Letter From The President Of The New Jersey Bar Association

2009-11-02 00:00

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

The Great Recession has rocked the legal profession.

There have been layoffs, salary cutbacks, furloughs and deferrals.

While there are a few glimmers of hope on the horizon, reports are still frequent of fresh cuts to associate classes and firm belt-tightening efforts.

This era of cutbacks has also brought about some exciting opportunities for change. It has made many in the profession adjust the way they approach their jobs, giving them license to think like entrepreneurs.

The New Jersey State Bar Association is at the forefront of helping members of the legal community address these challenges.

As much as we would like to create a job bank, we will have to wait until there are jobs that need to be filled.

Until then, we are hard at work finding creative ways to reach out to colleagues who have found themselves out of work, as well as those looking for a new start. We know how to help attorneys master the art of reinvention and harness the skills for growth and development.

Earlier this fall, dozens of our members came together for an event meant to help them regain their financial and professional footing and learn about new technologies. It was a frank discussion that explored hiring trends at big firms, the ethics of getting paid, how to address the stress of a job transition and the practical things attorneys must know to hang up a shingle, like turning on the lights and generating business.

Based on the turnout and positive feedback of that event, we are set to hold another, called "Suddenly Successful: Making the Transition to Solo Practice." It will be free to members on Dec. 5 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Sobel and Co. in Livingston.

We are also working to help make the practice of law more affordable and effective for our members. This summer we gave our members a free legal research tool that allows them to mine a wide swath of New Jersey's jurisprudence using Fastcase, an Internet-based system that puts the "best case first."

Other sectors of the legal world are also using innovation in their approach to the job market and generating opportunities during this economic tumult.

At many firms, associate classes are being deferred or even radically cut back. In most of those arrangements, the firms figure it's cheaper to pay the attorneys to stay away for a year or so, rather than pay them a full salary and benefits package. But some firms - including Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, White & Case, and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe - have thrown in a twist to require or encourage the deferred associates to go to work for a pro bono or public interest cause.

And in New Jersey, the state Attorney General's Office has gotten in on the act. Facing staffing shortages and a tight budget, the office created a program for lawyers and law school graduates to volunteer with the agency to conduct depositions, write briefs and even do some trial work. The Volunteer Associates in Public Service Program helps people develop their skills and keep resumes fresh.

These innovative approaches to a difficult economic period should be applauded: they help attorneys, the public and the legal system.

To be sure, these are challenging times, but they are also exciting.

The profession has a chance to think long and hard about where it has been and where it wants to go. The New Jersey State Bar Association is ready to help lawyers embrace that challenge to emerge energized and focused.


Allen A. Etish