Are we (still) in thrall to BigLaw?

Jordan Furlong bemoans (on Slaw and Law21) the fact that the legal media focus on BigLaw, because BigLaw makes a lot of money, so they’re attractive both as subscribers and as advertising targets.

It’s not good for smaller practices, which count the majority of all lawyers among their ranks, that they don’t get to hear their stories told, their concerns addressed, their best practices circulated, and their career choices validated in proportion to their presence in the profession.

If there’s a solution here, it’s going to have to emerge from the ranks of these smaller-firm lawyers themselves – waiting for institutional publishers to change their editorial focus is not a good plan. Smaller practices need to find a way to amplify their voice and multiply their narratives within the profession as a whole. Maybe they need to help create their own media channel, pooling resources and enabling advertisers to find and support them. Maybe they need to harness the power of social media in ways that big firms haven’t figured out yet, to create the first truly online legal periodical through some innovative combination of blogs, RSS, Twitter and LinkedIn, and focus it on their issues. Maybe they need to figure out what the small-firm equivalent of Legal OnRamp would look like, and start recruiting their clients to join.

To which I replied:

I do think you’re not seeing the wood for the trees here. Social media do already provide the means for solos and smaller firms to leave a bigger footprint and “amplify their voice and multiply their narratives within the profession as a whole”. As you well know, they are doing it through public blogging and the public SNEs; and the pooling and focussing is done via public group activity on group blogs and special interest groups on the SNEs.

That does not provide a complete solution and third party collaboration and aggregation channels are evolving, but I don’t really see that they need “their own media channel” – will it not be an agglomeration of media channels?

The first step for solos and small firms is to engage with social media and they have only themselves to blame if they don’t.

You suggest that their footprints need to be left “in the places where journalists search for ideas and leads”. Turn that around: how about journalists need to engage better with social media and source their stories from a wider range of media channels? Surely it’s a very lazy hack who relies on the mainstream legal media for their ideas; surely they need to be reading blogs, following Twitter et al? Now I know you do this, so the next question to ask (of an employed journalist) is – It’s all very well for me to source some of my ideas and stories from solos and small firms, but will that sell the rag/will it attract the advertising bucks, will it please my paymaster? I suspect the answer to those questions is No – and that’s probably part of the reason you left your past post to strike out on your own. Good move!

It’s inevitable that the mainstream and derivative (legal) media will focus on BigLaw, just as they focus on power, influence and celebrity in other fields, but smaller voices can now speak louder and engage with a wider audience; it’s already proven that this works for those perceptive enough to do more than sit on the sidelines and observe.