When it comes to commerce and the natural course of events in the business world, great demand for legal services persist in good economic times as well as bad. These seemingly ever-present and unpredictably long poor economic times opened up a market for more affordable legal services, especially for business clients. In light of making a profit and maintaining growth - otherwise the survival for many fighting to keep operations going – companies that are costing in legal services to stay within leaner budgets means that the premium placed on such services naturally will adjust according to the demands of the market. The fact of the matter is that the “specter” of the Ivory Tower firm with their luxurious office spaces, elite attorneys, and diverse staff of support people equates to a high priced, although admittedly an often high quality, service. However, the cost-benefit is not always up to snuff considering that the biggest complaints about the higher-end law firm services appears consistently to be the client having little to no access to the attorney along with an astronomical bill for what could otherwise have been half the cost with the small law office in the same neighborhood. So, the “specter” of the Ivory Tower may be one that is more or less the looming legal bill as opposed to anything material.
The same complaints may be said of just about any size law office, but those who have tapped into the trending market by offering better priced, ultimately lower cost, legal services have demonstrated that even the solo attorney can indeed compete. Some of the same points are echoed by others on the subject. I recommend also reading Virtual Law Firms Stay Afloat in Tough Times: Solo practitioners, virtual law firms and contract attorneys are seeing a rise in business from corporations by Katheryn Hayes Tucker. Outside of the more obvious economic related topics there is, of course, the bigger picture one that this author feels compelled to submit his appraisal of, whether it be for either those who agree or disagree. While I do not advocate or have much of a desire for what I call a “Wal-martization” of any important service, medical for instance which I would argue has undergone this through the HMO and other similar business schemes, I can see in contrast a different dimension as to how the small law office and solo attorney can emerge in greater numbers through “creative competition” and through inventive strategies to acquire the one-time clients of the big, ivory-tower-style, law firms. Pricing services to the appeal of the corporate bottom-line is an important part of it all; yet, in providing the quality of services that a multi-million dollar outfit can offer simply because of its size and comparative resources definitely poses a rather difficult task for the diminutive office.
An attorney who is lackluster in his or her office is a far cry from the one who is the opposite in his or her performance. Okay, having no mahogany desk and opulent artwork sitting around the office reflecting prestige will almost always matter to some. But, when the bill arrives and profits are languishing how well can this bode for the execs and shareholders despite said impressive ornamentations? Sometimes the best interests of the client are equally the economic ones balanced with the others, hence why many firms have resorted to outsourcing a variety of services to keep costs down and in turn keep their clients happy, and as a result do for them what is right.
As a client, on the other hand, “why not drink directly from the spring instead of paying someone else to fetch the same water?” In other words, why not hire the outsourced attorney directly and pay less? Now, some small law offices and solo practitioners benefit greatly in being contractors for the large firms who not only have the clientele but also the marketing budget that would dwarf what some of the competition make in a year. What then about the many solo offices who are not the beneficial recipients of these lucrative contracts? And, what is the big law firm’s take via the outsourcing fees as they are unlikely to be simply helping the client save some money without some cost attached?
This is where the “small guys and gals” in the legal industry have an opportunity to stand out and compete! Prospecting clients who do not want to deal with the “middleman” is where some of the action, and perhaps much of the action, is waiting to be found. It is not just waiting, it is being found by attorneys who are balancing their practices by spending some time in marketing and prospecting, going back to the old 80/20 rule: initially you spend 80 percent of your time in finding clients while the remainder is spent doing actual practice work, whereas the goal eventually is to reverse this ratio.
Realistically, the Ivory Tower Firms are going to have a competitive edge and they will gobble-up a majority of the market share - though oftentimes in business timing is everything. During tough times like these is when a small competitor can gain some ground in the local market. Evidently, it is happening for those who are keen to the business aspect of the law practice. Given a Darwinian take on business, it may not be that the “biggest” will ultimately survive, rather, it is those who adapt the best who will do so in the end.