When architect Philip Johnson put a neo-Georgian Chippendale pediment atop the then-new AT&T (now Sony) building in 1984, he ushered in post-modernism. When an architect of the way BigLaw firm works says there’s a new style in town, take note. 

Hildebrandt launches the week of September 21 its LawVision(TM) service (PDF brochure) to help law firms adapt to a market “likely positioned for revolutionary change as market forces exert pressure on the traditional law firm model.” (emphasis added)

On the substance, Hildebrandt finesses just how much revolution to expect but notes that even limited structural changes will “ripple” throughout the firm. So, whether revolution or ripple, firms must assess how they operate. Hildebrandt’s solutions include many themes I’ve long advocated: performance metrics, analyzing the process of how lawyers work, rationalizing work allocation, outsourcing, alternative fees, and legal technology to support process change. Law firms are, in my view, long overdue in working smarter; guillotines do focus the mind.

On the spin, Hildebrandt wisely also appeals revolution deniers. The opening quote in big type by Brad Hildebrandt notes that the profession “may be transformed or it may evolve in more moderate steps, but regardless it is changing.” Further, LawVision(TM) is designed “to insure that there are no unexpected or unintended consequences of actions that a law firm takes to respond to new market or economic realities.” This positioning likely assuages denier fears but as I read history, real revolutions necessarily result in ‘unexpected or unintended consequences.’

This service offer is timely and well crafted. By holding out the potential both for controlled and incremental change and for truly structural change, Hildebrandt likely can gain mind share of multiple management factions.

As to the future, I think BigLaw is on a new path, like it or not. Enough firms are talking about big change – see, e.g., Above the Law re The New Biglaw Business Model, According to O’Melveny & Myers and Legal Week re Mayer Brown and Reed Smith set to champion fixed fees – that revolution may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those that don’t change likely will lose market share.

Just as the era of modernist glass box buildings holding a monopoly came to an end, so to may the era of pyramid-shaped BigLaw firms with their ever increasing rates and leverage. The shape of things to come is not yet clear, but it will differ. And, with apologies to The Who, the new boss likely will not be the same as the old boss.