Crime and Criminal Lawyers
The always blunt Scott Greenfield writes:
“I’ve spoken with many lawyers, many readers. You know who you are. You know that I know the truth. The business of criminal defense is dying. It’s awful. It sucks. And you’re hanging on by a thread, if at all. Yet, most put on their game face, talking themselves up as if they are somehow beating the odds, knocking down the world, making a killing. Nobody wants to tell their brethren that they’re in the same boat, struggling daily to cover the nut and praying that the next phone call isn’t another nutjob or desperate defendant without a dime to his name.
It’s not that there is a shortage of criminal defendants, though crime is significantly down and serious crime even more so. There is a shortage of criminal defendants who can afford to pay for a lawyer. Sure, there are some lawyers who are doing well, but you can count them on your fingers and toes, without resort to dropping trou. And there are a great many criminal defense lawyers, exceptionally good ones, who fight over crumbs these days, because that’s all they can do to survive . . .
[snipping some typical anti-law school commentary…]
The fact is that the vast majority of criminal defense lawyers are starving. Because of this, lawyers are cannibalizing themselves, stealing cases in the hallway and undercutting each other at every turn. Websites create the expectation that people can get $1000 of legal representation for $12,97. They teach that lawyers desperately want to give away their advice for free. The message is lawyers are fungible, or that no one wins anyway, so why bother paying money when you can lose just as well for free.”
I don’t know if the trend that Scott describes is local (NY) or national. (The students I know in criminal practice are either PDs or too fresh to know the regional market well.) If it is a national trend, it’s disturbing. Scott asserts that the decline in the criminal defense bar is unrelated to the decline in crime. Presumably, it could be related to the overall slowdown in the economy. But the primary mechanism I’d posit for such a relationship would be an increase in the supply of criminals, which isn’t evident in the crime data. The decline in BigLaw results from outsourcing, client-billing pressure, and digitization. None of that is present here. What’s going on? Is this mostly about the collapse of the more lucrative side of the drug trade? The commodification of practice (driven by internet advertising)?
Knowledgeable and signed comments will be welcome.