Random Wisdom

After Heenan, Big Law is Not Dead

For those of you who may have missed it, the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business Magazine, last week featured an excellent article on the state of legal business today.  You can read it here:  After Heenan Blaikie Is It All Over For Big Law?

The article provides extensive coverage of some of the new, and also not-so-new, developments in legal business models, and examines the troubles of big firms today.

One challenge I see is the big disconnect between big law firm expectations for associates, and what associates actually want from their careers.  Many associates no longer want to be partners in a big law firm.  And “big” can mean a lot of things – from a 20 lawyer regional firm – to a 100 plus national.

The comment I keep hearing is “I look at the partners at this firm, and I see no examples of the kind of career I want or life I want to lead.”

The junior and mid-level associates in big firms are working hard, polishing their skills, and dreaming of a move out.

Partnership in the big firm  just doesn’t have the appeal it used to, and many associates are not planning on buying-in.

Are big firms going away?  I don’t think so.  There is a particular type of client that prefers working with the big firm, and there are particular types of work such as large-scale resource development projects, and complex multi-jurisdictional transactions, that big firms excel at.

There are also those associates who will stick it out and remain at the big firms.  But these are becoming the exception, not the rule.

Are big firms going to change?  Absolutely!  Not as fast as some would like, but change is certain.  The upcoming generation of lawyers now sitting in the income partner and young equity partner ranks will be the ones driving it.  I know theses lawyers.  They are highly active parents, many of them place a high value on dedicating time to community organizations.  Money is not what motivates them.  They like the security it provides, and what it brings to their families, but never got hooked on the high earnings that lawyers senior to them earned in those high-billing pre-2008 days.

Change is coming.



About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at allison@shiftworks.ca or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.