There are some predictions that the global legal profession in the future will be dominated by around 20 mega-firms, with other law firms being relegated to regional or specialization roles.
My answer is unequivocal: No, it will not.
Until recently, a rule of thumb for big law firms was ‘grow or die’ or, more accurately, ‘grow or risk losing prestige and market share’. To serve their clients effectively, big law firms needed to grow so they could address the increased demand for legal services, add specializations and serve their clients around the clock. This process will probably continue because there are many clients who are in need of that type of capability, resource and in-depth expertise to handle the very largest cross-border transactions.
But the legal market globally is a huge market. It is hundreds of billions of dollars every year in fees and I am sure there is a room for lots of different models.
Whether there will be 20 or 25 mega-firms it is hard to say. Definitely it won’t be a very large group but I think it would be a big mistake to say that everybody else is somehow second rate or second class.
Some first-rate firms decided to remain at home—for instanceCravath, Swaine & Moore in New York (despite their London office) and Slaughter and May in London (despite their Bruxelles and Beijing offices). They operate globally through the network of law firms. Both Cravath, Swaine, and Slaughterand May will probably continue to thrive as long as they can remain pre-eminent in their jurisdictions.
What we see on the market right now is that the legal industry is going through a period of quite profound change due to the use of technology and globalisation (until recently the legal industry has been relatively insulated from these forces). This means that more models of delivering legal services are available to clients which is good both for clients and for lawyers.
At the same time, due to the growing competition on the market, clients are insisting on having different ways of receiving legal services. They want more choices. They want more options.
Now, thanks to these changes andgreater competition, clients can choose whether they want to go to a big law firm or use the network of law firms. Networks comprising the best law firms in their jurisdictions can provide clients with the same quality of advice as big law firms. There is no reason why clients would want to use only big law firms in the situation where legal profession is still relatively parochial.
When I look into the future, I see a world where the best law firms will be delivering legal advice much more effectively than today and using the latest technology to a larger extend than they use it today. A small number of big law firms is unlikely to dominate the industry in the nearby future.
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