The Legal Times tells us that Clearspire started with much promise, but a few weeks ago the “virtual” law firm closed with 25 lawyers on staff. The idea was to have a firm with no office staffed by former big firm attorneys that keep fees low by minimizing overhead and doing a lot by videoconference. The firm will continue selling document management technology it developed through a separate company. There are other firms that have tried the virtual model, and some firms that have physical space but some virtual relationships with off-site lawyers who have unique specialties or have moved to other cities.
There has been much commentary in the last few years about the future of the law firm business. The big firms are consolidating and going international, with some facing layoffs. Medium size firms seem to be really struggling. Boutiques with low overhead and unique niches seem to be thriving. Some say the current 250 or so “BigLaw” firms will be as few as 25 or 50 ten years from now. There will always be a need for international firms to represent the largest multinational companies with far flung operations and super complex needs. But for everyone else? A US based billion dollar company? An emerging growth company worth $100 million?
Some company insiders selecting counsel choose the “CYA” approach to law firm selection, going with larger, more expensive firms so no one can blame them for the choice if something goes wrong. But only the largest clients in BigLaw get real attention from the experienced partners. A $200 million deal? Too small, let the fourth year lawyer handle it. The key is the right fit for the right company with the right law firm. And yes, a “real” firm with some virtual relationships seems to be the right direction. Folks working physically together still matters and has important benefits, but utilizing virtual attorneys with special skills complements this model well.
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