CHICAGO - The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (IARDC) recently released its annual report for 2015, and some are troubled by trends in the state's legal profession.
"There is a serious challenge to the sustainability of the traditional law firm model of bill-by-the-hour and leverage large numbers of associates at the bottom of a triangle, with only a few making it through to the apex of the triangle to partnership," Jayne Reardon told the Record.
Reardon is the executive director of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism (ISCCP), an organization whose mission is "To promote a culture of civility and inclusion, in which Illinois lawyers and judges embody the ideals of the legal profession in service to the administration of justice in our democratic society."
ISCCP is not involved in the writing of the annual IARDC report.
Two trends in the report stand out to Reardon: The first is that the profession is nearly 70 percent male, a 2-to-1 ratio over females. Last year's figures showed the same proportions.
"More concerning, NALP (National Association for Law Placement) reports that the percentage of female associates has decreased in all but one of the last six years and is now one full percentage point lower than in 2009," Reardon said. "I do not see the number of female attorneys growing in Illinois -- or any U.S. jurisdiction -- soon."
Reardon, however, is optimistic that women will "thrive" in competing for online service.
"On the individual consumer level, there is competition from online service providers," she said. "Once collaboration and problem solving in an efficient manner are demanded by more clients, I believe more women will thrive in delivering legal services."
Another area of concern Reardon pointed to is that the legal workforce in Illinois is aging.
According to the report, 64 percent of attorneys in Illinois have been practicing for 10 years or more, and 96 percent are over the age of 30. This was despite a 1.5 percent increase in the number of registered attorneys, which would tend to be young attorneys with little experience.
"The future of our profession depends on bringing into the profession new dedicated, bright attorneys," Reardon said. "In Illinois, as in jurisdictions across the country, there is evidence that the practicing bar is aging. I have a very real concern that bright young people are avoiding going into law as a career and are choosing other careers instead."
Reardon said that the key to getting young people into law is to remind them that, as complicated as law can be, it does good for society.
"One of the messages we promulgate at the Commission on Professionalism is the need to connect to law as a career that is built on service: one that will give voice to the voiceless, defend the defenseless," she said. "Our system of government, the very existence of the republic, depends on dedicated lawyers devoted to the cause."