As a profession, we should resist this urge to specialize. We may make more money, but it's about more than that.
Monday, August 27, 2007
Recently, I have had occasion to discuss specialization with attorneys from both Tennessee and Ohio. Readers and clients know that I am a general practice attorney. I am not in the least bit interested in specializing. I am, however, interested in people's opinion on the topic.
One lawyer thinks that, within 10 years, everyone will be a specialist and that attorneys who do not specialize, or who take cases outside their specialty, will be liable for malpractice. My response to that is to say that it won't come to that but, if it does, count me out.
Personally, I think that specialization is bad for the profession and doubly bad for clients. It's bad for the profession because it spells the end of the small town, country lawyer who represents all clients, big and small. The lawyer on the Atticus Finch model. In years past, this was the predominate type of lawyer and in years past, people respected lawyers much more. As firms (and fees) have increased in size, the public's attitude about our profession has changed for the worse. This isn't a coincidence. The big firm specialization model does not breed public confidence. It breeds the idea of law as a business, not a profession. It breeds advertising models in which lawyers appear to be no better than used car salesmen (one ad that I particularly detest shows a lawyer who morphs into a tiger and the same firm has the back of the phone book with an ad that says "As Seen on TV" - are we lawyers or do we sell the Popeil Pocket Fisherman?).
Specialization is also bad for the clients. What happens when a lawyer specializes? Well, his client pool shrinks to encompass only those who need that particular legal specialty. When his client pool shrinks, what does the lawyer do? Well, most likely he relocates to a larger population center where the bigger population means more clients for his particular specialty. Clients who live in smaller communities now must travel longer distances to find a lawyer. Their costs are increased and one reason for that is that the lawyers overhead has increased (it's more expensive in the city). Fewer clients can then find, or afford, legal services. This is a bad thing.
I also tend to think that the lawyers I know who have specialized are not happy people. One reason for that, in my opinion, is that they get bored. Every day is the same thing. One bankruptcy petition looks much like every other. One complaint for divorce or mortgage foreclosure is much the same as any other. People thrive on variety. And people who are constantly learning new things stay sharper than people who are not learning new things.