By: Tom Everitt, Esq., Business Development Consultant
A career in the legal industry, marked more by its longevity than its recognitions, has presented the opportunity to observe the profession in all its business forms, i.e. small/medium firm and AmLaw 100. Not surprisingly, pronounced differences in the experience exist for both clients and attorneys depending upon the business size. Two of those differences are particularly informative.
First, it is certain that lawyers who have never practiced outside the Big Law environment have no clue of the challenges faced without a Help Desk. Technology adoption in the legal services industry has been quicker in Big Law land. Driven by the demands imposed by mass litigation on multinational companies with billion-dollar budgets, firms with those type clients (AmLaw 100 firms) were the first to adopt business models that brought technologists into the firms to help deliver more cost-efficient (and accurate) legal services.
Scalability contributed to technology adoption in large firms. The initial cost of technology could be spread across more attorneys and more clients. Technology licenses are less expensive per seat. Large firms are more likely to have full-time professional administrators who see technology as a competitive advantage.
As early adopters, big firms also became innovators, massaging platforms and testing new applications to meet clients’ steady drumbeat for more efficiencies, i.e. lower costs. Their professional administrators attended conferences and learned what other firms are accomplishing with technology. Big Law marketing personnel have seen the value of contact management and marketing technology and have internally promoted acquisition of applications to facilitate those functions.
However, factors are at work to level the technology playing field between big and small law firms. IT platforms and apps for the legal services industry are becoming easier to use and easier to deploy. Outside vendors are economically providing litigation support services on an ad hoc basis. More lawyers in practice today have grown up with technology (computers, email, the internet, smartphones, tablets, virtual assistants) in a way not experienced by prior generations. To them, finding ways to apply technology to day-to-day tasks is routine. They are more intuitive in IT matters and readier to work with technology service providers.
Second, there is tension between Big Law firms and clients. Legal services in the Big Law environment is an intensely competitive arena. Businesses that are big enough to be looking at AmLaw 100 firms for representation know there are many resources available to connect with law firms and know they will have no trouble finding alternatives. Firms’ relationship partners often have a less personal relationship with their client. As a result, the attorney/client relationship becomes more of a business relationship based on cost. This can be an issue for all firms but seems more of an issue in big firms.
Alternatively, clients of small/medium firms often become friends and friends often become clients. A deeper connection exists and there is a loyalty component to the relationship. This is the most important way small firms can stand out from the larger competition. Clients justifiably demand results, but they appreciate and pursue relationships and experiences as well.
Tom is a creative and seasoned legal veteran with more than 30 years of experience in legal, professional and nonprofit management. His rich and varied background includes managing and providing legal counsel to banks, businesses and nonprofit organizations alike. Most recently, Tom held roles in business development and practice support services inside two of the nation’s largest law firms.