Steven Chung’s recent post about the closing of Whittier Law School was a perfect eulogy. I, too, am a graduate of Whittier, but some 30-odd years before him. Take a trip with me in Professor Peabody’s wayback machine to the 1970s, long before most, if not all, of the ATL readership was alive. I had written my own requiem for Whittier when the school first announced it was closing.

Most of the lawyers in this country are what Bill Henderson calls “people lawyers,” those who represent individuals and small businesses in cases that are what I call “one-offs.” One divorce, one bankruptcy, one estate planning, and so on. Clients come for help for these kinds of cases and there is usually no repeat business, but possible future referrals. These are the cases that have composed the bread and butter of so many lawyers’ practices for so many years. Whittier was that kind of law school, a “people law” school .

Just thinking back on my law school class, there was those of us who went into government (both the DA and PD offices), and one enterprising duo set up an unlawful detainer practice. Many of us went into solo or small firm practices, doing exactly the kind of work representing people, not big hulking behemoth corporations.

Ha, but you reply, none of you were ever hired by Biglaw, which wasn’t even a term coined back then. (I don’t know if any of the “Biglaw” firms then even had enough lawyers to qualify for the term.) We were not naïve about hiring practices at the “chichi” law firms.

One of the reasons that most of us became lawyers was for autonomy, for independence, for the ability to represent people to the best of our abilities or to fire those clients who wouldn’t take our advice or who complained about the bills once too often. That is enormous freedom, and one of the reasons that many lawyers practicing in this country are either solos or in small firms. (I’ve never understood how lawyers, who have a reputation for being independent, can shoehorn themselves into the […]

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