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Big Ideas Can Come in Small Packages

By Jim Calloway

This month I’m going to claim a point of personal privilege to tell you about something big that I have worked on. There is a valuable payoff included for each of you. You’ll get a free gift. After you have taken advantage of your free gift, you may not feel like it was entertaining or amusing. But hopefully you will feel that it was of value.

As a part of my work, I have been an active member of the American Bar Association Law Practice Management Section. Over the years, I have served in various roles in the LPM section, including serving on its council and chairing the ABA TECHSHOW. Chairing ABA TECHSHOW was certainly a huge amount of work and an honor. But my latest “big” project with the ABA LPM was, again, a huge amount of work, but is also a different type of honor because I able to be a part of a team who delivered a very interesting result to the Oklahoma Bar Association members as well as lawyers across the country.
 
Many months ago I was selected to be the guest co-editor of the inaugural July/August 2013 Big Ideas issue of Law Practice magazine, along with my friend and colleague John Simek, vice-president of Sensei Enterprises Inc. I had done the magazine guest editor duty before, but this time I had no idea how this project would grow in scope.
 
We asked many of the leading thought leaders in law practice from the U.S. and Canada to participate in the Big Ideas issue, and we got great responses. They wrote articles. They granted interviews. They shared their wisdom. Collectively they gave us many thought-provoking and provocative ideas about the future of our profession. You will not agree with everything you read. These experts do not all agree with each other in every way.

Famed legal futurist Richard Susskind, who wrote The End of Lawyers?: Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services wrote our cover story, with the same title as his new book Tomorrow’s Lawyers.

Other features include:

    • “The Innovation Imperative: Adapt or Die?” by Erik Mazzone, featuring Jordan Furlong and Bruce MacEwen

    • “Brainstorming Your Future: A Forward-Thinking Lawyers’ Roundtable” by Jim Calloway and John Simek

    • “A Big Idea for BigLaw? Just One Word: Strategy” by Michael J. Ostermeyer

    • “Venture Capital Investments in Legal Services” by Mary E. Vandenack

    • “Big Data: Big Pain or Big Gain for Lawyers?” by Sharon D. Nelson and John W. Simek

    • “As the World Goes Mobile, Is Your Marketing Up to Speed?” by Robert J. Ambrogi

    • “Cybersecurity & Law Firms: A Business Risk” by Jody R. Westby

    • My column, “Practice Management Advice: The Small-Firm Lawyer Considers Big Ideas” by Jim Calloway

    • “Virtual Law Firms: The Next Iteration” by Chad E. Burton
 
    • “Taking the Lead: Carrots & Sticks” by Linda Klein

So here’s the free part. After the magazine was finished, some of the LPM section officials decided this issue should be widely distributed and so they decided to make the mobile edition of this magazine free via mobile publishing on the Law Practice magazine app.  (Normally issues via the app are only free to Law Practice magazine subscribers and the cost for others is $19.99 for the annual subscription to the magazine or $4.99 for a single issue.) This issue only is a free download for anyone who has an Apple or Android device with the free Law Practice magazine app. There is a lot to read so getting the free issue via app at your app store makes it really convenient to read on your mobile device. I’m sure LPM hopes this encourages you to subscribe for a year. They also decided to give out free physical copies of this magazine to all of the attendees at this month’s ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.
 
If you don’t want to bother with the app, you can read the articles online at http://tinyurl.com/p7mwqkc.

You may have already seen a notice about this in the OBA E-news, my Law Practice Tip blog or an OBA section electronic mailing list. I’m trying hard to get the word out to our members because this is not just doom and gloom (although there is some of that), but includes a lot of ideas and suggestions. My best law practice tip this month really is to read this magazine “cover to cover” in whatever format you prefer.

So enjoy your freebie and feel free to let me know what you think.

Sidebar:  New Republic Article Focuses on “Big Law” Troubles

The New Republic’s controversial cover story, “The Last Days of Big Law — You Can’t Imagine the Terror When the Money Dries Up,” certainly created a lot of buzz when it was published on July 21. The story focuses on recent troubles at very large law firms. The author, Noam Scheiber, is not a lawyer (although he was named a Rhodes Scholar.) He writes from the perspective of an economist and outlines the business model of the very largest firms:

“There are currently between 150 and 250 firms in the United States that can claim membership in the club known as Big Law, the group of historically profitable firms that cater to the country’s largest corporations. The overwhelming majority of these still operate according to a business model that assumes, at least implicitly, that clients will insist upon the best legal talent instead of the best bargain for legal talent.”

It is likely that those who champion those firms would not have reacted so strongly had he left it at that. But he continued:

“That assumption has become rickety. Within the next decade or so, according to one common hypothesis, there will be at most 20 to 25 firms that can operate this way — the firms whose clients have so many billions of dollars riding on their legal work that they can truly spend without limit. The other 200 firms will have to reinvent themselves or disappear.”

Whether that prediction becomes true is obviously left for the future.
 
But reading Mr. Scheiber’s long, detailed and well-researched story will be of interest to many lawyers at law firms of all sizes as a historical record if nothing else.
 
The article is freely available online at http://tinyurl.com/m9vm7j2 He also wrote a follow-up piece in response to the negative feedback. “Yes, Big Law Really is Dying — Dear Lawyer: It’s Not You, It’s Your Profession,” online at or http://tinyurl.com/kou8kcm.

One thing that is for certain is that The New Republic had a lot more readers from the legal profession that week than usual.

Mr. Calloway is director of the OBA Management Assistance Program. Need a quick answer to a tech problem or help resolving a management dilemma? Contact him at 405-416-7008, 800-522-8065 or jimc@okbar.org. It’s a free member benefit!

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- Aug. 17, 2013 -- Vol. 84, No. 21