There is no economic requirement for public companies or law firms to grow. There is a requirement that they provide a robust return to shareholders: failure to do so results in shareholders taking their capital (public companies) or labor (law firms) elsewhere. In the public company world, growth drives shareholder returns; hence growth is a means to achieve the superordinate goal. Many law firms assume growth must similarly be good for them. This is misguided. The linkage between growth and shareholder returns at public companies doesn’t hold for law firms. Good growth for law firms centers on a narrow set of opportunities.

The Public Company Rationale for Growth

For public companies, growth enhances shareholder returns through stock price appreciation. This linkage rests on two economic fundamentals: One is that companies typically have significant excess cash flow that they can deploy from one business to another; the other is that equity markets allow shareholders to realize value today for anticipated future earnings. Neither applies in the law firm world.

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