Growth in a law business is not the same thing as adding more lawyers. Law firms do not exist in order to provide steady employment to the maximum number of lawyers; or, if they ever did, they don’t any longer. Law firms exist to provide legal services to the market in a cost-effective and profitable manner. “Adding more lawyers” is no longer the first and only way to make firms bigger and better.
Technological advances are disrupting many traditional ways in which legal work is done. Automated contract creation, e-discovery packages, data-crunching analysis systems, expert applications that answer regulatory and compliance questions, online dispute systems powered by game theory — these are all programs and functionalities that are available on the market, right now. They do the work that lawyers used to do. Full stop.
Similarly, disruption has come to the legal talent model. If you can get good, solid work from a contract lawyer, or a lawyer in Mumbai or Manila or Belfast, or in an innovative firm like Axiom or Keystone, or from the lawyer’s own home — and you can — why would you put that lawyer in your expensive offices, on your full-time payroll, with salary and benefits and overhead? What’s so all-fired great about having tons of lawyers on hand?
The answer to that question used to be self-evident: Leverage. Billable hours. Profit generation by the simple expedient of adding bodies to files. Those days, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, are gone. The business model rationales that promoted “lawyer growth” as a stand-alone and sufficient profitability strategy are gone.
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