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If you want to glimpse the future of the law business, consider Microsoft’s announcement this summer that it will start hiring outside legal services almost exclusively under alternative fee arrangements. Citing a desire to get the best value from its law firms, and emphasizing the importance of law firms being “very much our partners on this project,” the tech giant envisions a range of new relationships with outside counsel that flout the hegemony of the traditional billable hour. What this portends for law departments and firms of every size and type is that the familiar rate wrangle—where clients demand reduced hourly rates or a different fee model altogether—is not going away anytime soon. Rather, if the move by Microsoft’s legal department is any kind of harbinger, large swaths of the legal landscape are due to be reshaped.

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