Solo innovation

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Conventional wisdom has it that when the meteor struck the earth millions of years ago, the small early mammals survived because they could slip into underground holes and caves, while the larger dinosaurs, with nowhere to go, were struck down. Not to do overdo the analogy, but a series of innovations in solo and small-firm practice indicates to me we’re looking at mammals making contingency plans.

From the UK, where so much innovation is emerging these days, comes Get Solicitors, which Legal Futures describes as “an alternative to national, branded networks by giving solicitors the tools to market and build their own brands. … Managing partner Brian McKibbin said the focus is online marketing, along with relationship building to help firms become lynch pins in their local business communities. There is also practice management advice. ‘We don’t think the way forward is a homogenous legal brand,’ he said. The future for law firms is going to be in looking and feeling like a law firm, rather than like Co-operative Legal Services or RBS Legal.'”

From the US comes an even more attractive proposition: my friends at Solo Practice University have announced a creative new program called “Building Bridges to Professional Independence,” under which law schools partner with SPU to provide scholarships to some of their upper-year students and discounted tuition rates for other students and alumni. This weekend at the Future Ed conference co-sponsored by New York Law School and Harvard Law School, the first Bridges partner, New York Law School, will come on board. I know that SPU is speaking with other law schools about coming on board as well, but kudos to New York Law School for starting it off. (And while I’m thinking of it, don’t forget about Law21’s SPU scholarship contest.)

This is the way, it seems to me, that solos and small-firm lawyers will survive the deluge and thrive afterwards. GetSolicitors and similar services provide a practice management and marketplace foundation for small-firm lawyers, putting them in position to focus on their work. The Bridges program, moreover, is exactly what we need in this profession — a way for new lawyers to get the best of both worlds, a solid law school education and a practical introduction to what being a lawyer actually involves. While a few larger firms have set up excellent professional development programs, most seem to assume that their new lawyers will “pick it up” along the way to various degree. Solos don’t have that luxury, and that’s why it’s natural that this sector is taking the right steps forward.

Is the future of BigLaw smaller? Quite possibly — but the future of law generally is going to belong to whoever is first and best out of the gate these next few years, as the assumptions upon which we’ve depended start to fall away.

Jordan Furlong speaks to law firms and legal organizations throughout North America on how to survive and profit from the extraordinary changes underway in the legal services marketplace. He is a partner with Edge International and a senior consultant with Stem Legal Web Enterprises.

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