John G. Kelly

 Tags: UK Law Schools

Adapt and Evolve
Bring LLM  Multi –Disciplinary professionals into the Service Mix
A Future Law Perspective

“In fact, Darwin observed it was not necessarily the strongest of a species that emerged in the process of natural selection – nor for that matter the largest nor the smartest. Rather, the species with best chances of survival were those that were most adaptable to changes in their environment.[1]

This is the analogy that Georgetown Law Center for the Study of the Legal Profession/Thomson Reuters “2017 State of the Legal Market Report” has used to prod the legal profession to come to terms with the reality of the “21st Century Legal Services Market”. The legal market has remained flat for a decade. The extent to which firms are once again showing growth in profits is attributable to routine marginal increases in billing rates.

The conventional practice of law is waning. The study documents the extent to which U.S. law firms are adopting short term solutions to cope. There’s the pushback on hiring newly minted law graduates whose services clients are refusing to pay for. Non -producing partners are being called on the carpet. In an adaptation of what Thomson Reuters did by setting up a low cost off shore routine legal services operation in India with Pangea 3[2] , law firms are setting up branch operations in low cost centers. And so on. However, the study points out that these cost efficiencies are short term containment measures. They fall far short of the level of “Darwinian” adaptation required to thrive in the “21st Century Professional Services Market

And it is a “professional services” market, not just a legal services market.

The Georgetown study reiterates what related studies document. Clients confronting law related issues are now inclined to look for innovative professional service providers outside the confines of the practice of law.  

If one considers that the core services provided only by law firms are narrow and the range of potential competitors is broad, it seems quite likely that this trend will continue. If so, law firms (at least in the U.S.) could ultimately face the choice of pulling back their offerings to a set of core services, or in the alternative, finding new ways to compete effectively with non-law firm competitors for a broader range of services.[3]

Prominent among these new ways to compete is for law firms to recognize that the legal services client base and the public in general see law firms as sources of ethical leadership and ethical conduct. Law firms have an opportunity to evolve (Darwinian jargon) from positioning themselves as “practice of law only providers”, a platform in which they are either just one among competitors or even uncompetitive, to overseers and conduct coordinators of a broad range of professional services

The report refers to Eversheds, one of the elite London “Magic Circle” law firms as an example of a new era law firm that’s capitalized on its professional reputation to set up a subsidiary, Eversheds Consulting.[4]

Eversheds consulting operates as a distinct entity providing professional services that are law related but not necessarily practice of law driven. Eversheds consulting operates as a direct competitor to the “Big 4” consultancies.

How do they do this? They adhere to the “Smart Collaboration[5]model articulated by Heidi K. Gardner, Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession. Eversheds consulting has recruited a team of specialists that have professional qualifications that extent beyond the confines of LLB/JD. Think LLM/M.S.Law and “Combined LLM” designations for legal services related professional services designations and career credentials.

No, you’ve guessed wrong if you think that Eversheds’ professional services are all focused on big law firm practice related corporate mega mergers and acquisitions and international trade and finance. Eversheds consulting does have expertise in these areas. However, Evershseds consulting operates, among other professional services, an educational consultancy. Educational institutions and educational governmental organizations are multi-billion dollar services that adhere to rigorous governance and ethical standards and codes of conduct in both the private and public sectors. They are required to adopt comprehensive codes of conduct and develop internal review panels to manage sexual harassment, bullying, systemic discrimination issues and so on.

This calls for a professional with a “Combined LLM in Education Management & Law” post graduate legal education. This is the “21st century Creative Class[6] Professional Services Provider that law firms can and should integrate into the legal services market mix.

For law firms, this expansion of services represents a logical extension of the activities that clients retain law firms to provide – viz., a reliable assurance that the overall work product that is delivered will conform to the highest standards of quality and ethical norms. To fulfill this expanded supervisory function, however, law firms

will have to develop in-house capabilities to monitor and coordinate activities across a project and to provide strategic guidance to the client at key inflection points. This means that firms would need to recruit project management and oversight specialists  who could provide the supervisory skills necessary to assure success. 

To the extent that firms chose to embrace this expanded role, they would need to consider carefully the implications for internal staffing – including the possibility of empowering non-lawyer (LLM &M.S. Law) professionals to engage in client matters in a significant way. Admittedly, this proposal that law firms consider expanding their service offerings to include overall project supervision may be a bridge too far for many firms. But it represents one interesting approach to ensuring that law firms remain central players in the radically changed market for law firm services[7].

[1] https://www.law.georgetown.edu/news/press-releases/legal-market-report-2017

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pangea3

[3] Supra 1 at 11.

[4] www.eversheds.com/global/en/what/services/consulting/

[5] Heidi K. Gardner, Smart Collaboration. Boston. Harvard Business Review Press. (2016).

[6] Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class. New York. Basic Books. (2002)

[7] Supra 1 at P17.

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