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Solos And BigLaw Are Dead—Long Live New Law!

Nicole BlackOkay, maybe neither category of lawyers is dying anytime soon. But a recent spate of articles and blog posts have posited that regardless of your firm’s size, drastic change is imminent and will affect lawyers across the board.

Now I know what you’re thinking—legal futurists have been predicting doomsday scenarios like this for years, so why all the fuss now? That’s a great question. According to two very interesting blog posts I recently read, this new conversation revolves around the effects of Uber and “New Law.”

First, let’s talk about Rich Granat’s recent post at his well known blog, eLawyering. If you’re not familiar with Rich, he’s a pioneer in eLawyering and virtual law practices and often writes incredibly insightful, thought provoking pieces about the future of our profession.

In his most recent post, The Uberization of Legal Services, Rich suggests that technology is driving unprecedented change in the delivery of legal services, just as Uber is disrupting traditional ground transportation services: 

“The legal profession will not be immune from the rise of the uberized economy. Consumers want to purchase only the legal services they need. This means that the trend towards offering “unbundled” or “limited legal services” will continue to accelerate as the most economical way for consumers to purchase legal service is by the “task”, rather than the hour.”

According to Rich, the lawyers who will thrive in this new world legal landscape will be those who use technology to automate their services, eliminate redundancies, and thus simultaneously reduce their overhead and costs. He also believes that offering limited legal services will go hand in hand with new online legal marketplaces that empower legal consumers by giving them more choice when hiring lawyers.

Unfortunately, Rich believes that this new and more competitive legal marketplace will have a number of negative consequences, including:

  • A downward pressure on legal fees;
  • More competition for solos and small law firm practitioners;
  • Lawyers will have less or no social structure to support collaboration and cross-communication with peers;
  • Newly admitted lawyers will lack the training and professional development structure for them to really learn how to practice law. (as law schools don’t really train lawyers to practice law).
  • Less organizationally sponsored fringe benefits for lawyers.
  • Loss of control of a client base, as clients are attracted and owned by the new legal marketplaces;
  • Reduction in the size of the legal profession as it becomes harder to make a living as a lawyer, with a consequent reduction in the number of law schools – particularly those that turn out lawyers for solo and small practice but continue to teach the a purely doctrinal approach to law and law practice.

”Legal

The good news is that some lawyers appear to be adapting to this new world order—at lest that’s the case according to a recent report by Professor Joan C. Williams and the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings titled Disruptive Innovation: New Models of Legal Practice. The results of the study indicate that it is the lawyers themselves who are shaping the way that legal services are delivered, in part due to their desire to work more flexible schedules. The authors of the report concluded: 

“For decades, a market failure existed in the law. Many lawyers were dissatisfied with Big Law-but they saw no alternative if they wanted to remain in the profession. That market failure is now over. Entrepreneurship has hit the law, with entrepreneurs innovating a large variety of different models to offer not only a new value proposition for lawyers, but also a new value proposition for clients.”

The authors identified 5 distinct and unique models of “New Law” being used by innovative lawyers:

  1. Secondment Firms - These firms place lawyers in house, typically to work at a client site either on a temporary basis or part-time. In some, male lawyers predominate and everyone works “full-time flex”—a 40 hour week structured around family responsibilities or other interests. In others, female lawyers predominate, and many lawyers work part-time.
  2. Law & Business Advice Companies - These companies combine legal advice with general business advice of the type traditionally provided by management consulting firms, and/or help clients with investment banking as well as legal needs.
  3. Law Firm Accordion Companies - These companies assemble networks of curated lawyers available to enable law firms to accordion up to meet short-term staffing needs. Typically these networks are women lawyers who work short part-time hours.
  4. Virtual Law Firms and Companies - These typically drive down overhead by having attorneys work from their own homes—and again dispense with a guaranteed salary, attorneys to work as little or as much as they wish
  5. Innovative Law Firms and Companies - These include the widest variety of different business models. The single most innovative is a company with a new monetization model—providing legal services in return for a monthly subscription fee—which allows attorneys to work in a sophisticated legal practice on an 8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. schedule, little or no weekend work, and three weeks’ unplugged vacation per year.

In other words, the times they are a’changin’ and some lawyers are actually responding in kind. While some may proclaim that the new legal business models are a sign of the end of law as we know it—or at least the end of some types of law firms—that remains to be seen. 

But one thing is certain—change is undoubtedly upon us; and sometimes, change is good.

Nicole Black is the Legal technology Evangelist at MyCase, a cloud-based law practice management platform. She is an attorney in Rochester, New York, and is a GigaOM Pro analyst. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
 

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