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In theory, Session II of yesterday's New York City Bar Association's symposium addressed "The Rise of the Small Law Firm." What evolved, however, was not a PowerPoint-and-pie charts analysis of the legal industry's welterweights (i.e., who they are and, let's be honest, are they hiring). Rather, panelists aired their perspectives on an underlying question: With the BigLaw safety net so (rudely!) yanked away, what sorts of lawyers must we become?
Opening presenter Paul Lippe?Silicon Valley superstar, experienced tech company GC, founder of Legal On-Ramp, and thought leader on the overlap of technological innovation and legal practice?was blunt: "The financial services industry, on which BigLaw bet everything, is not coming back. If your strategy is to pray, good luck with that." For those eager to mop their tears and get on with it, Lippe made clear points: 1) anticipate and embrace technological advances, and 2) find and own your expertise.
As Lippe emphasizes, technology is but a tool. Changing circumstances demand new tools. As a tool that serves social constructs, web 2.0 brings great value to the practice of law ? law firms are inherently social, and their body of knowledge (like all large bodies of knowledge) is socially constructed. Maximizing personal networks via social media, for example, or harnessing expertise via wikis, is just progressive lawyering.
From a practical perspective, Lippe underscores, 2.0 rapidly changes the delivery model for legal services ? indeed, these technological advances are driven by client demand. The nimble benefit. Small firms or solo lawyers who "get it" will utilize fresh technology to best advantage, pricing down bigger players by handling matters more efficiently and conserving manpower ? hacking client costs. As 2.0 empowers little guys, the cachet and security of a BigLaw name will markedly decrease: "If it saves them money and the quality is good, clients will hire a small firm or a firm of one."
As for "be an expert": Within the field of law, Lippe argues, it is entirely possible to own a specific subject in a comparatively short amount of time, because law can be sliced down to micro-areas. Lippe's directive is simple: "Read. Keep interviewing others who know what they are talking about. Go on to demonstrate your burgeoning expertise in articles, journals, blogs. If you can define your expertise, you can be a firm of one, or safeguard your place in another firm, because you will be the holder of particular knowledge."
Final thought: "In future, do not assume that an institution can either brand or protect you. Build your own network, confidence, expertise and reputation." Regardless of who stamps your paycheck, start thinking of yourself as a firm of one.
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