(Even in our courts, this is true. Much fuss has been made about replacing Antonin Scalia, but the reality is, all of his opinions were drafted by an army of law clerks - young graduates who go to work for the Supreme Court and create new law for all of us. The old white-hairs on the bench are merely their supervisors. It is kind of scandalous, if you think about it - the highest court in the land staffed largely by the youngest and least-experienced lawyers.)
Oh, sure, you'll still hear of jury verdicts with outrageous damage awards. But these are usually reduced severely on appeal - and you never hear about that. In the famous "McDonald's Hot Cup of Coffee" case, the lady won $3.8 million at trial (not $5M as often reported) but it was reduced to a little more than $600,000 on appeal. McDonald's probably spent more on legal fees. It was hardly a lottery-like payout as people like to claim.
This doesn't stop lawyers from advertising that they will win big settlements for your car crash or whatever. But the reality is, if you get into a fender-bender, you are not going to receive a life-changing amount of money. You may not even receive enough to buy a new car. You may not even get enough to repair your old car and pay your hospital bills - after paying legal fees. And you do pay them, with contingency-fee attorneys.
In other fields, similar curtailment of abuse has occurred. Class-action suits were once huge money-makers for law firms. You have probably been a member of such a suit and never realized it. A clever law firm finds some billing discrepancy or some disclosure issue or some other situation were a big company has arguably cheated a lot of people out of a little money each. They file the case in Illinois (one town there claiming about half of all such suits filed in the country - until recently) and then almost immediately offer to settle for a token amount (for the plaintiffs) while the law firm rakes in millions.
So you get a coupon for a free car wash, which supposedly "makes you whole" for having a car with a dangerous fire defect. The Law Firm gets $5.6 Million. That's how the game is played. A bit of corporate shakedown, and no one comes out ahead - except the lawyers. But that was the good old days. You can still file such a suit today, but it is harder to certify the class and thus you have to have a more substantial claim than in the past. The days of the drive-by class-action suit are largely over.
Even in the Patent field, the glory days of Kodak v. Polaroid may be over. The courts have reined in interpretation of Patents, and new rules and laws have made it harder to get broad Patents allowed. While Patent "Trolls" continue to annoy many large and small companies, there are signs that these changes to the laws are having effects. And no longer is it possible to put your competitor out of business with a Patent suit, if indeed it was ever possible.
And bear in mind that in each of these cases, not only does this mean less work for Plaintiff's lawyers, but less work for defendant's lawyers as well. Like I said, we make money from both sides of the transaction.
So what does this mean for the practice of law? Well, it could be a sign we are heading toward a less litigious society - or that the law and litigation, like so many other fields, has been quantified and normalized as part of the cost of doing business and that individual cases become routine transactions and not some grandiose show-trials. As such, the idea of the "white shoe law firm" becomes less and less of a reality. No one can afford to pay the outrageous rates of such firms - and indeed, the company that hires the expensive law firm ends up losing, as they hemorrhage cash at a faster rate.
But I think as a long-term trend, pay in the law field will remain stagnant. We are heading toward a "McLaw" type of environment, where legal documents and legal briefs are served up with a side order of fries.
Something to think about before you borrow a hundred grand to go to law school!