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Why the BigLaw Business Model Should Be Put to Sleep

By Edward Tan, JD | Last updated on

Following legal industry juggernaut Dewey & LeBoeuf's fall from grace, BigLaw's future has never looked more grim.

After all, if one of the largest law firms in the world could go belly up, what does that mean for every other BigLaw office? Just last December, Dewey employed over a thousand lawyers and had 26 locations around the world. Its annual revenue was close to $800 million. Now, a little over six months later, it's bankrupt.

It's hard to think that Dewey is a one-time hiccup in the otherwise impervious BigLaw model. It's time 

Unfortunately for corporate law, it could be the latter.

Dewey isn't the first legal giant to be facing its end. Other previous "invincible" firms have also folded. Howrey LLP is a recent example. It's partners voted for dissolution last year and the firm was forced into an involuntary bankruptcy by creditors.

Other notable fallen BigLaw titans include Thelen LLP and Heller Ehrman. The list goes on, but there's no need to further depress all you anxious associates.

Rather, time would be much better spent figuring out why they collapsed.

It might seem hard to pinpoint one particular reason. Like with any failed venture, there's always more than one factor that can cause a company's demise. But in the case of BigLaw closures, there's one commonality among each of the shuttered firms: expansion.

Or rather, overexpansion. Howrey did a lot of this in the years preceding its end. The firm absorbed many competitors and smaller firms. They also wooed star attorneys with promises of huge paydays. Dewey took similar actions.

It seems that BigLaw loves to expand when things are going well. This works fine, until things aren't going so good.

Once the economy began to sputter, these firms became victims of their own enormous overhead.

So is the BigLaw model still the future of the legal industry? It might be, as long as the focus remains on sustainability instead of constant growth.

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