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Is it the End for BigLaw or a Beginning for Change?

At a two-day conference hosted by the Georgetown Center for the Study of the Legal Profession called Law Firm Evolution: Brave New World or Business as Usual?, scholars, consultants, attorneys and law firms gathered together in debate and discussion over the future of BigLaw and its need for change. 

Here are a few excerpts from “Warnings Toll for BigLaw Firms Resistant to Change” by Rachel M. Zahorsky on the ABAJournal:

“There’s as much chance of BigLaw dying as there is a return to normal,” says Ralph Baxter, chairman and CEO of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe…“BigLaw is not dead,” he says. “This is just a time for opportunity.”

imminent collapse of more firms in the wake of a recession marked by sweeping layoffs, cuts in equity partnership and discontented GCs’ demands to end the billable hour, he credits deep talent pools and long-standing client relationships for the survival of Am Law 100 firms.

“The window is open for another year to year and a half for firms before clients start walking and looking at firms they've never looked at before,” Hackett says, citing legal service companies and nonlaw entities as viable alternatives to traditional firms.

GCs bear the burden of clarifying their needs to their outside counsel…“The fault is ours if my team doesn’t tell outside counsel our objectives,” Carr says. “I might as well hand them my wallet.”

…according to Robert Ruyak, managing partner and CEO of Howrey, the single-minded fixation on profits per partner must be abandoned, at least for now.

“Partners must be willing to sacrifice short-term profitability for greater success and profit in the long- term,”… “That’s something many partners don’t want to do, but we have to. There is no choice because some firms will, and they’re the ones that will be eating our lunches tomorrow.”

…as WilmerHale’s co-managing partner William Perlstein notes: “If you talk to most law firm leaders, they would dismiss these discussions and say it’s really going to be business as usual again.”

"The notion that we're not [already] compelled by economic realities to change is just not accurate," Yannucci says. “Partners, especially younger partners, are highly incentivized to figure out what clients want.”

…many lawyers lack the business acumen to implement change. “There’s a very large infrastructure of management at law firms, but leadership is still the role of a partner. Just as you want a doctor to be the leader of a hospital, clients want a lawyer to lead the firm. Leadership trumps management; law firms just need to trump the quality of management.”

Mark Harris, CEO and founder of Axiom, one of the new forms of law firm, says others are “looking too much for law firms to be leaders in change …. There is good intent and social responsibility at firms, but the real problem isn’t intent and character, it’s structure. Law firms are not structured in a way to change, drive and lead innovation.”

“It is a mistake to think of change in terms of silos,” adds Orrick partner Patricia Gillette, who called for organization-wide transformation and renewed trust between partners and associates. “Change must be sweeping. If you do not change, you will die.”


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