The Musings of Gary M. Zeiss

Law, Economy and Entrepreneurship

Posted on: March 9, 2009

As I watched the law firm layoff numbers balloon throughout the quarter, I couldn’t help but wonder how many law students would become entrepreneurs after law school.  Given the market, I’d expect that a few would find themselves in that place.

That got me thinking about this time.  Big Law is collapsing, eliminating the bottom and middle of their pyramid schemes.  With the foundation eliminated, it isn’t clear that the top will be able to survive.  Partners who have commanded legions of associates are now going to have to get their own hands dirty, and it isn’t clear how many clients will have the stomach, or the bank balance, to tolerate $700/hour fees – even if they’re discounted by 10%.

The associates that are being jettisoned from law firms now could be the most talented, most independent and most technically savvy group of attorneys the world has seen.  These are people unafraid of work, comfortable with the 24×7 nature of the practice, and fluent in the latest technologies.  Properly organized, these attorneys can, once and for all, put the stake through the heart of big law.

Furthermore, the way that they work – low overhead, high tech – will allow them to charge less – far less – than their white shoe competition.  And they’re hitting the market at a time when clients are getting ridiculously cost conscious.

So, laid off mid-levels… its time to network, time to get ideas, time to figure out how to do what your former employers did – but do it cheaper, better and faster – while still preserving a decent lifestyle (think 1,500 hours per year, not 2,500).  That may mean employing offshore resources for low-end tasks.  It may mean having a virtual office.  It may mean bleachers rather than the luxury boxes.  But it will mean a good living, one where your entire worth isn’t measured by working 2,300 hours a year.

Right now, the Kirklands, Lathams, Gibsons and Skaddens of the world are at their weakest.  They have lost their heart and soul – the people who actually do the work.  Now, maybe, we can put them out of their misery once and for all.  We can bring law back to what it should be – client focused and professional, not garish and gluttonous.  It’s a new world out here.

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  • Mike: I was just speaking to a friend in DC that was explaining the same thing to me. The firm he's been clawing his way to the middle of for the last 7 ye

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