Axiom, a legal staffing-turned-technology company, recently announced a five-year deal with Johnson & Johnson (J & J) to provide multi-shore contract management services to the pharmaceutical giant. Axiom will support J&J’s global procurement contracting function, helping to standardize its vast trove of procurement agreements across a dozen contract types and 10 languages. This is not Axiom’s lone big dollar, long-term contract with a major corporation. A couple years ago, it inked an eye-popping $73 million deal with Credit Suisse to process the bank’s “master trading agreements.”
Let’s face it: the legal profession is not feeling the love these days. A recent Pew opinion poll ranked lawyers dead last among ten professions for ‘contributions to society.’ There’s more than a bit of self-loathing among lawyers, too. A recent study initiated by The American Bar Association (ABA) and co-funded by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation found that the alcoholism, depression, and drug dependency rates for lawyers are approximately twice that of other highly trained professionals. And the average six-figure educational debt young law graduates carry does not help, either. How has the ABA addressed these and other big challenges?
It will be a glum holiday season for the lawyers and staff at King & Wood Mallesons (KWM). The multinational law firm giant, a single-branded legal network anchored by British, Australian, and Chinese member firms, is dissolving. The firm website describes the 2,700 lawyer amalgam as ‘the global elite firm of the next century.’ Its motto, ‘The Power of Together,’ is cruelly ironic—especially for many soon to be out of a job.
Good lawyers are problem solvers. The best ones forestall problems and, when they inherit them, prevent metastasis. So with demand for legal services robust and law firm demand flat three years and counting, law firms have a problem. Its crux is a misalignment of the traditional law firm model with the marketplace—except, perhaps, in certain high-value matters. Is it being fixed? Soaring partner profits (PPP) suggest it is. But the increasing percentage of legal services rendered outside law firms indicates the contrary. Which is it? Short answer: partners have fixed their challenge—how to increase PPP with a declining demand for law firms. Firms, on the other hand, have a worsening, systemic problem that threatens their sustainability.
Victor Borge likened lawyers to clarinets—both have cases, mouthpieces, and need a constant supply of hot air to function. There are just over 1.3 million licensed lawyers in the U.S. according to the American Bar Association 2015 National Lawyer Population Survey. That’s a lot of hot air and mouthpieces. Paradoxically, the legal profession lacks a strong, unified voice desperately needed at this time of profound and accelerated change. That powerful legal voice must address big challenges to the rule of law including preservation of the Bill of Rights, access to justice, equal justice, global migration, human trafficking, and a growing erosion of confidence in democratic institutions.
The breadth and impact of social media can scarcely be exaggerated. In less than a decade, it has disrupted journalism, influenced global politics, and altered commerce by providing a platform for instantaneous global communication. One big problem: social media does not distinguish between fact and fiction. This has frightening implications that have already surfaced.
I recently had a long conversation with Iohann Le Frapper, a French lawyer and Board Chair of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC). We identified several common challenges confronting lawyers — legal education and new skillsets, access to justice, technology and globalization yielding automation and labor arbitrage, the ‘gig economy,’ ethical challenges, and new models of legal delivery. These issues transcend geography or regulations. They are global challenges whose solution demands a broader perspective.
The steel cage match called the Presidential campaign and the election is over. The people have spoken. The orderly transfer of power is underway—even as protests and cries of ‘He is not my president’ remind us that things are different. Deep, painful wounds remain that must be healed. Lawyers alone cannot repair them, of course. But they can—must– look beyond profit-per partner and focus on a bigger bottom line: preservation of the rule of law. They are its guardians, and it is critical that all lawyers—regardless of political persuasion or even political apathy—assume this role individually or collectively.
At a time when bipartisanship and consensus have taken an extended holiday, most Americans agree this election cycle has been unlike any in memory. As the late Gilda Radner’s SNL character Roseannadanna would say, ‘It’s always something.’ And all those ‘somethings’ have taken a terrible toll on America’s institutions—particularly the justice system. The vitriolic campaign has intensified public distrust in the justice system and the rule of law–no small matter.
Remember Martin Short’s wedding planner character in the remake of ‘Father of the Bride’? If so, you will recall his memorable ‘Welcome to the ‘90’s, Mr. Banks’ retort to Steve Martin (father of the bride) who could not stomach a $1,200 wedding cake. Its a couple decades later and excess has yielded to ‘better, faster, cheaper.’ But the Short line resonates because most of us are having difficulty swallowing the breathtakingly broad, rapid changes occurring in the workplace and in life generally. We are—as T.S. Eliot said of the magi–‘no longer at ease in the old dispensation.’ [Read more…]