Growth is Dead: Part 9-Future Models

Friday, November 2, 2012

The first eight columns in this series, to state the obvious, have been all about the challenges facing BigLaw, which I believe may be mortal to some firms who don’t or can’t respond effectively.  The new landscape reflects trends bubbling up under the surface for some time, including globalization and the relentless march of IT, spreading transparency into talent, ideas, and value for money, and all of which have been accelerated and brought into the clear light of day by the Great Reset of 2008 and beyond.

A rational reader might ask: “Is it all gloom and doom? Do you really think BigLaw will cease to exist as we know it?” Fair question, the answer to which is no.

In this column I want to describe what I believe the future of BigLaw, more or less “as we know it,” may hold. I predict it will be:

  • Smaller overall as an industry, in terms of revenue and headcount;
  • Cylindrical rather than pyramidal at its organizational core;
  • More cloud-like than either cylindrical or pyramidal in its reach;
  • With an obsessive and intense firm by firm focus on delivering stringently defined services for carefully identified, and narrow, categories of clients.

You may have noticed I’ve said nothing there about profitability. That’s because I believe the jury is out on that scorecard, but I see no intrinsic reason whatsoever that profitability need take a systemic plunge.  Profitability will be far more dependent on smart and focused management than ever before; the days of “do no harm” and “steady as she goes” are gone forever, and room for error will be tightly circumscribed.

First let me lay out the reasons I believe BigLaw will continue to exist in some form we could agree is recognizable today, and then let me describe what adaptations creatures will have to make to survive and thrive in the new ecosystem. Think of the first part as demand and the second as supply.

Demand:

  • Globalization is here to stay (see #3)
  • Regulatory, precedential, and financial complexity is here to stay.
  • The ability of talent, ideas, and capital to cross borders is here to stay (see #1)

Let’s explore this a bit.

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