Mainstream news often holds hidden lessons for law firms. Three articles on Monday about fusion, unicorns, and ads make me think about Big Law.

“Fusion” (Mergers)

With Fusion of Insurers, Questions for Patients (New York Times) reports on the potential impact of health insurance mergers on patients. The last paragraph quotes a Stanford policy expert:

“When health care organizations have been faced with having to change or consolidate, they choose to consolidate,” he said. “It’s always better to increase your market power.”

Substitute law firms for health care organizations and this quote strikes me as equally applicable to law firms. Big Law faces pressure to deliver more value. Many firms focus more on scale than improving service. It remains an open question, in my opinion, whether scale helps clients. That brings us to the next item… are fusions sustainable?

“Unicorns” (Global Platforms)

Fitting Label, Yet Unicorns are No Myth (New York Times) reports on the origin of the suddenly widely-used word unicorn. Unicorn describes privately held, venture-funded US companies with values greater than $1B. “Today, there is no shorthand that better encapsulates both the justified and overheated optimism in the Valley. ”

Might we say the same for “global platform” law firms. The uptake of that term happened quickly and, like unicorn, hardly a day goes by without reference to the Dentons and Norton Roses of the world.

Quoting the originator of the term, the article closes

“There are so many people who try so hard and have such big dreams, and it doesn’t happen for them,” Ms. Lee said. “Or it may happen, and then it goes away. It’s not just hard to get there, but it’s hard to stay there.”

Hard to get there and hard to stay there may apply equally to global platforms.

Some of the unicorns – perhaps Uber – arguably have that special something. So that raises the question of how do we get to that something special?…

“Ad Technology” (Commodity Practice and Law Factory)

Hats Off to Web Advertising. No, Really. (Wall Street Journal) reports that the online ad industry now attracts some of the best minds. Says one expert, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.”

We may hate ads, but the article makes the case that ad “in a fairly direct way, are responsible for much of what is magical, automated and ‘smart’ about our gadgets and the Internet today.” Beyond supporting free services like Google and Facebook, ads have served a valuable purpose:

“Like a kind of Manhattan project for data, solving the problem of ad matching and delivery meant taking formerly obscure areas of research and transforming it into something everyone could use.”

The ad industry had to solve digital problems early. And those solutions turn out to have much broader applicability. Might something like that be true for law firms?

What if commodity practices – what I call law factories – hold yield that special something, the secrets to successful practice across the board? The methods lawyers and law firms learn to manage law factory might well power many higher end practices.


Granted, my tying these articles together requires a bit of artifice. Yet lawyers ignore the lessons of other markets at their peril.