Nothing—including robots, AI, and technology—is as exciting as law firm behaviors. Law firms will become emboldened, impatient, highly strategic, and desperate as the more aggressive law firms make ever-bolder moves on the market.
Stealing once untouchable laterals is commonplace. Grabbing practice groups is part of the new norm. Baker McKenzie openly states its goal of finding merger partners to build out the East and West Coasts. All this is going on while other law firms either believe bold moves are too risky or look to leap frog everyone else.
We are about witness a new round of old moves as firms jockey for position. Look for the more noticeable moves to include:
1. No Charge for 1st- and 2nd-year Associates
A prestige law firm stops charging for 1st- and 2nd-year associates. The associates will work on matters governed by alternate fees or other arrangements to enable firms them to change the economics.
2. Law Firm Buys a CPA Firm
A major law firm buys a CPA firm with the intent of getting into the audit business and merging their tax business. Think of a reverse play on the Big 4—on a smaller scale.
3. Become Management Consultants, Too
Entering the management consulting business. McKinsey was started by partners who left Jones Day. This business offers non-conflicting growth. The management consulting-bound firm will recruit top partners from the established management consulting firms to build the business.
4. Dive into the Forensics Business
Firms will move into the forensics business. This market will grow. Law firms receive one of the first calls in situations where forensics are likely to be needed. Law firms could have the first shot at this work and be bringing the added benefit of client privilege.
5. Establish an Investigations-only Firm
The investigations market will grow more quickly than anyone expects. A few current rock stars will leave their posts in and outside of law firms and form a boutique—boasting prowess, client service, flexibility, and brand. They will use other firms to meet the need for big teams.
6. Conduct Post-win Debriefs Routinely
Law firms learn so much when probing why they won instead of why they lost. Win rates will increase, and any meaningful win will be followed by a debrief as to why.
7. Completely Redesign the Client Experience
A small number of large law firms are acting. These firms assign a small group of senior partners to completely redesign and redefine the client experience. Their goal: to make it drastically better than today’s standard. This experience will establish a new standard and be designed to change and evolve. The time has come. The time is now. Clients want a vastly better and different experience.
8. Secondments to be Standard
Select law firms will see secondments as the fertile training and business development ground it is. Every associate at these firms will spend at least 3 months at a client within their first 3 years.
9. Magic Circle Merger
The Magic Circle merger with a Wall Street/NY firm is inevitable. Between global demands, US‑style litigation slowly spreading around the world, and pressure for firms to grow—look for at least 2 mergers of this kind.
10. A Big 4 Accounting Firm Buys Law Firm with Scale
The Big 4 will set up clever vehicles to effectively own a law firm of size and substance.
Remember, the big accounting firms are the primary reason we have LLCs. This is the logical move to build a firm. The Big 4 know how to integrate and can streamline delivery. Everyone and no one will be surprised.
Admittedly, we have eluded to the last 2 before, but we just couldn’t resist saying it again.
These radical moves will get a lot of attention and will be copied. Some of these strategic moves will be real and outsized winners. Others will be winners for some firms and not others depending on culture, mindset, commitment, and appetite for real change. All will happen and influence the market—making strategic planning more interesting, more demanding, and more impactful than ever before.