A few weeks ago I ran a column about “ReInvent Law,” an event in Silicon Valley in the first half of March, which presented some views about possible futures of BigLaw, most of which were, uh, challenging to those who think business as usual is a strategy. My column wasn’t so much about whether I thought ReInvent Law was on the right track or otherwise, but it was about asking your opinions on what the ReInvent Law event hypothesized in a survey.
Well, now you have spoken, and in combination with an interview on Bloomberg Law by the masterful Lee Pacchia (Bloomberg also provided the graphic charts below), I’d like to discuss the results. First, here’s my conversation with Lee:
Now, to more about the results:
Caveat: Although nearly 200 of you were moved to respond in whole or in part, this survey shouldn’t be confused with rigorous quantitative research.
And what do I think overall?
The strongest message is that we have achieved consensus that the world has changed. I have felt this as a growing awareness for quite some time now, but the debate is over. The issue is not whether “growth is dead,” but “now what?”
As I read the responses to this question, 12% (round it to 1 in 10) are fatalists; There’s nothing meaningful to be done. But 88% think we need to invest, and of that group those who think the “fundamental premise of our partnership model” needs to be re-examined outnumber those who think we can create retained earnings and investment capital in a law firm partnership by two to one. I find these results sobering and bracing at once.
First of all, pretty much 9 in 10 of us think we need to invest. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom that partners want to “strip-mine” the balance sheet of cash at the end of every year for distributions. Maybe we’ve all been wrong in making that assumption all along, although the question pointedly did not ask what percentage of income partners would be willing to forego this year, and the next, and the next, in order to fund these hypothetical investments. Still, I consider this a very positive straw in the wind that dedicating real resources to change may not be a non-starter.