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Media Coverage of Major NYC Bar/Vault Legal Careers Panel is Unbalanced

New York City BarYesterday, I participated on the alternative legal careers panel at Getting Back in the Game: How to Restart Your Career in a Down Economy, a day-long seminar sponsored by the New York City Bar and Vault.com. So I was understandably eager to see how the press covered the event.

The first article I had a chance to read today was a New York Times piece entitled Unemployed and Struggling Lawyers Seek Solace. After reading it, I knew I had to comment, so I posted:

Like commenter #73, I’m disappointed that the Times has chosen to focus almost exclusively on the content of the first of four panels that took place yesterday – the panel entitled Breaking Back Into BIGLAW: How to Make Your Way Back Into a Top Law Firm. Perhaps I shouldn’t be disappointed, as the Times (like the New York Law Journal) often focuses on the world of BigLaw almost to the exclusion of other lawyers in the city—not to mention the state and country: in a 2000 statistical survey, the American Bar Foundation found that 48% of lawyers were solo practitioners and another 15% worked in firms with 2-5 lawyers, while only 18% worked in firms with 51 or more lawyers (http://www.abanet.org/marketresearch/resource.html#Demographics).

In the panel about the rise of solo and mid-sized law firms, Ron Geffner, a partner in Sadis & Goldberg, LLP, explained that his 28-lawyer firm—which is one of the top firms in the country in his practice area—has not laid off anyone, has no debt, and is even expanding.

In the afternoon, the attitudes of the presenters on the panels about alternative legal careers (on which I spoke) and about starting a solo law practice (whose panelists included Carolyn Elefant, author of Solo by Choice: How to be the Lawyer You Always Wanted to Be and publisher of http://MyShingle.com, a long-running blog about solo practice) was much more positive, and the audience response was enthusiastic. But I guess that doesn’t sell newspapers in New York City.

Although my comment should have appeared as #87, it didn’t. I think this is explained by this entry on the Times’ blog comments FAQ page:

What about criticism of The Times?

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don’t want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies, and we will moderate accordingly.

Unfortunately, the ABA Journal’s coverage of the program relies exclusively on the Times’ coverage, and is therefore similarly one-sided. (This might be explained by the fact that the ABA Journal’s article was posted at 2 p.m., 15 minutes after the third of the four panels started. The Times article was originally posted around noon; although it was updated just after 5 p.m., the update doesn’t mention the afternoon panels). At least Vault.com’s coverage (here, here and here) is more balanced.

David Lat, of Above the Law, also reported about the program, but acknowledged that his post covered only the first panel (on which he spoke). Although ATL is about as BigLaw-centric as you can get, David stayed for the entire day, and told me that he’ll be posting about the other panels as well. (Stay tuned for more from David later this week.)

Please share your views about how major legal and non-legal publications cover the legal job market in the comments below.

Update: At some point after I published this post and tweeted about it, my comment was apparently green-lighted, and appears here as #88. Although the reporter, Jenny 8. Lee, admitted on Twitter that she didn’t attend the afternoon sessions, that fact is not revealed in her City Room post, which purports to cover the entire event.

Comments (2)

  1. Reply Anali

    Very interesting. I think that the general public only wants to think of lawyers in one way, as all working in big law firms making way too much money. It’s like the average person and msm refuse to see anything else.

  2. Reply Jordan Furlong

    Lisa, this is a serious problem with the legal media (of which I’m a member and so bear some responsibility). It’s not just in the US: LegalWeek and The Lawyer disproportionately cover the London giants, while Canada’s legal periodicals (including mine) don’t give enough space to solos and small firms and one publication completely ignores them. But the AmLaw influence is the major culprit — for all that law.com is a tremendous resource, it pays far too much attention to BigLaw. Large firms constitute a small percentage of the profession but a major chunk of its journalistic coverage.

    This is a problem for bloggers, too, because we often need something written by the MLM (Mainstream Legal Media) to riff off — legal profession reporting to which we can add analysis and insight. If the MLM focuses heavily on BigLaw, the blawgosphere does too, and that’s not a good result. Large law firms have very little to tell us about good legal business and client service, and even less to tell us about how the profession will operate in the future.

    This brings me back to something you and I discussed very briefly at Techshow with Carolyn Elefant and Nicole Black — we need a law.com for small law firms and solo practices worldwide. The profession needs a journalistic outlet that focuses on the silent majority of small law practices — silent because they don’t have marketing and communications reps to promote themselves or handle media calls, and they don’t have the time or inclination to chase down coverage. Speaking from experience, it’s hard for major legal publications to identify interesting solos and small firms to interview — they rarely show up in Google searches, they don’t pay PR agencies to pitch stories, and too many of them don’t even have websites. The result is that good stories about intriguing firms doing the kind of innovative things that will define the next century of law practice never get told, and the legal media fails to tell the whole story of the profession.

    I’m not sure what we can do about this, but it seems to me this is both an under-served market to cover and a unfulfilled professional service to be performed. I’d like to think there’s a solution there someplace.

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