Earlier today I posted five Tweets that tell a short but compelling narrative of the sea change in the large law firm market in the US and other Anglo nations. 

1. Bruce McEwen, aka Adam Smith, Esq., wrote a great series of blog posts called Growth is Dead, now a book. Last week, Bloomberg Law interviewed Bruce for an excellent 12-minute recap.

2. Separately, ERM Legal Solutions posted an item last week that picks up on one Bruce’s key themes: the loss of law firm pricing power. Crossing the Chasm: Thinking Clearly in the Legal Pricing Crisis reports on a legal pricing conference and how firms and clients can bridge the pricing gap.

3. I was intrigued to read over the weekend a Legal Futures post (UK), UK LawNet raises bar with new client service standard. LawNet helps its smaller-law-firm members standardize their practices and client service, including “mystery shoppers” and ISO standards. Service principles vary little by customer size, so BigLaw canlearn service delivery lessons from LawNet.

4. I expect that these cross currents will the subject of much discussion this Friday (8 March 2013) at Reinvent Law Silicon Valley, which , I will attend. It is a “conference devoted to law, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the legal services industry.” It focuses on new ways of operating in the legal market. It’s hard to imagine a conference like this attracting some 400 legal market participants a few years ago.

5. Capping off my Tweet stream, I noted that the Washington Post published on Sunday Value Added: Home is where Potomac Law Group wants its workers, about a DC-based “new model law firm”. It is growing rapidly by tapping the market of experienced lawyers who don’t want to work full-time. I have spoken to founder Ben Lieber, featured in the article and he was a panelist on a session I moderated on new model law firms last fall. Ben is one of many lawyer-entrepreneurs now creating new and more cost-effective ways to deliver high-quality legal services. I expect PLG and other large-firm alternates will prosper given all the changes we see.

The short story told by these items: BigLaw faces growth and pricing challenges, smaller firms are innovating in process and staffing, and whole conferences and classes of individuals and organizations now focus on better ways of working that improve the client value proposition.

I could end on a doom-and-gloom note, citing two large firms that last week laid off staff or lawyers. That is, indeed, part of the narrative. The more important message for large law firms, however, is that they have an opportunity to flourish in a time of change. The answer is simple in concept but hard to execute.

Large firms must differentiate, revamp pricing, improve process, adopt project management, and improve service delivery. Success in those undertakings gives firms a shot at gaining share and at least maintaining profits at current levels.

Management must remember though that, unlike the old days, they cannot put into place a strategy and let it run on auto-pilot. With demand flat and completion growing, firms will need to adjust strategy and operations regularly. The growing market we experienced until recently was dynamic in a way that covered a multitude of missteps. Mature markets are dynamic in different ways – the players must constantly angle for advantage. And mature markets may not forgive execution sins. It will be interesting to see how many firms succeed in this new narrative.