What is the state of the practice support lawyer (professional support lawyer or PSL) among US large law firms? 

I have not heard PSLs discussed much lately. So at a recent knowledge management meeting, I asked each attendee to report his or her firm’s number of PSLs. We had 10 large, US-based law firms attending, with the number of lawyers ranging from about 200 to well-over 1000. Assume that this group is not representative; by definition, these firms self-selected for above average interest in KM.

The PSL numbers are low:

  • Average: 1
  • Range: 0 to 3
  • Mode: 0 [5 firms]

However we slice it, the numbers are so low that normalizing for firm size does not even pay. And these reported numbers might even be bit of a stretch. Of the reported PSL, not all have that title or exact function. A few of these PSLs are staff attorneys who function as PSL. A few were simply characterized as “like PSL.”

Based on my KM experience over the last decade, these numbers were only a little bit lower than I expected. It’s not that the recession or Practical Law Company (PLC) did in PSLs, they never caught on in large numbers in the US or at that many large firms.

It will be interesting to see whether the alternative fee arrangements (AFA) become big enough to change the economics of employing PSL.