Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Are We Seeing the Real Multidisciplinary Practices Emerge?

(thanks to nierodzim)

EY Law has hired partners from Baker & McKenzie and Weil Gotshal & Manges to join its financial services practice. They combine with lawyers from Freshfields, BLP and Addleshaw's.

It makes sense, and since the SRA is easing its rules on forming ABS and therefore becoming an MDP, that the big accounting firms are resurrecting earlier ideas about becoming multidisciplinary practices. Despite Enron and the debacle of Arthur Andersen's implosion in the early 2000s, the Big 4 accounting firms realise legal services are too important to be left to the lawyers alone.

EY Law's website shows their imperial ambitions with the sole exclusion of North America (but for how long?). They have a neat and colourful graphic (which needs recolouring drastically--awful) detailing how legal services form a core element in their work.


The other Big 4 are plucking lawyers from law firms to build capacity in their own legal services units. Deloitte Legal has over 1300 lawyers but is not becoming an ABS, which is odd. PwC Legal,  KPMG and EY Law have received ABS licences from the SRA. Even in Ireland KPMG has taken on six lawyers from the Dublin law firms.

I presume that gaining the ABS status is a precursor to moving out into the market as an independent entity in the way that BT has done with BT Law. And why not? One of the main complaints of clients of law firms is that their lawyers don't understand their business. One could argue that accountants ought to have great insight into the running of businesses and so offer significant value to legal clients. Despite noises from accounting firms that they don't intend to challenge law firms on their core services, which I don't believe, it's inevitable they will compete. One of their strengths is in their global networks which lawyers can only dream about.

Years ago when the senior partners of Clifford Turner and Coward Chance, two somewhat insignificant London banking law firms, held secret merger talks on park benches they imagined they could form a law firm so big that they could merge with an accounting firm. Of course they didn't but now that would be impossible. No law firm could merge; it could only be taken over.



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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Law Set Free...?



Liverpool Street Station Installation


Several years ago when I began tracking the changes in the legal services market, new types of law firm (or practice) were forming. Some were virtual, others were dispersed without formalised, central offices and some were not even law firms in the traditional sense but companies that offered legal services.

One of these I looked at was Keystone Law. It's idea was to get rid of expensive offices and use technology to coordinate its dispersed expertise. Lawyers would control their own workflow rather than being set targets, illusory or otherwise. The entity would deal with the administration and compliance.

To promote this way of working Keystone is running an installation in Liverpool Street Station called "Law Set Free". The central idea is that legal careers ought to be more responsive to personal needs than those of an organisation. It's a simple concept that speaks to enterprise and self-actualisation in these days of precarious careers.

Keystone foreground their move with a "Lifestyle Calculator", which asks you to input billable hours, salary, and more, then presents you with a pie chart of what your professional life looks like in order to compare it with their alternative. Apparently over 2000 lawyers have used it.

There is far more discussion and academic analysis now of the stresses of professional careers and especially lawyers. Depression isn't rare: what is difficult is how hard it is to talk about it without being seen as weak or inefficient. See, for example, Patrick Schiltz, "On Being a Happy, Healthy, and Ethical Member of an Unhappy, Unhealthy, and Unethical Profession" for a discussion of the importance of this topic. The legal profession is trying to face up to this but it's only made baby steps. Law schools have yet to tackle this. They tend to present legal careers in rosy terms as do most law firms. Just look at the publicity material they publish on how attractive legal careers are. For more on this see Richard Collier's fascinating work on well-being in law as well as this article on representations of trainees.

Traditional models of legal careers still hold sway and will continue to do so for some time. But during the Great Recession the legal profession ruined the trust it built with those who worked in law. Indiscriminate layoffs and increased financialization have have pushed the business philosophy way ahead of the professional ethos. They are not necessarily incompatible, but they do need to co-exist.



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Saturday, May 09, 2015

The New World Order for Lawyers and the Legal Profession(s)


(thanks to softpedia)

When you google "new world order" you find weird stuff. This was among the least weird and I do like the film, V for Vendetta.

I've written a piece for Jotwell on Ronit Dinovitzer & Bryant Garth, "Lawyers and the Legal Profession" (UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No 2015-19). It opens thus:

"One of the main concerns of the authors is the structure of the legal profession in which perpetual reproduction of hierarchies forms a contest among different elements of the profession. The configuration of the profession shapes its research which places corporate lawyers and firms at the top of the hierarchy. This seems to stem from the early Cravath idealisation of law firm development. Even though the Cravath model dates from the late 19th century, it reverberates still in the 21st century and has captured scholars’ thinking. It appears difficult to shake off these established idealisations and models when discussing the legal profession. Dinovitzer and Garth (D&G) endeavour to show how these cleavages rip through the study of legal professions.

“Lawyers and the Legal Profession” draws on the research done on the structure of the legal profession, its divisions, lawyers’ backgrounds (gender, ethnicity, class), law firms and globalisation. The range is broad but there is one caveat, which is most of the work referred to is based on research done within the US. It is legitimate to question this given the global differences between legal professions, regulatory systems and the like. Although the Cravath model might have been the blueprint for law firm organisation that was exported by American lawyers—and its residues are apparent—whether it remains the dominant model is open and contested, even, perhaps, within the US. See, for example, the rise of the “smart” law firm. "

Continue reading here.






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