Layoffs, Next-Gen Bar Exams, More Mass Shootings: The New Normal


Classic double-barreled gun with vertical trunksThose of us who lived through the Great Recession of 2007-2009 clearly remember the layoffs that tore through the legal profession — a tornado that destroyed everything in its path. That layoff tornado may be coming around again, given the mass layoffs at Meta (Facebook), Alphabet (Google), Amazon, and, of course, Twitter. How do you decide who stays and who gets riffed? What factors should be used, being mindful of all the claims of various sorts of discrimination that can be raised? ATL reports on the layoffs which, so far, have not been huge. Note my qualifying language.

How about deciding based on an algorithm? Remember HAL from the Stanley Kubrick movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey“? (If you have never seen it, do so, even though it was made almost 60 years ag0.) HAL’s grandson may be determining who stays and who gets whacked. Almost 100% of HR leaders say that algorithms will play a part in those determinations, to a greater or lesser degree.

While algorithms are helpful in jobs that have metrics (e.g., sales goals, call centers, and those kind of numbers-based jobs), lawyers don’t have those same kinds of metrics, or should they? And while we may boast about a win-loss record, just like in sports, many factors go into whether you win or lose, and (sorry to say) it may not be just your reputation as a hotshot trial lawyer, but also performance reviews, if they exist, comments from clients, ability to get and retain business (now there may be a “sales” or “retention” algorithm in that last one). But would you want to trust your career future to an algorithm? Not me.

All hail the forthcoming revision to the bar exam, dubbed the “Next Gen” bar exam, at least in those states that use the Uniform Bar Exam (as usual, California is different and doesn’t use it, at least not yet). The new and hopefully “improved” UBE will debut in 2026. States will have the option to use the new UBE right out of the gate or stay with the old one for a time. (Again, not in California, at least not so far, but we are more than three years away from implementation and as we all know a lot can change in three years.)

Bye-bye to questions on family law, trusts and estates, the UCC, and conflicts of law. The exam will also be shorter, only one and a half days, as opposed to two. Many have been clamoring for testing skills and not just rote memory, although that won’t completely disappear. In other words, “soft skills” will be tested, not just whether an examinee can spot an issue such as the Rule of Perpetuities, recite the rule, and apply it to the question. Less doctrinal law on the exam, and more real-life issues. Examinees could still be tested on real property and so the Rule of “Purple Tooties,” as we used to call it, may still lurk. I still have that rule rattling around in my head; it’s a song that just won’t quit my brain.

What skills will be tested? Client counseling and advising, client relationships and management, legal research, legal writing, and negotiations. How do you evaluate these “soft skills” for purposes of passing the bar? Criteria to be used? We will have to wait and see. At least female bar examinees won’t be rated on their attractiveness, so far as we know.

Those who have ever Googled me know that I am in Pasadena, California, just a few miles north of Monterey Park, where yet another mass shooting took place over the Lunar New Year weekend. I am even closer to Alhambra, where a brave soul prevented more carnage by wrestling a gun away from the 72-year-old shooter who later died by suicide as law enforcement closed in on a van where he sat in the driver’s seat. The bad news? We will only be able to surmise what his motive(s) might have been. The good news? One less need to use precious judicial resources to prosecute him. Eleven dead in Monterey Park.

And that’s not all. About 350 miles to the north, in Half Moon Bay, right along the coast, seven people died, and the suspect has made his first court appearance. I could spend my whole word count listing the places and the number of the dead and injured just within the past few months, but I will let the Gun Violence Archive website do it for me.

As I have written time and again, screw thoughts and prayers. Just in the past year, from Buffalo to Uvalde to Highland Park to Monterey Park and all the places in between where gun violence has struck again and again, when are we going to have the gumption to truly do something about this? I am sick and tired of being sick and tired about calls to enact legislation for stronger gun control. They are empty words and promises.

Monterey Park, Half Moon Bay, and all the others are just more mass shootings, only different to the families and friends of the fallen and to the survivors. Have we become so inured to the violence that we just mouth the perfunctory platitudes that seem to be standard operating procedure today? This ATL column was eerily prophetic back in 2017.

The next gun massacres are already here. It’s now business as usual.

Jill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for over 40 years. She remembers practicing law in a kinder, gentler time. She’s had a diverse legal career, including stints as a deputy district attorney, a solo practice, and several senior in-house gigs. She now mediates full-time, which gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and those in-between interact — it’s not always civil. You can reach her by email at [email protected].


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