The question is where the legal industry will be in 2030. An intriguing question. Some enterprising professionals are happy to share their thoughts with you for a mere $1,000. Check out the free version here. These folks at "Legal Transformation" won't share their advice for how to cope with the changing world for free, but they're happy to give you their doomsday analysis gratis. They see four possible scenarios ahead:
a) "Blue-chip Mega Mania" (which sounds a whole lot like what we have right now--or had before September 2008;
b) "Expertopia" (basically, the 'boutique-ification' of law practice);
c) "Techno-law" (vague--but some sort of (pseudo)-utopian, vast shrinking of the practice of law based on mutual global cooperation in regulation--yeah, I know); and
d) "E-marketplace" (again, vague--but something to do with commoditization of legal work).
Here are my thoughts--and I'd appreciate Bruce McEwen's input on this--we'll see if he responds on Adam Smith, Esq.
There are several countervailing trends that will serve to affect different firms differently.
1) Corporate clients will continue to require higher and higher degrees of specialization better served by smaller firms. That and various economic pressures are serving to break up a number of larger firms.
2) Yet, because corporate clients are increasingly global in scope and outlook, they require the efficiencies that can only be gained by a smaller number of vendors, hence fewer law firms that can do more: i.e., larger firms.
3) At the same time, innovators will continue to provide human and electronic technologies that will permit greater ease in managing disparate vendors globally.
4) Thus, I predict, as the summary alludes to, a bigger gap between successful global firms and 'the rest' and an increased array of boutique and "mega-boutique" firms (I believe I'll take first credit for that neologism) globally to meet meets.
5) As the next wave of globalization continues, more and more firms will be rocked by the various volatilities in the market.
6) Regardless, in a real way, many of the four scenarios will occur simultaneously. Global cooperation will continue with many international organizations providing greater similarities between legal practices in more and more jurisdictions. Yet, the power of developing nations vis a vis the Big-20-nations will ensure that doing business globally will be simultaneously necessary (as profit margins will be driven ever lower and thus scope of sales will need to be greater) and more difficult. Hence, as one of their experts predicts, demands for legal services will indeed outstrip growth of Gross Global Product.
7) Given the confluence of increased technological innovation and the desire to find common ground in the wake of global financial worries, many conflicts will be suppressed. But, yet again, the respective domestic concerns of the several nations will mean the continued high need for legal services around the world.
8) Anyway, in 2030 I see: a) over 100 firms of truly global scope and of general service and of 3000 attorneys or more; b) approximately 500 firms of global scope of two types--'mega-boutiques' serving a single subject matter area across national and regional boundaries (each of at least 500 members); c) the consolidation, however, and outright dissolution of many so-called US national firms, which are really only trans-regional firms with high hopes. These firms will experience large net losses; d) We'll also see the proliferation of super-star solo- and micro-firms that provide transformational leadership.
9) Implicit in the above is a large move of attorneys away from smaller practices to large. This wlil be made possible by the decimation of the ranks of merely national firms.
10) Bottom line: Lawyers will continue to experience low unemployment, but the individual attorney must do everything she or he can do to increase her/his own level of expertise, perspective and network to remain in the profession. The bar continues to be raised. Of course, that's entire entire separate post.
Not coincidentally, that's what this entire blog is dedicated to. Raising the bar.