For those of us who stopped drinking the mega-firm cool-aid, it’s sometime difficult to articulate why we believe that the mega-firm model just doesn’t work well.
I will concede to my esteemed colleagues that there are some mega-firms that are effective and operate well, but those firms hold few of the AmLaw 100 spots.
Rees W. Morrison in his article “Big and Bad? Making the case for steering clear of mega-sized law firms” (law.com registration required) sums up my sentiments. He argues that the strengths of the mega-firms are mitigated by their drawbacks.
- Quality controls, training and systems, but higher effective billing rates.
Large law firms are in a position to review the work product of their lawyers several times. Heft allows law firms to invest in more sophisticated software and technology, such as document assembly, knowledge banks and guidelines. But all that fancy software can also distract from sound thinking, analysis and judgment.
- Huge amounts of experience, but conflicts of interest.
- Global coverage, but inconsistent quality and coordination.
- Deep specialization, but narrower perspective.
- An impressive head-count of legal professionals, but dissipation of a shared culture.
Spread out, with very different backgrounds and without many opportunities to work together, partners are often strangers to each other, foot soldiers in a corporate-style conglomerate. Within that environment, trust and connectedness can easily decline, and internal politics can begin consuming lots of energy among lawyers whom GCs would much rather have focused on their own matters.
- Resources galore, but the leverage of law departments declines.
- The best and the brightest might be hired, but high turnover rates persist.
Mr. Morrison rightly identifies many of the issues that my colleagues and I have personally experienced. One thing he did not mention is that the larger the firm, the larger the bureaucracy. Simple tasks, such as getting a check request approved, can take more hours in my time and partner time, than they are worth (not that I have EVER personally experienced that).