Georgetown Law is holding its annual conference on BigLaw and it sounds like things got exciting on opening night.
The ominous topic is, “Law Firm Evolution: Brave New World Or Business As Usual,” and the opening night speakers went after it.
Aric Press for The American Lawyer: [The conference opened] with the general counsel of Ernst & Young Global saying that the times — and the flow of international capital — demanded a new model for law firm-client relations, a prediction by the senior vice president of the Association of Corporate Counsel that clients would be patient for only another 18 months with their outside firms and a vigorous defence by the outgoing head of Kirkland & Ellis who said essentially that anyone who thought law firms didn’t understand that a new reality was upon them was not paying attention to the market.
So that’s exciting! Or depressing! Or scary! Go to AmLaw for the full play-by-play, but here are a few of the highlights:
- E&Y’s global general counsel, Trevor Faure talked about the “Darwinian path of international capital seeking maximum returns” that is undermining BigLaw’s client relationships. In addition to whatever that means, he seems to believe firms will have to recognise the likely change in who does the bottom work — data protection, standard contracts — while work at the “top” of the triangle (major litigation, complex compliance work) is likely to remain with those who have it now. Instead of the firm being the “winner” and client being the “loser,” or vice versa when it comes to fee agreements, clients and lawyers need to find a way to align their interests.
- The ACC’s Susan Hackett said firms have a year to 18-months to figure out how to provide quality — defined as “value” not hours — before clients start walking away.
- That left ex- Kirkland chairperson Thomas Yannucci to fight in the name of BigLaw, and he assured the crowd big firms get it, thank you very much. “…[T]he notion that we’re all sitting around in tweed jackets smoking pipes, driving bespoke cars, and ignoring the reality of the situation, that’s not accurate. It’s all changed.”
We kind of like Yannucci’s feisty response. BigLaw is not full of angels, but the downturn hit it in plenty of unfun ways: it laid off a whole lot of people last year, is more open than ever (even if by force) to discussing alternative fee arrangements, and dealt with all sorts of changes to its regular course of business. (Of course, many also managed to not lose a whole lot of money in ’09 when many of their clients’ businesses took huge hits. Maybe clients should be looking to firms for a little advice on how to run their businesses?)
No matter. If Hackett is to be believed,clients are surely enjoying their moment in the sun and looking to get fees as low as possible. How long until quality and low costs pass each other in a negative way? Who knows — let’s hope they meet in the middle. But maybe BigLaw is getting sick of getting beat up. Yannucci likely spoke for a whole lot of people with his, I swear, believe me, we get it! rhetoric.
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