The Law Firm Disrupted, Law.com’s weekly briefing on change, innovation and competition in the legal industry, has a new author! We’re sharing this excerpt to introduce you to Dan Packel.
Each week in The Law Firm Disrupted, Dan will be offering a levelheaded discussion of trends rocking the legal sector, examining how industry leaders are responding, and offering insight on the tactics and strategies of would-be disrupters.
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Greetings, Law Firm Disrupted readers. I’m Dan Packel, a reporter covering the business of law for The American Lawyer and Law.com, and this is my first week at the controls. I’m excited to keep expanding this conversation about innovation and transformation in the legal industry, so please get in touch.
A year ago, when I started covering the business of big law firms and the legal industry full-time, American Lawyer editor-in-chief Gina Passarella had an assignment waiting for me. It had been a decade since the start of the last recession, and she asked me to evaluate whether law firms were prepared for the inevitable downturn.
I learned that most firms had a lot of work to do. And with the U.S. economy continuing to grow, the good times may be keeping firms from making changes that would serve their long term interests—as the consultancy Altman Weil concluded this week.
My story on the risks of recession was also an introduction to the increasing challenges facing the traditional law firm. Clients haven’t abandoned the focus on cost-cutting that’s led them to boost the amount of work they keep in-house, while also relying more on alternative legal service providers. The Big Four are expanding their share of the legal market around the globe while exploring strategies to gain traction domestically. (Deloitte found another law firm partner in the U.S. just this month.)
That recession hasn’t yet arrived, and there’s a robust debate among economists about whether we can expect to see it materialize in the second half of 2020.
But as law firms enjoy growing revenue and profits before the next crisis hits, the pressures that my predecessor identified when he launched this briefing are still building steam.
For example, while the Am Law 100 has demonstrated impressive growth over the last several years, with outcomes that were more equitable in 2018 than previous years, there is still growing stratification between the most profitable firms—those that have established themselves as must-hires for handling the most complex, high-end work—and everyone else, who will feel the impact of new entrants to the market more acutely.
Consequently, clients continue to have the upper hand as they demand greater efficiency in how law firms deliver services. Witness how a growing number of firms are following corporate firms in hiring operations directors, whose stated goal is to align the resources in the firm more closely with the needs of the client.
Or, look at the issue of partner compensation, which goes even beyond the tired “lockstep” versus “eat what you kill” debate. Take the growing recognition at firms that their traditional strategies for rewarding business generation with origination credit may be delivering outcomes that work against the clients’ interests, a point I explored earlier this year.
And law firms are no closer to having solved the question of what technologies are worth their investment, in an environment where more and more players are evangelizing for the introduction of artificial intelligence—and Silicon Valley remains eager to deliver substitutes for lawyers. It often feels like new players and platforms are springing up constantly. The challenge—and one big aim of this briefing—is separating the game changers from the noise.
What am I missing? Send me an email at email@example.com and fill me in.