Is the death of BigLaw on the horizon?
Society loves a good David and Goliath story, where the underdog transforms a perceived weakness into his advantage. We feel better knowing that size isn’t always the only thing to matter in life or in business.
BigLaw has long been the legal services industry’s Goliath. Small firms have struggled to keep pace and survive.
All the best talent graduating from law school are quickly scooped up by the biggest cities’ best names.
However, for a long time, clients have demanded more than just power and influence. They want innovative practices, diversity, and mostly they want discounted rates that large firms don’t offer. With an oversupply of capable lawyers, clients can finally afford to demand services tailored exactly to their needs, which is why we’re seeing more and more small firms face off and take down behemoth opponents.
In turn, doe-eyed associates are no longer looking for long hours typical of BigLaw firms. Young associates want an even work-life balance, flexibility, and a job that gives them a sense of purpose.
“What I observe every day as the CEO of Priori, a curated marketplace that connects business owners with vetted lawyers at transparent prices, is that mid-tier firms are shedding associates something serious,” writes Basha Rubin in her article “Big Law, Big Problems: The Bright Future For Small Firms,” for Forbes.
“These lawyers want flexibility and independence—to service the clients that inspire them, at prices and pricing models that don’t cause potential business to blanch, at a rhythm and schedule that is sustainable.”
Luckily for both clients and lawyers, technology has provided a means for flexible workplaces, at-home offices, and more efficient work practices.
As a result, individuals are starting to form their own firms, servicing clients that they admire, that they choose. “These lawyers are entrepreneurial, gung ho, and ready to compete,” continues Rubin.
“Technology is the catalyst for their coming dominance.”
BigLaw is tied to tradition, fixed costs, and fixed mindsets. It’s much harder to convince a dozen veteran partners to try something new than it is at a smaller firm. Training associates and coordinating tasks at BigLaw firms with thousands of employees is much more challenging.
BigLaw is slower to adopt new technology or ideas. On the other hand, small firms, although lacking in manpower or pure numbers, are proving surprisingly efficient.
“Previously disaggregated and fragmented, they can use technology to improve their efficiency with new tools that automate document production and assembly, workflow management research, and contract review. (PlainLegal, LawPal, Diligence Engine, Ebrevia, Ravel Law, Judicata) With this arsenal, they can maintain high-quality work at lower prices,” boldly purports Rubin in her article for Forbes.
And lower prices have become the number one selling point to attract clients.
Not all legal professionals are convinced, however, than small firms are in slingshot range of BigLaw. An post on 3 Geeks and a Law Blogreacted to Rubin’s article, stating:
“BigLaw may suffer on the edges (ala Patton Boggs), but clients still need their services. Small Law can’t or won’t step into the breach (except in certain circumstances). And LPO’s will continue to nibble at the edges, but are not apparently taking away large portions of legal work from large firms. So the Big Disruption seems unlikely any time soon.”
According to 3 Geeks, legal services remain too complex for small firms to completely take over. Who is best to settle complexity? An equally complex system of services offered by BigLaw.
Whatever your opinion on the rise of small firms or fall of BigLaw, one things all parties agree on? Legal technology is arming the best combatants.
Regardless of size, if you want to be successful, your firm must be competent in today’s cutting-edge technical skills.
Malcolm Gladwell thinks Goliath was the victim, the real underdog who never stood a chance with his oafish sword against the skillful David and his quick and deadly slingshot.
Because, in the end, you never want to be the one who brings a knife to a gunfight.
Think your firm already has the technical skills necessary to compete in this fast-paced, tech world? Take C4CM’s course: Suffolk/Flaherty Technology Audit: Is Your Firm Ready?
D. Casey Flaherty, corporate counsel at Kia Motors America, developed this technology audit and tested nine large firms. All nine firms failed! Of the associates approached the assignments in ways that would have required five to 15 times longer than necessary. At $200 to $400 per associate hour, from the client’s perspective this equals inefficiency and wasted billable time.
Taking his tech audit to the next level, Flaherty is now working with Professor Andrew M. Perlman at Suffolk University to formalize the outside counsel tech audit as a FREE tool for other inside counsel. What does this free audit mean for your firm?
Will your lawyers pass the tech test?