A.B. Culvahouse, Jr., the chair of O’Melveny & Myers, has piece in Corporate Counsel today called A Shift That Can Benefit All of Us. He writes “reports of the demise of “BigLaw” have, in the immortal words of Mark Twain, been greatly exaggerated.” Yet reading the rest of his commentary, I wonder… 

I think BigLaw has a future, but one very different from the past. And I think his commentary supports that view. So let’s consider the rest of Mr. Culvahouse’s remarks in detail.

Mr. Culvahouse acknowledges that “many aspects of the law firm business model that created tension between law firm interests and those of their clients are rightly being reinvented” and observes that both the market and his firm are moving toward alternative fee arrangements. I interpret his comments about OMM billing, in my words, ‘we were offering risk-sharing arrangements but now the market is forcing us to offer fixed fees.’

Mr. Culvahouse then addresses the recruiting and staffing model. Training costs are shifting from clients to law firms. These changes create value for both parties but only with trust. I interpret his comments, my words, ‘this is a drastic change and the system will break if clients don’t step up to plate and help resolve the market issue of training new lawyers.’

He also points out the important role that law firms play first as trusted business advisers, confidants to executives, and sounding boards to manage corporate change and second as “guardians of the ‘rule of law’ both at home and abroad” through pro bono work. I interpret this, my words, ‘for all the complaints about BigLaw, remember we serve a critical role in commerce and society that is not easily replaced.’

In sum, I read his commentary more as a plea to preserve BigLaw than as support for the idea that BigLaw demise is greatly exaggerated. That said, I do believe BigLaw will survive, in part for the reasons Mr. Culvahouse explains. But I think it will be a very different BigLaw. Whether it becomes a cylinder instead of a pyramid is too early to say, but the shape and operation we have known in the past likely cannot continue into the future.