s a wanna-be employee so desperate for work he/she is advertising for a lawyer job sans pay. It’s a D.C. lawyer also on Craigslist.
In part, the ad states, “2008 graduate from 1st tier law school, with one year law firm experience, licensed in NY state, DC bar pending, is willing to work for free for one year or more, in exchange for experience in civil litigation, criminal defense, family law, contract, bankruptcy. and/or property law.”
Too bad, that penurious California law firm isn’t in the same geographical location as this despairing lawyer in the nation’s capital. Otherwise, it’s a match made in heaven, almost an eHarmony.com or a match.com scenario between like-minded, compatible soul mates. But instead of starry-eyed romantics, we have a lawyer willing to work for free and a law firm employer equally willing to forego paying remuneration. Why this almost makes an old cynical sentimentalist tear up.
But it could catch on. Out-of-work workers from any trade could advertise their availability to work for free. And hard-pressed employers could post their unpaid job openings. Call the politicos in Washington! This could end unemployment! Of course, it would not end the recession since consumers would still not have any money but what an entrepreneurial brainchild!
Online bidding for legal work.
Kidding aside, it turns out, there’s a marketplace innovation already available that doesn’t involve not getting paid. How fortunate for workers who still have bills to pay and families to feed. It’s an online auction where the parties bid for services.
While couched in the commendable prose of providing a public service, the online job auction is simply another Internet-born business approach that craftily makes use of hard times. But more significantly, thanks to too many lawyers and insufficient demand, the entrepreneurs avail themselves of the increasing commoditization of legal services.
A race to the bottom.
Think about it. If there are lawyers already willing to work for nothing, what kinds of bidding wars are in the offing? Bidding for services becomes a race to the bottom.
Law firms post “projects” on this website. The desperately out-of-work “bid” on the posted projects. It’s a talent auction borne of excess capacity and surfeit demand. The auctioneering of legal services comes courtesy of an online firm, Law Clerk Connection
(LCC). They have all the stakeholders covered, too. For an annual tune of $39.95, law firms, law students, new law school grads, lawyers and even clients can join the online auction for legal services at LCC.
On its website, LCC proclaims, “Our distinctive bidding process ensures your project will be completed on time and on budget.”
Clients post projects.
Similarly, the under-worked or out-of-work lawyers who pay LCC’s annual fee can post their resumes and work samples for review by would-be clients “looking for qualified lawyers.” Clients seeking legal help to resolve a problem post their legal project. LCC-registered lawyers then bid for the client’s project. On their website, LCC, tells its client-users, “We enable you to shop for the best qualified lawyer that fits
within your budget by providing a forum for you to post your legal needs for lawyers to bid on.”
Supply and demand.
The reason that some are reduced to bidding for work or working without compensation is systemic oversupply. In an August 11, 2009 report, “For Junior Lawyers, the Gravy Train Is Slowing,” Business Week declared, “The economy fell off a cliff. Saddled with huge excess capacity, many law firms have offered substantial discounts even for the work they do have. In addition, they have rolled back compensation, laid off droves of lawyers, and furloughed others.”
The saving grace from all of this is the invisible hand of the marketplace, which while throttling lawyers ultimately benefits legal consumers. With excess supply, prices go down. If demand goes down, prices go down. This is, of course, not good news for recent law school graduates, most of whom are saddled with staggering tuition debts. Indeed, the Fed’s Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a finding that 2008 law school graduates averaged well over $71,000 in debt.
In a September 3, 2009 post, Stephen Bainbridge at ProfessorBainbridge.com
posits that there’s something to be learned from the example of General Motors shutting down factories due to excess capacity. Bainbridge says, “we in the law have to close some of our ‘factories’.”
Long term, with law school enrollments inconceivably continuing to rise despite a systemic oversupply, this may end up being the improbable prescription.