In this together

By James Dimos

As you may know, I practice at Frost Brown Todd. My firm has approximately 475 lawyers practicing in nine offices located in five different states. We have more than 56 different practice and service groups, which range from administrative law to zoning along with 10 industry-specific teams and four ancillary businesses. The firm is ensconced in The American Lawyer 200 and National Law Journal 250. In other words, we are a “Big Law” law firm.

If you follow any of the legal publications, you will see plenty of articles about the challenges facing “Big Law.” These include the increasing commoditization of many legal services, the disruptive impact of technology, the pressures to adopt alternative billing arrangements, the emphasis on project management, and the competition from nonlawyers performing services that at one time were in the purview of the bar. Our firm is not immune to these pressures; in fact, we had a members’ meeting right after Memorial Day where many of those topics were discussed.

The following week, I attended the recent Solo & Small Firm Conference hosted by the General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Section of the ISBA. It was a fantastic conference, and its chair, Marc Matheny, and the conference committee did a great job putting it together. As a “Big Law” lawyer, I thought I would be a bit out of place. Surprisingly, though, I actually felt a sense of déjà vu as many of the speakers talked about the need for lawyers to consider and address the opportunities and challenges presented by commoditization, technology, alternative billing arrangements, project management, and the competition from nonlawyers. In other words, the topics discussed in my firm’s meeting the previous week were front and center at the Solo & Small Firm Conference. These speakers didn’t talk in hypotheticals but rather provided concrete examples on how solo & small firm practitioners could improve their practices by tackling these issues head on.

Of course, there are many differences between “Big Law” law firms and solo & small firm practitioners, starting with the effort needed to develop consensus and the resources needed to develop scalability of any potential program to address those challenges. To translate the consultant speak, it is different getting 175 partners to agree on what to do versus a solo practitioner just deciding to do it or purchasing 475 seats for a software license instead of one or two. However, it was striking to me that at the core, lawyers in private practice are facing the same issues no matter what their practice setting.

This does beg the question of whether we, as lawyers, should be happy about dealing with commoditization, technology, alternative billing arrangements, project management, and the competition from nonlawyers. Unfortunately, Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” may have snatched the choice of dealing with these issues away from us. Instead, the question may be: How can you gain the skills to deal with these challenges? The answer is the ISBA.

Our Association has a wealth of programming available to allow you to learn about these issues and develop the skills to address them. Check out our CLE offerings as well as the programming at our conferences to see the available resources. Join our Law Practice Management Committee or our Technology Committee and interact with other lawyers who are interested in these concerns. And, of course, many of our sections address these issues as well. We can help you weather the changes in our profession,  whether you are practicing alone or with 1,000 of your closest friends.

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