For all the diversity of voices, I think its’s fair to evaluate the conversation by saying agreement was asynchronously reached on a few key points, which – if they fall short of Google Maps turn by turn directions – are indelible indicators all of us would be wise to attend to.
- No one seriously believes or even suggests that global demand for high quality, high stakes legal counsel will collapse. Indeed, if history is any guide, it will continue to grow.
- And/but that does not necessarily imply that the only source of supply to meet that demand will always be lawyers in big, global law firms. They will continue to be part of the mix for a long time, but clients are less and less enamored of “what they sell, at the price they sell it, in the way they create and deliver it,” as Jordan Furlong put it.
- Clients are exercising their buying power.
- Clients are substantially growing their inhouse capacity.
- BigLaw firms that think it’s a comprehensive response to emulate the efficiencies of alternative delivery models, be it through labor market or occupancy market arbitrage, and through redesigning career paths to create ideally-infinite leverage, may just be postponing the day of reckoning or “fouling their own nests,” as George Beaton put it.Understand: Many firms may view this imitative flattery as a necessary response to the newcomers, but don’t delude yourself that it’s sufficient.
Count on clients to drive the vector (both pace and direction) of change, by voting with their wallets. and just as I prefer the coinage SophisticatedLaw to BigLaw, recognize for present purposes we’re talking about SophisticatedClients. (The Beaton dialogue touches glancingly, but no more, on the utterly distinct market for “High Street”/retail/consumer law.)
Nowadays, when I observe client behavior, I see two thoroughly opposed, but quite consistent, trends: A flight to quality and a flight to value. No single law firm can durably respond to both sets of client demand, which means many who aren’t already at one pole or the other will need to choose, and to change.