Speaking to Santa Clara University law students this week, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati chairman Larry Sonsini described a legal profession under siege by an information revolution, globalization, alternative fee requests and commoditization of various practices.
“There is no place to hide in the profession because you’re on the firing line every day,” he said at a panel on lawyer leadership. Appearing with him were California Supreme Court Justice Carol Corrigan, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Jeff Rosen and Sixth District Court of Appeal Justice Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian.
All four emphasized they see a bright future for the profession. But the panelists, especially Sonsini, also sounded cautious, sometimes even wistful notes about the enormous challenges facing lawyers today.
“Technology has changed the game,” said the lawyer who helped nurture Apple, Google and numerous other game-changing companies. With greater access to information, clients expect faster answers at lower rates. At the same time, law firms have to negotiate globalization “without losing your momentum” and the commoditization of lower-end work.
“All of that has put a lot of pressure on the practice,” Sonisini said, from graduates seeking jobs, to senior associates trying to make partner, to established partners who must “stay on top of the game.”
When it comes to their own new hires, Wilson is looking for people who already have a personal strategic plan. “Now that sounds like a terrible thing for a person just getting out of law school,” Sonsini said, but it helps demonstrate vision, skill set and -- theme of the night -- ability to thrive under pressure.
Sonsini acknowledged it took him a little while to develop his own strategic plan. He’d expected to study medicine before opting for law school at the last minute.
“How’d that work out for you?” Rosen quipped.
The April 17 panel was organized by SCU adjunct law professor Bob Cullen.