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Are Traditional Law Firms Going Extinct?

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

After seven years at one firm, an attorney realized it was time to move on.

The reason: the firm's chief rainmaker was no longer bringing in business -- because he died. Soon after, the law firm expired as well.

It's a snapshot of the law business that every lawyer has seen one way or another. It also illustrates how the traditional law firm may be going the way of the dinosaur.

The Partnership Problem

Mark Cohen, a contributing writer for Forbes, says law firms are becoming obsolete for several reasons. He cites the "profit-per-partner" problem, and says it's not hard to predict the end.

"That does not require a crystal ball or a Ouija board; a growing body of evidence points to advancing obsolescence of the incumbent partnership model," he writes.

Top heavy firms, where equity partners eat what their lawyers kill, will not survive in a climate where clients are demanding new pricing models. Fixed fees, flat fees and similar fee structures are changing the rules.

When attorneys with high client-value leave for greener pastures, the remaining business may not stay green for long. The real killer, Cohen says, is client dissatisfaction.

Death of the Billable Hour

With market downturns and evolving technologies taking legal work, experts say law firms have to adapt. One key to survival is to provide new ways to deliver legal services.

"Law firms must find ways to effectively adapt to evolving competitive conditions -- including the effective demise of the billable hour -- or risk further erosion of their market positions," according to a report from Thomson Reuters and the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center.

"At the same time, the changing market dynamics present opportunities for firms that are willing to challenge conventional thinking, take risks and innovate new approaches to the delivery of legal services," the report says.

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