World War L

July 23, 2013

Lawyers are spreading like zombies, says The Survivalist – and that ain’t gonna change soon

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If you haven’t seen Brad Pitt’s latest movie – World War Z (pronounced ‘Zee’) – it’s a cheery little flick about how the world gets steadily consumed by reanimated dead people forcing what’s left of humanity to huddle on aircraft carriers, Korean airbases or Welsh virus research centres as an alternative to getting zombie-munched.

In matter of fact, the world is being steadily consumed by a rather different phenomenon: the lawyer.

Now, you could be forgiven for thinking by reading a few lurid press reports that law is kind of ‘over, y’know?’.

There is a whole pack of future-sceptics led by legal guru Prof Rich Susskind’s whose latest opus is called ‘The End of Lawyers?’, which is about as apocalyptic as legal commentary ever gets.

Spooky

Susskind even refers to the process whereby our lovely £200-an-hour (and up…) bespoke law gets crunched down to be shipped off to India and done for 3p by a horde of PhD-wielding uber-graduates as “decomposition”. Spooky, huh?

To give Rich some credit, the ‘?’ in the title of his book kind of gives away the ending: you’re not ‘over’, but you are going to have to adapt.

Now, the Survivalist is good n ready for any Apocalypse that might come his way thanks to a decade’s supply of Heinz Beans-n-Sausages and his trusty Heckler & Koch MP5 stowed in the bunker, but are you, dear reader, going to be “decomposed”?

I think not. Let’s look at a few stats. The largest, most powerful law firms in the world are not in India or China, but in the US and the UK, but the power of the mighty dollar, and the massive amount of regulation and litigation behind it, are slowly eroding the position of those UK ones.

That might leave us with just the US ones, but they ain’t going anywhere, and the idea that they’re going to be swept away by the kind of process which replaced Western dominance in manufacturing is a bit fanciful.

Kooky

The US, in fact, has 1.2 million lawyers. For a population of 316m. That means that one in every 300 people (roughly) is a lawyer.

Leaving aside for a moment the billions of dollars spent every year on corporate, real estate, commercial and so on, US lawyers’ ability to generate litigation alone qualifies them as one of the most prodigious and scary forces on the planet.

Just within the US itself, 15 million lawsuits are filed every year. Within the US, some $300bn a year is spent on litigation.

If it were an industry, it would be larger than the US mining industry, or the agriculture industry. And it gets bigger every year.

Have you noticed that every government ever elected says it’s going to cut red tape and reform the tax code, and yet when they leave office, there’s more red tape and a longer tax code? That’s lawyers for you.

Ooky

What we hear a lot is that companies ‘hate’ paying for legal costs. Yeah, but companies hate all costs. They hate having to pay employees more than minimum wage for god’s sake. Yet still they pay. And still they will continue to pay. The lawyers will see to that.

Like the potential cure to Brad’s zombie plague in ‘Z’, outsourcing and “decomposition” offers the alluring prospect that rather than paying high-priced lawyers in New York or London, you can get it done on the cheap in Bangalore or Shanghai.

Maybe. But an army of a million lawyers with $300bn behind them might have something to say about it first.

Stay frosty. TS

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