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Should becoming a lawyer still be considered part of the 'American Dream'?

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PHOENIX -

This is not a lawyer joke, but we have to ask, are there too many lawyers, a glut that is forcing the once ample pie to be sliced too thin?

One attorney says "yes." Combine that with a dramatic shift in the law profession and he says students should be thinking long and hard about spending money to become a lawyer these days.

24-years-old, bright , confident and on track to get his law degree. He's a second year law student, striding quickly towards success.

Well, slow down, not so fast, says attorney Mark Lassiter, with Lassiter Law Group.

"I think it's child abuse to tell your child to go to law school right now, I do," said Lassiter.

Child abuse, really? It used to be you'd go to school, study law, get your degree, pass the bar and you could write your own ticket, but this attorney says that is no longer the case.

"It doesn't make sense economically to go to law school," said Lassiter.

After graduation, Lassiter says the reality for law school graduates with student loans doesn't add up.

"You could be out of pocket $180,000 to $200,000 in debt and now you're going to get a job, if you can get one, for $40,000 or $50,000 a year. You're going to have to be waiting tables as a second job in order to live on that," said Lassiter.

Lassiter paints a challenging picture for those studying to become lawyers now, for the glut of young attorneys looking for work, and even for established attorneys, many of whom, he says, are struggling.

Lawyers don't know what to do. They can't get clients, they can't get work, they can't maintain the level they were before. I think you're seeing a lot of lawyers leaving the profession and taking their education," said Lassiter.

What happened to the once lucrative field?

The marriage of technology and legal services.  

Companies like Legal Zoom took off by performing many legal services over the web.

Services forming businesses, trusts, wills and even consultations can be done at the end of a mouse instead of at the end of a lawyer's conference table.    

"Who needs a lawyer, especially a lawyer charging an hourly rate, to learn how to draft the document in the first place? Why not go to Legal Zoom where you fill out a questionnaire, it automatically populates the fields of information," said Lassiter.

He says yet another blow to the legal profession is outsourcing.

"To control costs, big companies, the Fortune 1000, are sending legal processes that used to be performed by law firms overseas to India," said Lassiter.      

A video on YouTube touts the company Mindcrest in Western India.

It is  one of hundreds of companies in India where thousands of lawyers work and a lot of that work is generated here in the U.S.

Next year in 2014, it's estimated that $4 billion of funds that would have been paid into the coffers of U.S. law firms will go to India," said Lassiter.

Which bring us back to our young law student, his name is Michael Thrall.

He's studying law at ASU, and yes, he knows his prospects as a lawyer have changed drastically.

"I can try and get on with one of these big firms, but that reality is dwindling, it's becoming more and more difficult, so what I'm willing to do is start my own law firm," said Thrall.

One Lawyer joke asks, "What's the difference between a lawyer and a herd of bulls? The Answer: The lawyer charges more.

Thrall says his business plan would have him charging less.

"I can deliver excellent quality service and these five to six year attorney who've gotten laid off can deliver service at a lower rate, that opens the legal field to 90 percent of Americans that can't afford the $400 attorney," said Thrall.

Thrall says that money is needed to support the fancy trappings of the high power law firms.

"Big law firms are having to charge $400 an hour to stay in these big offices and to fund the millionaire partners," said Thrall.         

Both he and Lassiter believe this shake-up in the legal field will end up being a good thing.

"Law is a noble calling. We serve people, we serve the needs of people. Somewhere along the way we lost that vision, law became just business and clients and customers became just another check instead of being people," said Lassiter.

Again, this is one lawyer's opinion. Others argue that the downturn in the profession is tied more to the downturn in the economy, and that things will get better as the economy turns around.

We intend to check back with our student Michael Thrall in a few years and see how his career has progressed.
   

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