If You Think Being a Lawyer is Tough Today, Try Legal Consulting

by Edwin Reeser

Reprinted/posted with permission of Daily Journal Corp (2009)

IF You Think Being a Lawyer is Tough Today, Try Legal Consulting

The basic consultant strategy sold to BigLaw over the past decade focused on growing high-margin practices while abandoning the low-margin areas; easing out historically underproductive partners while focusing on lateral recruitment to bring in more profitable talent; moving from a location-based to a practice-based structure; increasing the firm’s presence in the New York market; expansion into new markets and practices; and so forth.

This strategy was replicated and resold countless times by many consultants. Not because the strategy was universally correct, but because they could sell it. Fancy power point presentations, lots of "market segmentation" graphs, and the inevitable "peer group" comparison lists supported the immediate urgency to implement this change, or be left behind to wither and die. The consultants would latch on for a lucrative ride-along for continuing fees in the implementation phase that invariably took more than one year after the plan was adopted. Such plans were aggressively sold well into 2006 and 2007.

How do the results shake out a few years later?

Firms wish they had retained, and now scramble for the lower margin practices, as many of them were and are practices that deliver unspectacular but steady returns in both good and bad economic times.

"Historically underproductive" mutated into a euphemism for partners that could not squeeze from their clients ever more astronomical hourly rates, but had nothing to do with their professional talent, commitment to work or loyalty to the firm. It was also applied to force out partners who politically opposed the new strategies, or questioned the potential negative impact to historical firm culture. Strategic plans were also co-opted by some partners to shift, consolidate and apply power within the organization for themselves.

High margin practices were trendy but volatile, and that was not adequately factored in the analyses. Many acquisitions or developments of such practices wound up costing the firms far more money than they delivered, resulting in net losses to the organization, sometimes in the millions of dollars per firm.

Lateral recruitment turned out to be expensive, problematic with respect to long term retention, and disruptive in the process of inclusion and cultural stresses.

Practice based organization became a massive organizational and operational nightmare, with few effective means of tracking true performance, or assigning accountability for results. "Silo" practice, work hoarding and breaking down the "one firm" goal became a virus, creating warring fiefdoms and a senior warlord class of partners, with an exploitation mentality towards associates, of counsel, income partners, and eventually junior equity level partners.

Increasing presence in New York for those without one was, and remains for most firms, as intelligent a move as flossing teeth with a Bowie knife. Reciprocally, there are very good reasons why New York based firm incursions into other markets have so often become abject failures, even in "good times." The reasons can be explored in another article, but just do the math on how depressingly few expansion offices reach firmwide “average” profits within five years; if ever.

Immense increases in administrative and third party costs associated with "global" practice were not appreciated, even though there was a track record with this challenge from a review of the recently collapsed former paragons of international practice (Coudert Brothers and Graham & James), and many UK firms (whose presence in Commonwealth countries created a licensing and tax advantages available only to themselves and not to U.S. competitors), as well as operational challenges that do not exist even with large multi office national firms.

LOADING PDF: If there are any problems, click here to download the file.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Edwin Reeser, Edwin B. Reeser, A Professional Law Corporation | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Edwin Reeser

Edwin B. Reeser, A Professional Law Corporation on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.