Jacoby & Meyers, Legal Forms, and Semi-BigLaw
The WSJ Law Blog reports this morning that Jacoby & Meyers will offer a combination of legal forms and attorney representation.
Jacoby & Meyers is the best-known bargain-basement discount law firm, the first firm to push TV advertising, and no threat to BigLaw or “real” firms.
I wonder if I should have used strikethough on that last clause as well.1
I’m not suggesting corporate clients are going to send a billion dollar merger or eight-figure patent suit to them.
I’m not even suggesting corporate clients larger than a handful of people will use them.
What I am suggesting is this:
- The model is interesting: Automate what you can, use fill-in for the ordinary stuff, and leave the lawyers to spend their time on the difficult or ambiguous parts. This model promotes high efficiency as well as high effectiveness. Think of the model not literally — fill-in forms — but as an approach: offload not-really-lawyer work and we-do-the-same-thing-all-the-time issues, and adjust your billing to reflect that.
- Industries and professional fields often change from the bottom. In technology, the PC, spreadsheets, word processors, and more were first ignored as “toys” by the major players. In medicine, breakthroughs from sterilization to understanding how diseases spread come from an outlier (individuals rather than hospitals, e.g.). Jacoby & Meyers is a combination of technology and outlier status.
Threat? Not today. Today, it’s a “toy” like the first PCs.
But as a thought experiment, imagine yourself a dozen years in the future and all but the very biggest matters — say,500 a year total throughout the US, about the number of matters today that make the front section of the NY Times — are handled by a combination of automation, client-supplied data, and paralegals with lawyers stepping in to handle the ambiguous or highest-risk issues.2 What would law firms look like? Who would prosper?
Now work backwards from this future to see how it could get there.
Consider whether it makes sense to at least prepare to respond. Build up efficiency. Increase effectiveness. (The good news is that doing so will also increase current profitability.)
Somebody will do this preparation, make these adjustments. Indeed, some firms (and departments) are already doing it. They’re my clients, or clients of the handful of other people who do what I do.
You don’t have to turn your world upside down. Jacoby & Meyers isn’t threatening your business. But there are growing suggestions that a new model — the new normal, as my colleague Paul Lippe puts it — will continue to take hold even as the economy improves.
You can stay in front of the change, prepare for at least one plausible future, and increase your firm profits or department budget discipline.