Everybody loves to bash BigLaw. Admit it. It’s like making fun of Microsoft and all of the security “features” built into its software. You see it in the growing number of Blogs who love to talk trash about the foibles of the AmLaw 100. Big law firms are easy targets since they are visible and what they do tends to get picked up by the press and the blogosphere.
Enjoying the Washington Post on Monday morning, I noticed this gem about how the smart lawyers are leaving BigLaw. The lawyer noted in the article was smart enough to leave DLA Piper and join Virtual Law Partners, a small telecommuting firm. He cut his hourly rate by 25% and reduced his overhead by a much larger number. The result: he has more time for his family (he even works out of his home) and he makes more money. Wah-laa – he is smart. BigLaw is not so smart.
If you really look at it, he is smart because he took all the benefits of BigLaw and left behind the baggage. He’s what you call a beneficiary. My point is that BigLaw, like another institution, has its good and bad. And BigLaw has been doing pretty well so far. It’s hard to argue the profits and growth BigLaw has seen to-date. Lawyers who work for these firms handle large scale, complex, bet-the-company types of cases and transactions. Lawyers who leave can take that pedigree with them and then profit from it.
Well down into the Post article (buried so-to-speak) I noted this statement: Virtual Law Partners “expects to make a profit once it has 50 lawyers.”
BigLaw is an easy target, but maybe its earned that rank given its success. Whatever happens in this time of change, I don’t expect BigLaw to be going away any time soon. Big companies tend to prefer big providers. It’s more a matter of how BigLaw will transform as a group. Of course, I’m still hoping alternative fees will play a core part in that transition.
Truth-in-advertising: I work at a large firm, which might make me biased. But as a non-lawyer observer who lives more with the frustrating aspects of the model (and less with the financial benefits) I feel I bring an informed perspective.