Changing Law Firm Structures: How do These Affect You?

Changing Law Firm Structures: How do These Affect You?

Over the last 20 years, the legal landscape has changed dramatically. We have seen an increase in international law firms, spurred by globalization and mergers across continents. New law firm models have sprung in a push to design more efficient ways to provide legal services while decreasing costs. These have brought to life the “virtual” law firm and new fee arrangements that provide attractive alternatives to the traditional billable-hour model.

“The practice of law is being disrupted and challenged from many different angles,” says Travis Usher, a Recruitment Consultant with ZSA. Usher notes that among these changes is also the growth of the in-house legal sector. Indeed, in a recent survey conducted by Altman Weil regarding the situation in the United States, 67% of law firms surveyed stated that they are losing business to corporate law departments that are in-sourcing legal work.

Mike Race, a Senior Consultant with ZSA, highlights a further trend: lawyers from traditional, large full-service firms are starting up or moving to boutique, specialist firms to service a particular type of industry or practice area. “This trend is driven by Partners who want to offer the same quality of service to their clients, but at a lower cost,” says Race. “As they don’t carry the overheads of the mega-firms, boutique firms are often more flexible with charge-out rates, or even offer bespoke fee arrangements that do not involve billing by the hour.”

Navigating today’s legal marketplace

Changes in the way legal services are offered have implications for legal professionals seeking new professional opportunities – but these are not necessarily negative. “While these changes may be bad news for entrenched firms (or at least those unwilling to evolve with the industry), they do provide more opportunities for lawyers who are willing to look outside of Big Law,” says Usher.

Race agrees. “There is a lot more variety in terms of different work environments becoming available for lawyers nowadays relative to a few years ago, where most had to choose between Big Law, small firms, or traditional in-house legal teams.”

What is your value added?

Candidates that will shine in the emerging marketplace will be those that can show their value added, and demonstrate their ability to practice in more cost-effective and efficient manners.

“Now, more than ever, lawyers have to be very conscious that being a good legal technician is not enough,” says Race. “Being able to add value to a client’s business, above and beyond purely transacting legal services, is vital to a lawyer’s ability to maintain a satisfied client base.”

Race emphasizes that adding value is key not only to building a book of business, but also for a lawyer’s own career trajectory. “Being able to provide enough value to build and maintain a loyal client base is really a lawyer’s currency whether it comes to seeking a promotion in their current firm, or making an external move to advance their career,” says Race.

While legal practice will continue to evolve, legal professionals can strategically navigate through the coming changes. Jobseekers looking to stand out should also be confident that they can still do so and not be lost in a sea of change. In particular, focusing on adding value will set you apart. This will not only assist you in developing your practice, but also prepare you for your next move.


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