Is a career in law still economically viable?
AS A barrister and attorney in training, I am well aware of the difficult job situation facing me and my peers when we leave the Norman Manley Law School. In 2016, law is still one of the most popular professions in Jamaica. I often watch the faces of the students I mentor light up when they proudly declare their wishes to become attorneys. Generally, I would query if anyone had studied the current economic climate or had even spoken to practising attorneys to see if a career in law is still economically viable in 2016. You can guess the responses to that.
No longer is there a guarantee of a high starting salary or even a job for law graduates; and with talk of an increase in competitiveness because of saturation and high unemployment, many people are wondering if the legal profession is still worth the money and time it takes to study.
Courtney M. Williams, a partner at prominent law firm DunnCox, has noticed the change in the profession since he was called to the Bar in 2007.
“I am not certain of the statistics, but I do believe that the number of graduates from law school has increased relative to when I was called to the Bar. What is evident is that more lawyers are in the system and I have encountered an increasing number of recent law graduates who cannot find employment. When I graduated, many of my colleagues had one or two choices of employment.”
Real estate attorney Robert J. Taylor, proprietor at law firm Taylorlaw, agrees that there is some overcrowding but believes that there are still opportunities available for those willing to go outside the norm.
“Opportunities remain for practitioners and law firms who innovate and reinvent the way the law is practised and service delivered. If we first recognise that the practice of law has a business and customer service component, then I believe that there will be opportunities for sole practitioners and firms to be viable, despite the increase in numbers.”
Despite the overcrowding, the education sector of the legal industry continues to grow at an astonishing pace, but new areas of practice are looming.
Former Member of Parliament Arnaldo Brown acknowledges that there has been tremendous growth within the past 10 years.
NEW AREAS OF PRACTICE
“Mona now offers the law programme in its entirety, and UTech has added a faculty of law. There are correspondence undergraduate law programmes as well. There are new and emerging areas of practice ... for example, in the field of commerce, companies seeking to list on the junior stock exchange require legal services. Companies such as Future Services Limited have expanded the ability of persons to secure legal representation is cases like personal injury and other such types of cases, where a contingency arrangement would be warranted or the parties settle payments upon the successful outcome of a case.”
Although the attorneys admit that there are challenges within the industry, they believe that the benefits outweigh them.
“Our profession has had an onslaught of negative publicity in recent times, which I believe accounts for the image of attorneys-at-law becoming increasingly tarnished of late. This is something that we are aware of as a profession and are trying assiduously to correct, led by our capable Bar Association president,” said Williams. “However, as an attorney, I have always liked the feeling of being able to contribute to the resolution of legal problems in people’s lives. There is a strong sense that as a lawyer, you are able to contribute to the overall development of society and help to create a sense of order and peace, which is a necessary cog in the wheel of a sustainable pattern of growth.”
REDUCING STAMP DUTY
Taylor believes the slow pace of economic growth seriously impedes the legal profession and believes a reduction in stamp duty and transfer tax would be beneficial.
“This would not result in a loss of tax revenue, as the number of real estate transactions would significantly increase as more first-time buyers and investors would be able to enter the market, with the result of an increase in the housing stock and secondary-market transactions.”
Brown enjoys the flexibility and utility of the profession but believes that the backlog of cases and attendant delays is an impediment to justice in Jamaica. He also believes that there needs to be an improvement to the archaic infrastructure.
Asked what advice they would give to young lawyers who cannot secure employment, each attorney had a different perspective.
Williams encourages them to keep the faith and to continue their search while occupying their free time productively. Arnaldo Brown believes unemployed new graduates should try to hang their own shingles, or join with a colleague and work together. On the other hand, Taylor wants them to think hard if this is the profession they really wish to be in. He believes that if all else fails, they should try prastising in another jurisdiction or applying to a private-sector company or the Government.