The New Normal

Lawyers Have Incredible Lack of Interest in Changing Legal Marketplace

Posted Nov 9, 2010 2:17 PM CST
By Patrick J. Lamb

Patrick Lamb

Editor’s note: The New Normal is an ongoing discussion between Paul Lippe, the CEO of Legal OnRamp, and Patrick Lamb, founding member of Valorem Law Group. Paul and Pat spend a lot of time thinking, writing and speaking about the changes occurring in the delivery of legal services. We hope you will join their discussions.

Both Paul Lippe and I believe that major changes are taking place in the profession. Sometimes I wonder whether anyone really believes us or whether those who express agreement are just humoring us. I wonder this because there seems to be tremendous inertia in the profession. In my own mind, I know that if I was a partner at most law firms, I’d be scared to death that clients were looking for ways to reduce the money they pay me, or indeed whether they even utilize my services at all. And I’d be frightened thinking about whether my firm would simply decide to push me aside. If I didn’t have clients, I would be wondering when, not if, my firm would pull the plug on my future.

In that kind of environment, I would be spending every waking minute trying to figure out what the future is going to look like and how to make myself an essential piece of the future. I hesitate to ask how many readers have read the paperback version of Richard Susskind’s landmark book, The End of Lawyers? The paperback version just came out within the past few months, and it contains a 36-page introduction, really an update on what has transpired since the manuscript of the book was submitted for publication in late 2007. I hesitate because I doubt many of you ever bothered to read the hardcover version when it came out in 2008.

Let me relay two anecdotes. From time to time, I am asked to give speeches to law firms, and on two recent occasions, I polled the room on several questions, including how many people in the room had read Richard Susskind’s book. Out of nearly 200 lawyers, none had. Only a few had even heard of Richard Susskind.

At first I thought that the lack of interest in the business and future of the profession was a function of the cocoon in which many law firm lawyers exist. But a friend who gave a speech to a room full of inside lawyers got exactly the same response.

If these anecdotes are at all representative, lawyers are suffering from an incredible lack of interest in understanding the forces that are changing the foundation of the profession, both for in-house lawyers and, as a result, outside lawyers as well. Richard Susskind is, after all, perhaps the leading legal futurist, and his analysis of the legal marketplace and its development are unrivaled. One commentator said, with regard to his book, “this is an enormously important book, and if you have any interest in how the legal marketplace will operate in future, you have to read it.” The author of The Trusted Advisor, David Maister, who before his retirement was amongst the most highly regarded consultants to law firms, said this:

“If you don’t quickly absorb what Susskind has to say, you’ll already be behind in adapting to the modern legal profession, in-house as well as private practice. You can’t and won’t agree with everything here, but you must read it all and think about it all. It would be irresponsible (and self-destructive) to avoid reflecting on the voluminous arguments and examples presented here.”

I am not here to shill for Susskind’s book, but the lack of interest in the impact the changing future has on our practices really seems staggering. Pam Woldow, now a consultant with Edge International, recently wrote this in her blog, At the Intersection:

“I’m at the intersection of Main and Lamar out here in Dallas, but I’ve just spent time talking to some senior-level rainmakers who are out there in denial.

“First, although the balance of power between law firms and their clients has shifted, they think they still call the shots—when in fact it’s their clients who will be setting the terms of engagement in the future. Second, a lot of their competitors are eating their lunch. They think their phone isn’t ringing because their clients are on an extended summer vacation.

“In fact, their clients are being wooed successfully by law firms who understand the new rules of the game: it’s time to build a new kind of lawyer-client relationship … one that emphasizes working together to contain costs, deliver service efficiently, increase predictability and improve communication. Do that, and the client will like you better, trust you more, and send more business your way.

“The firms that show they are serious about embracing alternative fee arrangements and implementing legal project management are getting a warm reception from prospective clients. A lot of clients are moving their business, and a lot of traditional firms are getting left out in the cold.”

The world is changing. What the changes are to be is not entirely clear, but it is likely that there will be myriad models instead of the one model that has dominated the landscape for the last 50-plus years. Doesn’t it seem bizarre that everyone isn’t devoting time and study to the changing landscape to figure out how they will have to change to survive?

Patrick Lamb is a founding member of Valorem Law Group. Valorem represents corporate clients in business disputes and is at the forefront of helping clients solve their business disputes and coping with pressures to reduce legal spend using nontraditional approaches, including use of nonhourly fee structures, coordination with LPOs or contract lawyers, joint-venturing with other firms and implementation of project management tools to handle lawsuits or portfolios of litigation.

Pat is the author of the the recently published book Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market. He also blogs at In Search Of Perfect Client Service.

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