Thought-provoking piece from the Times:
In their book “Freakonomics,” Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt explain, among other things, the odd economic behavior that guides many drug dealers. In one gang they described, the typical street-corner guy made less than minimum wage but still worked extremely hard in hopes of some day becoming one of the few wildly rich kingpins. This behavior isn’t isolated to illegal activity. There are a number of professions in which workers are paid, in part, with a figurative lottery ticket. The worker accepts a lower-paying job in exchange for a slim but real chance of a large, future payday.
But part of the American post-World War II economic miracle was that most people didn’t have to choose between a high-stakes-lottery job or a lousy dead-end one. Steelworkers, midlevel corporate executives, shopkeepers and plumbers were all able to make a decent amount from the start of their careers with steady, but never spectacular, raises throughout. These two tiers actually supported each other. Strivers were able to dream bigger because they had a solid Plan B. New York City and Los Angeles are buoyed by teachers, store owners, arts administrators and others who came to town to make it big in film or music or publishing, eventually gave up on that dream and ended up doing fine in another field.
Now, many economists fear that the comfortable Plan B jobs are disappearing. Technology and cheaper goods from overseas have replaced many of the not-especially-creative professions. A tax accountant loses clients to TurboTax; many graphic designers have been replaced by Photoshop; and the small shopkeeper by Home Depot, Walmart or Duane Reade. Though a lottery economy is valuable to various industries, the thought of an entire lottery-based economy, in which a few people win big while the rest are forced to toil in an uncertain and not terribly remunerative dead-end labor pool, is unfair and politically scary. If large numbers of people believe they have no shot at a better life in the future, they will work less hard and generate fewer new ideas and businesses. The economy, as a whole, will be poorer.
I think these observations may also apply to the legal profession. The firms at the top that argue before the Supreme Court and represent Fortune 100 companies are not going anywhere. Smaller firms, that do more replaceable work, will be phased out.