Yesterday I read an ABA post: Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, law firms are starting to embrace virtual offices—but will it last?
I found this interesting quote:
Some have even ditched physical offices altogether and don’t plan on returning to the traditional setting again. But before contacting your landlord, you need to consider how this will affect clients—and whether there really is a need for your law firm to have a physical office.
I wrote this post in 2009. I believe it may be even more relevant as your firm prepares for 2021 while COVID cases are rising and the vaccine has started.
I have a feeling that many lawyers will continue to work from home in 2021 and meetings will be virtual rather than in person.
We live in a rapidly changing world and businesses, including law firms, must regularly scan the environment to determine how we remain effective in meeting our client’s needs. Those that don’t effectively respond to the changing environment find themselves weakened or out of business.
I was thinking about this a while back. My thinking on the subject started when I was reading The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, an article and later a book by Chris Anderson.
The “Long Tail” is about the shift from hits to niches. In the book, Anderson discusses an entirely new economic model for media and entertainment industries, and its application to other businesses. Anderson points out that online retailing done by Amazon, iTunes and Netflix have changed forever the economics of selling books, music and rental movies because of the wider selection they can offer and the lower cost structure.
While I was reading the book, I thought about my old law firm. We had around 15,000 clients, which for a firm our size was a long tail. Consultants told us we needed to get rid of many of the less profitable clients and focus our attention on the top 1000 clients that were very profitable.
That was before Amazon, iTunes and Netflix became successful. That was also before many of the largest potential clients in the United States failed, were bailed out or went out of business.
So, my thoughts centered on whether the Amazon, iTunes and Netflix model applies to law firms in 2009, and if so, how does it apply?
There are still blue chip clients, but I believe the new economic model is already changing how law will be practiced in the future. In the last couple of years, there have been two emerging trends.
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports that outsourcing legal work to India is a booming business because experienced Indian lawyers bill between $75 and $100 an hour.
The Washington Post reports that the boom in outsourcing legal work to India started because of the “E” discovery rules. Neither article mentions that another economic advantage is no office space is necessary for those lawyers.
The second trend, which also seems based on the Amazon, ITunes and Netflix economic model, is the virtual law firm. Law.com reported that last year 15 lawyers started a virtual law firm called Virtual Law Partners. In May of this year, Law.com reported that virtual law firms are benefiting from the current economy.
Do you see a trend developing for our profession?
In the future, relatively large law firms might have offices in major cities with only a receptionist and conference rooms. The vast majority of its lawyers may either work from their homes or in very inexpensive space elsewhere.
The firm will outsource commodity work to India. This economic approach will enable the firm to be competitive and profitable doing more work for smaller clients. Is your firm ready for this change?