Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Recession Sends Lawyers Home

Recession sends lawyers home is the caption on a Washington Post article of March 9, 2009. On the first line readers learn "Across the Country, the recession is putting increasing pressure on law firms to slash spending and discount their service." A sharp decline in litigation and the demand for lower prices has prompted firms to outsource document review work to India, hire temp lawyers, work for fixed fees and eliminate staff.

The article introduces the "virtual" law firm, which is billed as "much better suited to the current economic conditions." A "virtual" law uses the telephone, the Internet and video conferencing to avoid the expense of law offices and staff. Lawyers need to be able to type and be their own secretary in the virtual law firm.

Even though lawyers are a learned profession their jobs are part of the service economy where many services turn out to be optional and expendable in hard times. That's because for years the laid off from manufacturing have been finding jobs for services like gambling, yard work, lawn care, dining out, fast food, spas, personal trainers, wedding planners, college consultants, nannies, maids, salons, pet care, dog walkers, diet plans, weight loss, tanning, tattoo parlors.

Many working in the leisure and hospitality industry are vulnerable because their customers can be "do-it-yourselfers." For example, jobs at Fitness Centers and Recreational Sports Centers reached a high of 594,000 in July of 2008, but dropped to 472,000 by December. People need exercise but they can jog in the park or jog on a treadmill; one has jobs, one does not. Health clubs support transactions and jobs where fitness and aerobics instructors exceeded 220 thousand across the country, at least before the recession sent thousands of them to the unemployment office.

Jobs are created by spending and production and President Obama's Stimulus plan will help create jobs. It is probably not enough spending given the number of America's vulnerable and expendable service jobs. Service jobs sink and sink fast in a recession as they are now, but it will take ever increasing amounts of spending to get jobs to recover in America's service economy. Lawyers have some ways to cut costs and offer discounts to help revive their industry. Others are not so lucky.