Why Traditional Law Firms Are Less Attractive Today Than They Seemed A Decade Ago
There was a certain romance and glamour associated with law firms. Lawyers were considered a good catch as mates – smart, dynamic earners. The fast-paced life of a traditional law firm was captured in multiple television series (for example, “Suits”) and Hollywood movies. This romanticization of the traditional law firm life masked some genuine problems with the institution, however. There was tremendous attrition in the profession, with well over 60 percent of law school graduates deciding to leave the practice of law. This article discusses some of the problems that existed and still exist, and alternatives to the traditional law firm setting, particularly the alternative of outsourced general counsel services, that are attracting attorneys today as alternative solutions to the practice of law.
The concept of work-life balance was non-existent. One of the department heads had horses, taken care of by others. Another had children, also taken care of by others. Yet another had left his wife of many years, striking up with an associate who had left her husband, because neither had time for any kind of a home life. The schedule gets old fast and is grueling to an unusual degree.
That’s why when COVID hit, lawyer’s were looking for a remote solution to the work-life balance, and that solution dropped into their laps from the very laptops, when their firms forbade returning to work during the lockdowns and various quarantines, private and public.
The same lawyers who had taken big firm life for granted found themselves in a very different situation and loved it. Parents spent time with their children, dog-owners with their dogs, and the satisfaction of meeting clients remotely in one’s boxer shorts via Zoom was discovered. Even hearings and trials were conducted over Zoom. The law was no longer such a harsh mistress.
This is in fact a model that has endured past the height of COVID. It has resulted in the development of alternative solutions for the provision of legal services such as fractional general counsel services, otherwise known as outsourced general counsel services, where business lawyers are able to hire good business lawyers for a non-full-time but dedicated in-house position. The fractional general counsel is in-house counsel who enjoys dedicated service to a company but only for a fraction of that attorney’s time. The rest of the time is working in a dedicated way for other fractional general counsel positions with other companies. The relationships are personally and professionally satisfying but do not burn out the lawyers.
And from the client side, the relationship is much more fruitful as well. Instead of having to deal with a lawyer and a faceless law firm whose main concern seems to be “billable hours” and where lawyers are not dedicated long-term to the specific business of the client and may be switched out routinely with other counsel based on availability.
Instead, with the fractional general counsel model, small- to mid-size businesses get great legal counsel without having to hire the fractional general counsel full-time, while the lawyer enjoys the joys of remote law practice. A win-win situation and increasingly the choice of many lawyers across the US.