Our democracy is in crisis. For the first time, the Economist magazine has downgraded the U.S. in its ‘Democracy Index’ from a full democracy to a flawed one, based on its assessment of the electoral process, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture. The demotion centered on an ‘erosion of trust in political institutions.’ [Read more…]
My doctor-let’s call him Doug- walked into his office where my wife and I were already seated. His silver hair and crisp white lab coat were straight out of a daytime soap. Doug got right to it. “Hi guys,” he began, ‘the biopsy results confirm Mark has prostate cancer. Let’s go through what that means here, analyze some key data points, and review the options. I know you have undoubtedly read up on this and have lots of questions. Please let me give you the full picture and afterwards ask anything you like. Then we can discuss my recommendations. I encourage you to get a second or third opinion and will gladly provide some names. We should agree on our course of action within the next ten days or so. I’m confident Mark will be fine.’
Many years ago at a Finley Kumble partnership meeting a friend wryly commented, ‘We’re tents in the bazaar.’ He was right; each partner operated his/her own mini-firm– setting rates, hustling business, and engaging in non-stop origination disputes. It was by no means a collegial bazaar. Decades later, the Finley Kumble version of ‘partnership’—once anathema to white shoe firms—predominates. But in addition to the ‘bazaar’ that most large law firms are, a broader competitive marketplace also exists. Law firms once dominated the legal vertical, and there was plenty of work to go around. Those days are over. In-house legal departments and legal service providers now combine for nearly half of total legal spend. The ‘tents in the bazaar’ remain, but a new digital marketplace is also emerging. It is changing the way legal services are bought and sold.
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.