Many of you have read or know of our first book, Growth Is Dead: Now What? Law firms on the brink, published early in 2013.

We now have a sequel of sorts, just published this week: A New Taxonomy: The seven law firm business models. “A sequel of sorts” in the sense that the Now What? part of the Growth Is Dead title quite pointedly asks you to consider the future. Taxonomy, then, follows on the assumption that if you want to know where you might be able to go, it would help to know where you’re starting from.

So I posit seven law firm business models:

  • Global players
  • Capital markets firms
  • Kings of their hill
  • Boutiques
  • Category killers
  • The hollow middle, and
  • Integrated focus firms.

Some of the names are largely self-explanatory, and for more about what I mean by others I have a modest suggestion: Take a look at the book.

A couple of immediate caveats about these categories:

  • They aren’t meant to be mutually exclusive. That is to say, a firm can have a foot in each of two categories.
  • They aren’t immutable. That is to say, firms with a foot in each of two are usually in the process of migrating from one to another. Purposefully, it is to be hoped.
  • They aren’t all equally robust, but neither is any a guarantee of a quiet and prosperous life. To put it bluntly, there are good firms and bad firms in every category—firms that fully inhabit all the potential of their category and get the most out of it, and firms that seem to drift through their category without a rudder or a compass.

The last part of the book reports on the results of an online survey I undertook here at Adam Smith, Esq. inviting readers—that would be you, if you happened to catch the inviation late last year—to share your thoughts and opinions on the plusses and minuses of each category, and identifying firms—naming names—that you would nominate for membership in each of the categories.

In the final section, I also discuss the management challenges and priorities for those running each type of firm, summarize the conceptual map, and conclude with some thoughts on the future.

Here are a few early reviews:

My test of a good business book is simple; does it provide context that clarifies your thinking? This book does. It’s a good one. It paints the BigLaw order of battle in vivid colors on a broad canvas. It helps you see the whole battlefield, not just the skirmishes.

—from the Foreword by David Morley, worldwide Senior Partner of Allen & Overy

For too long, observers of and commentators on the legal profession have tended to lump ‘big law’ firms together, despite significant differences in their strategic vision, business model and market position. While that may have been less of a concern w hen the profession was enjoying sustained year over year growth in demand, now that we inhabit a ‘mature industry,’ where clients are more focused than ever on ‘value propositions’ and the disaggregation of services, understanding the differences between firms and their business models is essential. Bruce MacEwen’s Taxonomy is a valuable stimulus to the kind of realistic and clear-headed assessment needed to understand and set strategy in today’s environment.

—Don Lents, Chair of the Firm, Bryan Cave

I invite you to take a look, and as importantly, to share your thoughts on the taxonomy with your colleagues and with me.


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