Networking Technology Nibbles and Gnaws at the Bindings of Law Firms

The infant technology of social networking (trust me, it is still only an infant) is starting to nibble at the entrails of the law firm. There’s more to come. Ultimately, it is going to gnaw off entire limbs and organs.  (Cf.Collective Project.”)

If law firms – especially the big, multi-city ones — aren’t something more than networks of cross-referring practitioners, then they’re going to get gobbled up altogether. We won’t need them.

Networks make better networks than law firms do and they are a lot cheaper.

Lawyers must in all events deliver quality, effectiveness, commitment and value. But even those qualities can be networked with the right tools and methods. In time, there will be multiple ways to deliver those things, even across great distances. Already, savvy law department leaders are hubs of client-centered networks of law firms. Look at 4 Tips for Working with Regional Law Firms, Experts Discuss How To Form and Maintain Strong Relationships.

Law firms must bring more. They must be more than the sum of their parts. Very soon, clients or agents (say, publicly owned corporations who “guarantee” meeting certain standards at agreed prices) will be able to assemble the parts, project-by-project, without any need for law firms.

So, remind me again, what do we need firms for? And what will hold them together? And how will they be more efficient providers?

Maybe, what law firms can deliver that networks cannot is: a stimulating professional community, a rewarding work environment, meaningful training and mentoring, and conjoint client development programs that go beyond cross referrals. It comes down to “a stimulating professional community” in which there is a high level of trust and loyalty among members.   Look at The Competitive Analysis Underlying Bartlit Beck and at Are you a Hamiltonian or a Jeffersonian?  I said this once before.

I start with the proposition that this is more easily achieved in smaller firms than in large ones; that it happens more readily in firms where professionals are closer to each other than where they are at a distance and in multiple locations; and that it’s not achieved all that much these days.

And so, especially as the technology evolves and a new generation takes seats in the profession, the model of networks of smaller firms may be most efficient, and also the one that best promotes professionalism, for the broadest swath of sophisticated legal work.

Oh, there will be some large, some global, firms that are needed to deliver certain bands of specialized or unusual work. They are not models for the profession though, in the long run.

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