The Nature of the (Law) Firm
| Peter Klein |
Gordon Smith shared an interesting report on a recent Georgetown conference, “The Future of the Global Law Firm.” Apparently there is a healthy literature in legal scholarship examining the boundaries and internal organization of law firms. Writes Gordon:
The participants seem to have reached a few points of consensus. First, the legal profession has changed dramatically in the past two decades and it remains under significant stress, meaning that more change is on the way. Second, the rules that constrain change (e.g., prohibition of non-lawyer ownership, rules relating to conflicts, non-competition rules) should be changed sooner rather than later. Third, the traditional legal form (partnership) is largely irrelevant to the current practice of law, even if law firms want to create an organizational structure that encourages the collegiality of a traditional partnership. Fourth, the law firms that will succeed in the future are those that get the organizational structure right.
In a follow-up email, Gordon explains that the organizational features being challenged include the partnership model, the up-or-out “Cravath system,” and the outsourcing of routine services (e.g., electronic discovery) to places like India. Gordon recommends Laura Empson’s Managing the Modern Law Firm for an overview of the issues. I said I thought there was some work by economists and management scholars on the economic organization of the law firm (and professional services firms more generally), but couldn’t come up with much, aside from a series of interesting papers by Luis Garicano and Thomas Hubbard (here, here, and here). Any suggestions from our readers? Is the persistence of the partnership form, for example, mainly the result of arcane professional-ethics rules or is there an underlying efficiency rationale? If consulting firms can have IPOs, why not law firms?