Does BigLaw have a future? 

Two pieces yesterday remind us that the legal market faces peril and change. Jordan Furlong, in Losing the Confidence Game, points out six trends that threaten lawyers. He concludes by wondering whether lawyers are up to meeting the challenges. Almost as if written in response but simply published the same day, Patrick Lamb of Valorem Law, in the ABA Journal, A ‘Valorem Dozen’: The Ingredients for One New Normal Firm, offers great suggestions on how to do so. His tips include using low cost resources and focusing on outcomes rather than time.

For many reasons, not least that general counsels buying habits change slowly, I see no existential threat to BigLaw. Some firms may fade, some may implode, but others will thrive. Thriving, however, requires thinking and innovating. Some are doing so as these examples and data illustrate:

  • I count 10 firms that operate low cost, centralized service centers, some of which provide lawyer support as well as business services. The earliest of these I can identify opened in 2001 – so this is not new.
  • About a dozen firms, perhaps more, have industrialized their approach to e-discovery and document review.
  • Several firms now take project management seriously. For the latest and a very interesting example, see today’s post by Pam Woldow, A Case Study at the Cutting Edge: Legal Project Management in Australia (about Mallesons).
  • Three firms now offer alternative staffing models, arguably competing with staffing agencies. I know of Berwin Leighton Paisner’s Lawyers on Demand, Eversheds Agile, and Fenwick & West’s FLEX. Freshfields had planned to launch an alumni network, Freshworker, but put it on hold according to Legal Week
  • About one-half dozen firms have publicly announced partnerships with legal process outsourcing (LPO) companies.
  • I understand about a dozen firms now have pricing specialists to deal with alternative fee arrangements.

These make me optimistic that some large law firms will prosper.