What’s Going On Out There?

On the one hand, I see reports that the national unemployment rate is 3.5% — that’s the lowest rate it’s been at since 1969.

But I’m getting calls and inquiries at a rate that I am having difficulty keeping up with them. I’ve begun posting daily updates on when my next available appointment for a new case evaluation is, and it’s been two months since I wasn’t booked out at least a week in advance. Most of these calls are people asking if their recent termination was wrongful, or requests for severance reviews.

My phone is ringing and this very website have been active enough for months now that you’d think there was a recession and massive layoffs were laying waste to the economy. Yet that is obviously not the case: the economy is expanding and employers are aggressively competing with one another to offer higher and higher wages. This seems particularly true in the service sectors in the Portland Metro area, where I see dozens of “help wanted” signs in storefronts every day.

If all the employers need people and there’s effectively a labor shortage, then why is turnover apparently increasing? Not all the turnover is employee-initiated (over time, employer-initiated turnover is traditionally a few points higher than employee-initiated).

One thing I continue to see a lot of are employers requesting the ability to work at home, or hybrids of home and office work, and friction with employees about this. About a year ago, I urged employers to think long and hard about when, how, and to what degree they would insist that employees return to daily work at a centralized workplace. My prediction has, it seems come true: this remains a flashpoint in a large number of disputes and stories that I hear from people, whether I take the case or not.

Finally, I am hearing from a large number of people who call and inquire that they are looking for legal counsel but cannot find lawyers with the capacity to take on new cases. This could mean a lot of things — one of them being that the person does not have a really good case, but the lawyer they spoke to doesn’t have the heart to tell them so, or doesn’t want to take the time to tell them so in a compassionate way — but I’m hearing it enough from people with plausible-seeming cases that I think it’s the case that many of my colleagues are really full up.

So I would like to believe that my reputation is growing and my advertising is becoming more effective. But I am also modest enough to believe that this isn’t about me. What I’m really seeing has to be, at least in substantial part, that there is a big need out there for attorneys in my discipline of employment litigation, and it simply isn’t being met.

Which is difficult for me to reconcile with available data suggesting that employer demand for labor is high. Economic conditions inevitably will change, sooner or later. But right now, things look… well, kind of confusing.