Two conferences in the last week examined the future of law practice. Change is forecast but I wonder. 

On Friday, I was a panelist at the NALP annual conference plenary session, The Future of Law Practice: Trends, Predictions, and Imperatives. Some panelists predicted big changes, from a re-working of law schools, to a resurgence of solo practitioners, to a return to values. [Since I was a panelist, I could not blog this one in real time!]

At the same time, Georgetown University “Future of the Global Law Firm” symposium [PDF], reported on in some detail by Adam Smith, Esq in Georgetown Conference on the Future of the Global Law Firm: First-Hand Report. Likewise, much change predicted.

Yet this weekend, as I read Corporate Counsel and Law Practice Management magazines, I was struck by the number of articles that could have appeared – indeed actually did appear – with similar advice 5, 10, or 20 years ago. If things are changing so fast, what are the indicators? Allowing law firms to go public in Australia and the UK may lead to big things but the jury is still out.

And where are the clients in this discussion? Adam Smith, Esq’s list of attendees includes not a single general counsel. If they were not invited, what does that say? If they were but did not come, what does that say? Skimming the NALP attendance list (1300+) I saw only one inhouse law department represented.

Other than Marc Chandler of Cisco, who rightly gets a lot of PR for changes the Cisco law department is making, where are the articles about inhouse counsel doing things a new way? Convergence? Been there, done that, and it may not be working all that well anyway. Alternate billing. Under discussion since at least 1990.

I am still waiting for clients to exercise their market power in a big, new way. Without that, I think it’s more of the same.