The legal profession has a dismal record on diversity—especially large law firms. Between 2007 and 2015, there was a decline in the number of black attorneys in big firms. And, per the same study conducted by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association and Vault.com, the number of Asian-American lawyers receiving promotions in 2014 was less than in 2007.
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.
There is no single path to becoming an innovative lawyer. Every lawyer has a unique set of personality traits, skill sets, passions, and priorities. Successful lawyers draw from their personalities and exposure, fusing it with legal expertise. Innovative lawyers understand that legal expertise is only one facet of legal delivery. They devise and deliver legal services from new models that combine legal acumen with advanced technology and management skills. The goal is to provide clients with “better, faster, cheaper” – and transparent – legal services.
Back in the late ‘70’s, there was a popular commercial where a young professional commented above the din of a dinner party conversation that his broker was E.F. Hutton. The room fell silent and the punch line was: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” Above the din of legal pundits (myself included) opining about shifts in the global legal market comes Deloitte’s June, 2016 research study on “Future Trends for Legal Services.”
Its NBA Finals time and LeBron James is once again on the court. It’s been almost six years since he rendered “The Decision,” proclaiming to millions tuned into ESPN that: “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.” His infamous declaration is textbookhubris or chutzpah—maybe both? I was reminded of it by the recent reports that Cravath will now pay $180,000 to first year associates. That came on the heels of Law 360’s disclosure that some New York- based law firm partners now charge $2,000/hour. Chorus: hubris or chutzpa—maybe both?