While you can quibble with some of the factors used in the AmLaw Top 100 and 200 rankings, some of the emphasis placed on the analysis and some of the conclusions that people draw about the rankings, the rankings and related statistical information are a great place to start to take a close look at the big firm end of the legal profession.
Vivia Chen’s article, “Am Law 200: Success on a Smaller Scale,” does a nice job of setting out this year’s results.
In more ways than one, here’s the money quote:
“Despite that cheery news, the reality is that the Second Hundred is still the poor cousin of The Am Law 100 — firms 1 through 100 in our ranking — and getting poorer by comparison.”
I’m interested in the nuances revealed in the article. Although there are some allusions to innovation, there’s not a lot of innovation discussed in the article. There is so much more innovation happening at smaller firms. In the Second 100, you see success through leverage (interestingly, in the example, the successful leverage comes through a heavy use of paralegals) and flat-fees (although, curiously, one firm representative backs away from crediting flat fees for improvements in profit).
The quote I found most intriguing in the article comes from Hughes Hubbard managing partner Candace Beinecke, who says, “I don’t know what it means to be full-service anymore.” The so-called “medium-sized” firms have been struggling with that notion for many years. The first step is admitting that the idea of being “full-service” may be the source of the biggest problems in a medium-sized firm. As a side note, in some states, advertising rules may prevent you from referring to your firm as a “full-service” firm.
How about a second money quote?
“There’s a perception that commodity work is bad, but it’s just structured differently,” says Lisa Smith, a Washington, D.C.-based consultant with Hildebrandt International. “You don’t need to do it in New York City with Harvard Law graduates.”
There is little doubt that the 101 to 200 firms are in the toughest and most volatile part of the legal market. Lots of challenges,, but significant opportunities. These firms, their strategies and the changes and trends in this category are always worth studying. Not all of these firms will be around in one, two or five years from now, but watching to see what strategies the survivors choose to use will teach both smaller and some of the larger firms paths to consider and to avoid.
By the way, notice how little emphasis is placed on the use of technology in this article. There is a growing disconnect between the technologies clients want their firms to use and the willingness of law firms to invest in these technologies. My bet is still that the clients, in a few years, will start to win these battles on a regular basis.
For some of my most recent thinking about the use of technology in the practice of law and future trends, listen to the podcast I recently recorded with Microsoft’s Randy Holloway.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
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