“The past is a foreign countr y; they do things differ ently here.” — L.P. Hartley, English author In the past 50 years, law firms have evolved from partnerships that foster collegiality and camaraderie to megafirms that are governed by considerations of profitability. The lawyer population in the United States has mushroomed from 221,605 in 1951 to 1,066,328 in 2000, according to The American Bar Foundation’s “Lawyer Statistical Repor t.” However, is this unfettered growth sustainable?
New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman posed a poignant question about the state of the economy and various industries in March: “What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: ‘No more.’”
Because of the economic turmoil, fir ms are laying off lawyers and are experiencing change in other ways. Tapping into the talk on the blogosphere, here’s a top five list of the ways the law field may have to change:
1. Get with the technology program or be winnowed out in the long run by products such as legalzoom.com, which provides a self-serve, user-friendly approach for customers to get their basic legal needs taken care of.
2. Keep the focus on diversity recruitment. While gains have been made in diversifying the field to include more women and minority lawyers, the countr y’s changing demographics will demand even more attor neys from underrepresented groups.
3. Lower rates. Because corporations are now looking for smaller firms to get the job done at a better price, megafirms will no longer be able to get away with charging immoderate amounts in billable hours and will instead have to go with flat fees.
4. Cut costs. Associates will have to fly coach and stay at more moderately priced hotels closer to customers.
5. It’s about them. Offer more personalized ser vice and have “customers,” not “clients.”
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