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Grants Reports

The Path of the Law: Evolution of the Legal Profession, 1955–2005 (GR 15-01)

by Albert H. Yoon, University of Toronto Faculty of Law, Toronto, Canada

Executive Summary

With generous funding from the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), I studied the legal profession in North America from three perspectives: (a) how the profession has evolved over the past 50 years; (b) how the quality of legal representation is distributed geographically as well as within and across practice areas; and (c) new and alternative means of adjudication outside trial.

This project had both a qualitative and quantitative component. For the former, I interviewed roughly 100 law graduates of various ages, substantive areas of practice, and legal capacities in Toronto and New York City between 2008 and 2010. I subsequently transcribed these interviews, which provided valuable insights into the legal profession. These conversations motivated my subsequent empirical research into the legal profession.

From this knowledge I pursued empirical projects in which I (in some cases, with co-authors) examined the evolution of large law firms over the past 30 years; the impact of litigant wealth on case outcomes; present-day judicial perceptions of the quality of legal representation; the relationship between geography and provision of legal services; and high-low settlement in civil litigation.

What emerged from a broad view across these projects is that the legal profession has been in a steady state of transition over the past several decades, fueled in large part by technological developments that have facilitated the ability of clients to interact with their lawyers, but have also exacerbated economic inequality across society. The practice of law is a high-skilled profession, but like any labor market, it is one that runs imperfectly and, to the detriment of less affluent litigants, often in ways orthogonal to the underlying merits of disputes.

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