Long term thinking could save biglaw

Here is an interesting article by Mark Harris, the chief executive of Axiom Law, a 900-person new-model legal services firm. Harris attempts to diagnose some of the problems built into the biglaw model that make the structure unstable and liable to the kind of catastrophic failure that we see unfolding at Dewey & LeBouef. The inefficiencies of the biglaw model, with its pyramid structure and time-based billing, have worsened unchecked, adding 75% to the cost of legal services over the past decade, until the global financial crisis and recession changed everything. At that point the bubble effectively burst, companies cut spending for legal services, and the top 250 US firms laid off more than 10,000 lawyers before the system stabilized to their current state of minor growth. And while the need for reform is obvious and urgent, there remains an institutional resistance to taking the necessary steps. When lawyers finally reach the partnership - the reward of power and high earnings after many hard years as an associate - they are seemingly reluctant to invest in the necessary changes. Another problem for any kind of long term strategy is that partners are able to take their clients with them when they shift to another firm. This mobility weakens the bonds that hold a firm together, especially in a hot market for mergers and lateral partner hires. This article argues that investment in the future requires a deferment of short-term compensation - a prospect that the partners at Dewey refused to countenance.

Long term thinking could save biglaw forbes.com forbes.com Wed, May 16, 2012