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BigLaw May be in for a Rough Ride

I feel like I am waiting for the other shoe to drop in the BigLaw market. 

Consider the following items over the last 10 days that discuss the woes of large law firms:

If the commentators are right, what happens? We see some signs of change and law firm response, for example, reduced hiring of new lawyers, stealth lay-offs, alternative fee arrangements, legal project management, and lower cost staffing. These changes feel enormous to law firms yet I could argue these are simply “minor adjustments”, an inadequate response to new market forces.

One commentator offers a dire prediction: the ABA Journal headline, reporting on a Bloomberg Law interview with consultant Kent Zimmerman of the Zeughauser Group, says it all: Law Firm Consultant Predicts ‘Absolutely’ More Layoffs and as Many as Five BigLaw Dissolutions . Without taking a position on that view, I note that law firms are not like airlines. When airlines reduce capacity, they park airplanes in the Arizona desert or sell them in distant markets. That capacity goes away, which reduces supply, which lets airlines raise prices. When law firms dissolve, many lawyers move to other firms. Capacity does not just disappear.

So that’s why I wait for the other shoe to drop. Maybe we get lucky and somehow muddle through. But maybe BigLaw is in worse trouble than firms currently understand. That’s why I have shifted my focus to service delivery improvement. Law firms that figure out how to provide outstanding service to their top clients have a better chance of prospering.

  1. Ken Lopez

    Hi Ron – good post. As I like to do, let me be a contrarian on this one. I posted an article today on why 2013 is going to start off great for Big Law. Have a look and please tell me what you think: http://www.a2lc.com/blog/bid/60526/2013-a-good-year-for-litigators-and-litigation-support-consultants