Seeing the Future of Law Firms: Crystal Ball or Kaleidoscope?

Article excerpt

Editor's note: Recently, predicting big changes in the legal industry has become a popular pursuit. LMA Hall of Fame Member Norm Rubenstein offers his view of the Firm of the Future in this very issue. On p. 24, the Strategies co-executive editors take their own look. But just as law firms have different shapes and sizes, so do the visions of how firms will appear in the future. Here are some alternate forecasts.

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Altman Weil's "Legal Transformation Study--Your 2020 Vision of the Future"

Altman Weil has identified four possible scenarios for the law firm 11 years in the future:

* Blue-Chip Mega-Mania

This scenario considers a world where the legal market has continued to consolidate, and today's large and midsized firms either have been assimilated into global giants or no longer exist. In this scenario, general counsel struggle to ensure that legal services are delivered consistently across a global landscape that still retains local jurisdictions.

In this hyper-competitive world, work-life balance has become a thing of the past.

* Expertopia

In this scenario, mega-firms have lost their dominant place, even as independent jurisdictions have remained. Niche firms can defy geographic barriers by understanding these distinct economic blocs and different areas of expertise. Clients have credible ways to determine lawyer expertise.

* Emarketplace

In Altman Weil's third scenario, markets have deregulated and jurisdictional dominance has evaporated. Lawyer credentials have disappeared as well, and many types of legal service providers compete with law firms. General counsel and content aggregators have been aided by process automation. Technology has allowed lawyers to easily work from home or any other location.

* Technolaw

Altman Weil has also envisioned a world of peace where conflicts and jurisdictional restrictions have disappeared. The billable hour has died while megafirms thrive. New pricing models have been adopted, while legal content can be easily reproduced. Law school enrollment has dropped.

The consultants at Altman Weil don't expect that any of these scenarios will emerge exactly as predicted. "The reality is that an understanding of all the likely scenarios and the questions that arise from them are necessary to assess how prepared or ill-prepared your firm or law department is for the future--whatever the future may hold," the organization writes in its July/August 2008 "Report to Legal Management."

"The Wall Street Journal" opinion piece forecasts the end of Big Law

In a July 30 opinion piece in "The Wall Street Journal," Douglas McCollam took the schadenfreude route, predicting "The End of Big Law. …