“Classical” lawyering has not gone away

Peter Kalis, K&L Gates’ managing partner, published a crackerjack piece at The Lawyer.com in which he asserts that “classical” or “traditional” lawyering is no way threatened by new, alternative providers of legal services.Greg

“Highly personal lawyer-client relationships” will not be displaced by technologies, he says.

The alternative providers of legal services –  “LPOs, consultants, accountancy firms, in-house law departments” and limited-service law firms – cannot displace lawyers and firms who advise and represent clients facing “vexing new legal challenges.”

Kalis did not say it this way, but the “vexing new legal challenges” that will always require traditional lawyering must surely be those (identified at this station before now) fraught with complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity. That work cannot be done by those whose competence is to meet and manage challenges that have been overcome oftentimes before.

Kalis says that just now there’s plenty of work to be done that’s new and vexing. He says it’s flowing largely from globalization, regulation and innovation (intellectual property).

So, law firms might ask:

What should the firms that practice “classical law” look like? There is surely demand for Big Law firms to do some of this work, although perhaps not demand for quite as many large firms as were crowding the market some years back. And, keeping those big firms humming will be a bit of a trick in times to come.

More than size though, there is culture. My bias is that the right culture for handling what’s new and vexing is achieved more easily  in smaller organizations.  Hierarchies, specialties and internal process (rules) seem not the ticket, although they are almost unavoidable in large organizations.

Broad experience, trial-and-error, independence, self-reliance, flexibility and creativity sound like attributes needed to navigate uncertain waters. Where is that best developed?  Large places or small?

What resources are called for? More agility, networking, collaborating and practical skills, than static boxes of knowledge, I’d say. What kind of firm develops those?

How do new problems find the right lawyers? Big firms may have some advantages over smaller ones in this. How do smaller firms market their capabilities for “classical lawyering?”

Come to think of it, I’m not so sure that big firms have a great advantage. Marketing is a “classical” challenge for large firms and small.

So, maybe it comes to this: new means of delivering legal services are sprouting. This does not mean that the classical model is no longer there. It is.

What is the best sort of organization for new, challenging work? What kind of firm is the most fun to be part of? How does work find the right firm? I’m pretty clear that one size does not fit all. I’m also pretty clear about what suits me.

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