You asked for it, you got it. One of the most engrossing parts of my job has been meeting managing partners, practice area leaders and many others in the profession to learn about your firms, your challenges and how The American Lawyer can help you better navigate the business of Big Law.
What you’ve told me thus far is that you want us to help you benchmark against the competition via our exclusive law firm surveys and other data; learn about important developments among clients, potential clients and other firms; tell you good stories about the “why” behind legal business news; and keep you abreast of trends worth monitoring.
Stories in this issue are devoted to that last request. Specifically, our reporters have detailed four developments worth keeping an eye on:
This computer can think. You probably remember Watson, the IBM supercomputer, from its big win on “Jeopardy” a few years ago. Well, Watson is learning to think, which could have implications for Big Law, as Susan Beck reports in her cover story. on emerging technologies that stand to shake up the delivery of legal services. No, software won’t likely replace the judgment of a sage partner (though I can’t help but wonder how Watson would fare with some of your challenges: Expand to Hong Kong or Beijing? Lateral A or Lateral B?). But Watson and friends could perhaps handle tasks of junior lawyers, like summarizing a law and suggesting persuasive arguments and precedents, its creators say.
Accounting firms want to eat your lunch. Within the next five years, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young are seeking to build prominent global law firms, and Deloitte and KPMG are also growing their legal services offerings, as Chris Johnson details in an intriguing report. A question is how these one-stop-shopping behemoths of the professional services world will compete with the type of midlevel global law firms they see as their challengers. Indeed, in our survey of 100 in-house lawyers at global corporations, also in this issue, nearly 90 percent said they didn’t think their company would be interested in receiving legal advice from an accounting firm.
New players emerge in legal research and technology. Westlaw and LexisNexis have long dominated legal research—and still do. But as law firms are increasingly footing the bill for expensive research rather than passing on that cost to clients, companies have emerged to try to compete on price, Ross Todd reports. Others are adapting dispute resolution technology pioneered for online auction arguments on eBay to bigger legal disputes. Some efforts, of course, don’t pan out: Clearspire Law Company, heralded as the law firm of the future, closed its doors in May.
Be aware of the consumer and his needs. No one’s suggesting that America’s middle class and its huge unmet need is the new target market for The Am Law 200. But you should know about innovators who are jumping into the breach, connecting consumers not only with ready-to-use forms but also with lawyer referrals. Companies that learn how to make money serving the lower end of the market will be one of the emerging disrupters in the profession, future-of-law types say.
Whatever developments actually pan out, the future of law won’t be boring. I hope you enjoy the issue.