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In Search of Perfect Client Service Why lawyers don't seem to get it

Fewer senior lawyers and more young lawyers “churning out” the work? No way.

Posted in Commentary

I was asked the other day by the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin to comment on a survey conducted by Altman Weil.  I did so, and reviewed the resulting article today.  The article, which I have only in hard copy, includes this statement by Bryan Schwartz, the chairman of Levenfeld Pearlstein LLC:

I think the middle is going to get gutted.

To put his thought in context, here’s what the article said:

Schwartz’s theory is that the law firm model will shift to match changes he said were seen in the last 10 years in accounting firms.  That shift will mean fewer leaders at the top of law firms and more young people churning out work at the bottom, Schwartz said.  “I think the middle is going to get gutted,” he said.

Really?  Clients who are unwilling to pay for new associates because they add no value will now do so?  The lawyers whose judgment and experience bring value to the clients–those in the middle–are jettisoned and clients will go along?  I think not.  The fact is that law firms are adjusting themselves to be advocates and counselors, while companies like Novus and Practical Law Company are taking over the process and content work previously done (at enormous cost) by law firms.  This is the adjustment that is causing the economic squeeze on firms–the process and content piece of the pie has been the most lucrative and clients are realizing that they get as good or better work product from companies who specialize in those specific areas.  To the extent there is a “gutting,” it will be at the young lawyer end of the job spectrum.

To quote my friend, Ed Reeser, “that’s my opinion.  I could be wrong.”

  • Well Pat, you and I might be crazy, but we’re not alone! In my mind, you couldn’t be more right. The disruption and dislocation that will occur as this transition progresses will be mindboggling to those exiting law schools — but perhaps even more significant to those entering law school and the status quo., running law schools.

    To quote the WSJ article today about challenges to $1000/hr bankruptcy lawyers: ” But big legal bills ofter don’t sit well with creditors or employees whose jobs may be at stake in the restructuring . . . And now the U.S. Trustee wnats law firms to make additional disclsoures . . . The watchdog woudl also like attorneys to draw up budget and staffing plans at the outside of a case, outlining the resources expected for everything from litigaiton to asset sales.”

    Oh the horror! The audactity and termerity! Imagine giving the customer a budget? Don’t they realize that it will cost what it will cost — and I deserve my $1000/hour?

    I agree with you that the gutting will continue — but I’m not sure any aspect of the current model is immune.

    What is even more interesting to me is what if all these jobless newbies align with some new age experiened cognoscienti and combine to build that new legal platform for the delivery of legal services? The former are natural networkers and can and will leverage technology to eliminate waste while the latter bring the judgment and the knowledge to the table. So, Schwartz may be right – -but not in what he predicts. I predict that the elder statesmen will not be the partners but rather those that strike out away from Big Law to take another path. Firms like Axiom, Novus and Valorem — perhaps?

  • The problem with comparing large law firms to large accounting firms is that only a very small chunk of the work done by lawyers equates with the work done by brand new accountants as they get their auditing hours. Much of what is assigned to brand new lawyers is legal research. What often happens is more senior associates essentially re-do the same research to make sure the correct result was reached the first time. Clients don’t want to pay twice for the same work (or, to say it another way, to pay once to train the new associate). My (admittedly limited) understanding of the work performed by newbie accountants is that it equates roughly with reviewing documents for privilege.