In my prior post, I asked if Is BigLaw Going the Direction of Detroit?. Fred Bartlit, founder of Bartlit Beck, wrote a great comment on the post, reproduced here with permission (plus more of my own commentary). 

Bartlit commented at Legal OnRamp, a collaboration system for in-house counsel and invited outside lawyers and third party service providers. LOR has great forums and many other resources; in my view it is the best and most promising “social media” and “web space” for lawyers.

Bartlit left Kirkland & Ellis to start a new kind of litigation firm, one based on going to trial, alternative fees, and a diamond rather than pyramid structure. He’s been thinking differently about the legal market for decades. His response to my blog post:

“‘Ron says: “The real problem is the product. The cars are not good enough. The management is insular.”

It is always very interesting to go to conference of “managing partners”. For many years the discussion has centered on doing the same old wrong things better: “get the hours up” “have quotas of hours” “recover all costs” ‘cross market” “hire more people” “our business model is based on most people leaving before end of 8 years”

I rarely, if ever, hear the word “quality”. Little or no discussion on how to improve the quality of our product. Just discussion of how to get more $$$ from the existing product. Likewise, I hear the BS “lean and mean”, but never a real discussion of “efficiency” – of working to improve project/business methods to do the important work faster, better

Maybe the auto industry analogy is a good one?”

So there you have it, an inside view of how managing partners think and behave.

Extending the Detroit analogy, perhaps the drivers (clients) are happy with the equivalent of my family’s 1972 three-on-the-tree Ford Torino station wagon, which handled horribly, was uncomfortable, and rusted out in five years. Maybe the drivers have never experienced a true luxury car; a compact, efficient but comfortable car; a sporty car with some zing. Detroit did fine until Japanese car makers introduced affordable, well-designed, efficient, comfortable, low maintenance, and long-lasting autos, from econo-boxes to luxury-mobiles.

So, does BigLaw face the equivalent of a “Japanese invasion?” As long as drivers keep buying clunkers, it may not matter. At least that’s what Detroit thought. And who are the invaders of BigLaw?