Law firms of the future: less bottom heavy?

April 1, 2010 There are no shortage of articles pointing out the need for change in the legal industry under new economic conditions. This New York Times article is interesting though, for a few key insights. It discusses the fact that while some new associate programs have been lauded as models for the future, others are being criticised as short-sighted, ad hoc solutions that may help maintain profitability in the short-term, but prove poisonous to morale.

The article also takes a more detailed look at the big law business model, commenting that the high volume of ‘scut-work’, including multimillion-page document reviews, deal-related due diligence, or the drafting of routine documents could be handled for a fraction of the cost if it were assigned to contract lawyers or even non-lawyers, rather than being dealt with in-house.

The industry seems to recognise that reform is needed, and in the last two years, many law firms have laid off associates, deferred start dates for hires and tinkered with base pay and bonus structures, including pay cuts and freezes, the redistribution of portions of base salaries as bonuses and the elimination of lock-step pay increases.

Some firms have made more fundamental changes, like dividing associates into tiers. Some firms, such as Howrey, have hired certain law graduates for a partnership track, while others are brought in to specialise on more routine or low-level work.


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