July 30, 2013

NOAM SCHEIBER: Yes, BigLaw Really Is Dying. “The point is not that, of the top 250 firms in the country, only 25 will survive the next decade, period. It’s that only 25 will be doing roughly what they do today—using the same business model, charging roughly the same hourly rates (or more), with roughly the same proportion of partners to associates to clients.”

I think that’s probably right. My colleague Ben Barton has just finished a book for Oxford University Press on what’s happening to the legal profession, and he makes a similar point quite persuasively with reams of data.

Plus, a more general warning: “One final point worth keeping in mind any time someone points to history and insists the future will look pretty similar: Historical arguments tend to be right up until the moment they’re not. To take one random example, consider the insistence by so many people in the mid-2000s (many of them tied to the real estate industry) that housing prices couldn’t fall across the country all at once, since it had never happened before. That didn’t work out so well then, and you’d think it would give Big Law defenders pause now. You can’t just look at historical patterns. You’ve got to look at the reasons why the patterns existed. And if those reasons no longer apply, you’re going to find yourself in real trouble. Just ask all the happy people who bought condos in Ft. Lauderdale back in 2006.”

Something that can’t go on forever, won’t. That’s the defining sentence for this decade, I believe.