George Beaton predicted the collapse of BigLaw and the rise and flourishment of NewLaw in his book, “NewLaw New Rules – A conversation about the future of the legal services industry” in which BigLaw, referencing the traditional partnership and billable hour model is compared to NewLaw, the emerging model of alternative legal service providers that do not fit the traditional law firm mold, providing legal advice and services in alternative models ,with different pricing options. (Chalmers, 2018) Now, 6 years down the line, it is clear that although BigLaw is nowhere near to collapsing in on itself into extinction, NewLaw is rising, evident from more clients seeking alternative legal services and pricing options and more legal professionals and legal graduates moving away from the traditional practice of law.
BigLaw is criticized for being too close minded, too traditional and money hungry, often portrayed as a machine with associates working long hours so more billable’s can be charged to ultimately increase the profits of the partners and directors. (Ryan, 2017) While, NewLaw is criticized for being too alternative, too hippy to provide real legal advice and services and for ultimately rendering legal services in such a way that in the end more litigation is created than resolved, requiring the BigLaw firms to clean up the mess.
Despite the apparent differences between BigLaw and NewLaw , they would be well served by learning from each other. BigLaw has the benefit of years of experience ,specialized departments and top legal talent, while NewLaw has the benefit of flexibility, agility and innovation. While it would be preferable for a partnership to be created between NewLaw and BigLaw structures, be well assured that NewLaw given their pioneering spirit, adaptability and open-mindedness to alternatives, will with time be able to surpass BigLaw in respect of experience, specialized departments and top legal talent, finding new and alternative ways of providing same to their clients at half the cost of the BigLaw Firms.
In the end, the reality is that the legal industry is itself trying to adapt and evolve with the thoughts and business models proposed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with the result that we are currently in a twilight zone in which NewLaw and BigLaw are competing against each other while simultaneously collaborating.
Whether you are in the corner of BigLaw or NewLaw, the reality is that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is requiring changes and innovation in the interpretation, application and practice of law. The BigLaw firms will most likely not become extinct given their experience, however will benefit from looking to NewLaw on ways legal advice and services can be provided other than through the traditional model of lengthy consults, drafting and billable’s.
Interested in hearing some personal stories from lawyers who made the leap? Join us at our upcoming Masterclass on BigLaw BreakUps on 15 August in Cape Town.
Written by Kristi Erasmus