Mike Dillon is the General Counsel Counsel of Sun Microsystems. He also blogs at The Legal Thing. Because he is an inhouse lawyer, I want to know what he thinks, so I am a regular reader of his blog. His post from Tuesday captured my attention. The Way Of The Mastadon reflects Mike’s views on the future of BigLaw–giant law firms trying to match their clients in size. It is a must read.
Mike defines the real role of large firms:
My view is that law firms serve primarily as aggregators of specialized legal expertise. The premise has been that by combining multiple legal disciplines you can provide “one stop shopping” for current and prospective clients. This structure previously made sense. If you were an individual or business with a legal problem, it wasn’t efficient nor effective to try to identify an individual attorney with the technical skills that you required. So, you would turn to a law firm and rely on them to direct you to the appropriate attorney within their firm to solve your issue.
Mike then identifies the core problem:
The problem is that this model relies on growth (the need to add additional attorneys) to maintain profitability rather than focusing on efficiency gains. In this respect, it is at odds with what I need as a client and General Counsel.
After discussing the ease of moving the “aggregation” function inhouse, Mike reaches this conclusion:
My point is that the epoch of the current law firm model – which derives its profitability from growing scale and raising hourly rates – will soon be over. The firms that will survive and thrive are those that recognize this change and focus on how to maintain margins by focusing on efficiency.
Oh how I hope you are right. The movement seems slow, but at least there is movement.