Stanford Law School Launches Major Study of the Legal Profession with Research Support from the Sidley Austin Foundation

Research will help drive much-needed changes in the legal profession and in legal education

STANFORD, Calif., December 9, 2010—Stanford Law School today announced that it has launched a comprehensive empirical study of the state of the legal profession with financial support from the Sidley Austin Foundation. The objective of the multi-year study is to describe and understand the state of the profession, including trends and emerging developments. The study will seek to develop policy recommendations to help law firms adapt their business models to better meet the needs of their clients and of a rapidly changing legal market.  It will also consider the implications of these changes for legal education. Stanford Law School is already a leader among the nation’s law schools in developing a new model of legal education that prepares lawyers for the changing terrain of the profession. Stanford’s new curriculum provides rigorous interdisciplinary training, hands-on experience, a global perspective, and a focus on public service. The Study of the Legal Profession is part of Stanford Law School’s ongoing efforts to transform legal education to meet the evolving demands of a 21st century legal practice.

“The legal profession has changed profoundly in the last generation,” said Stanford Law Dean Larry Kramer, who has spearheaded education reform at Stanford throughout his tenure as dean. On the surface, things look relatively unchanged, he explained, but firms employ thousands rather than hundreds of lawyers, with offices around the world and dramatically different partner/associate ratios. Hourly rates have soared, while clients are less willing to underwrite the training of new associates. Legal work has become increasingly specialized because clients have more sophisticated needs and expectations, and technology and globalization have only exacerbated these trends. The demand for profitability at firms has increased the need to bill hours and this pressure-cooker environment has caused associates to hopscotch among firms.

“Twenty years ago, most lawyers would have scoffed at the idea that profitability—much less profits-per-partner—should be the measure of success for firms, but that’s where we are: to be bigger, to pay higher salaries, to bill more hours, to open more offices, to be more profitable,” Kramer said.

Research for the Stanford Law School Study of the Legal Profession will focus first on gathering data to draw an accurate portrait of the new industrial organization of the legal profession for the purpose of analyzing the evolving structure and organization of firms, the effects of globalization and global competition, and the consequences and opportunities created by new technology, new forms of firm management, billing structures, employee training, changes in firm/client relations, and more. With this more accurate and comprehensive understanding of the state of the profession, the research will move in the next phase to identify problems and recommend solutions.

The study will be conducted over the next three to five years through the school’s Center on the Legal Profession.  It will be a collective effort, drawing upon the resources of the Stanford Law faculty, the Stanford Law alumni network, faculty from economics and the Graduate School of Business, and a broad spectrum of practicing lawyers, including managing partners and in-house counsel.

“The study will be empirically-based and bring together scholars from multiple disciplines to assess the state of the profession and think through—with practitioners, where the profession is going and what implications future trends have for law firm management, public policy, and legal education,” said Deborah R. Hensler Judge John W. Ford Professor of Dispute Resolution and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, who will co-lead the effort with Ronald J. Gilson, Charles J. Meyers Professor of Law and Business.

To support this extensive undertaking, the Sidley Austin Foundation, which was created to provide organizations in need with the means to support their philanthropic goals, and Sidley Austin LLP partners who are Stanford Law School alumni have provided a combined gift of $750,000.

“This gift provides generous support for timely, essential research that will help redefine and improve legal practice and the legal profession and reshape legal education over the next generation,” said Kramer. Deborah Rhode, director of the Center on the Legal Profession agreed, “The American legal profession is facing unprecedented challenges that urgently need attention from leading experts in the field. Stanford’s center is uniquely positioned to provide cutting edge research on matters of profound professional and public concern.”

Stanford Law School has unparalleled strength when it comes to scholarship in the field of the legal profession as many on the faculty have written or taught about the legal profession from various perspectives, including the organization of the firm (Ron Gilson, Michele Landis Dauber), evolution of the profession (Norman Spaulding), public interest law and legal ethics (Deborah Rhode, William Simon, Nora Engstrom), diversity (Deborah Hensler, Deborah Rhode, Michele Landis Dauber), and globalization of the profession (Deborah Hensler, Norman Spaulding). Equally important, Stanford Law School has one of the strongest faculty in empirical legal studies, including John Donohue, Deborah Hensler, Jeff Strnad, Dan Ho, Dan Kessler, Alison Morantz, David Engstrom, Mark Kelman, Lawrence Friedman, and others making this project a natural fit for Stanford. The initiative will also create an opportunity for general counsels to provide input and perspective on the changing environment and on the ways in which law firms and other providers of legal services can better respond to those changes.

“Sidley is committed to the long-term health and success of the legal profession in order to ensure a sustainable legal model that serves clients and lawyers,” said Thomas A. Cole, Chair of Sidley’s Executive Committee.  “We are pleased to support this innovative study at Stanford Law School.”

Research and findings from the Study on the Legal Profession will be made available as work progresses and published in the form of working papers at



Judith Romero