Thursday, May 1, 2014
Five years ago this April, I helped organize a novel experiment on how to reengineer the modern law firm. The occasion was FutureFirm 1.0, a collaborative competition in which teams of law firm partners, associates, and in-house lawyers to create a strategic plan for the fictional firm of Marbury & Madison (M&M). The goal was a new business model that would enable the firm "to survive and thrive over the next 20 years." See M&M Fact Pattern.
We planned FutureFirm 1.0 in the fall of 2008, but by April 2009, things looked pretty unstable. Deal flow had ground to a halt, and corporations were reluctant to fund noncrucial litigation. Law firms in turn were rescinding offers to thousands of law students. Further, the specter of law firm failure hung in the air. Suffice it to say, the timing was not right for sharing the results of FutureFirm. As a result, my analysis of the event, "What Ails the Large Law Firm? Will the Real FutureFirm Please Stand Up," was never published or circulated.
Having not read this essay for five years, I am surprised at how well the FutureFirm analysis holds up. Yet, the biggest takeaway from my FutureFirm experience is not the specifics of the analysis, but acclimating myself to the permanence of new change dynamic, much of which I can see through the participants of FurtureFirm 1.0.
- Two law firm partners subsequently left to start their own boutiques, one of which is aggressively moving into managed services in South Africa.
- Another law firm partner became a judge in King County, Washington (Seattle).
- Several summer associates joined BigLaw only to leave within three or four years to become sophisticated in-house lawyers who are themselves driving change.
- Several people in all roles have switched over to the business side. Indeed, new legal businesses are actively being planned.
In the spring of 2014, the new normal is here to stay, and it has no froth. FutureFirm was probably a fringe activity back in 2009. Now, an event like FutureFirm would be one of the key places to go for answers. Indeed, I have very serious senior in-house lawyers at Fortune 100 companies who want to run this type of colloborative competition to help better design tomorrow's legal departments. So stay tuned for that.
I hope you are sufficiently curious to do a bit of time travel and give "What Ails the Large Law Firm?" a read. I would welcome your thoughts and feedback.