In praise of Small Law

I’m usually suitably supplicant in agreeing with future-of-law guru Susskind, but I take issue with the views implicit in his recent Times Online piece Does the Law Society know that there’s an internet generation?

The report tells us that, in 2008, 85.9 per cent of law firms had four or fewer partners, while 44.2 per cent were sole practices. To the business-minded, this looks like a cottage industry, with members who handcraft labour-intensive and bespoke solutions in delivering a face-to-face advisory service.

Where in the report, then, in relation to lawyers, is the radical rethink? Nowhere. There is no discussion, for example, of the scope for project management, workflow tools, outsourcing, wider use of paralegals, economies of scale or shared services centres. The spotlight is never trained on the inefficiencies of traditional legal practice.

I’m sure it is true that a large number of solo and small practitioners are inefficient and behind the times, but there are many who are as efficient if not more so than the “best” large firms and who are at the same time more innovative and responsive than the larger practices can only dream of. I deal with many and they are quite happy to be small.

You’ll forgive me for not reading the Law Society’s report, but I suspect that it does not dwell on Big Law practices because Big Law – whatever their current problems – are big enough do without Law Society support; it is the little guy who needs a leg up.

Scale is not everything – some don’t need paralegals and shared service centres to deliver a good and efficient service. Big Law does not deliver better law any more than Big Business delivers better business or Big Finance delivers better finance. Big has cocked things up recently in the City, in the Gulf of Mexico etc. Small just gets on with it.

Sorry Richard, but Small is beautiful.

2 thoughts on “In praise of Small Law

  1. Nick,

    Spot on. Most small firm and solo practitioners I know in the States are quite nimble and are constantly looking for ways of improving the efficiencies of their practices, in large part because their margins on a per client basis are much smaller.

  2. Nick small is beautiful, (remember Outspan oranges even made a brand out of being small). Working with sole practitioners has the advantage of decision making with speed. Small acts to exploit niches and technologies. Small gets noticed by middle size who copies or gobbles them up. Then mid-size gets gobbled by big or they attempt to crush. I’ll stick with the owner that likes the idea of something and does it. They are responsible for their own firm and its reputation. In my experience, being close to your clients means you service them well. It’s about pride in your own firm and your own work. (Almost to the extreme). Maybe I’ve just been lucky working with a handful of great people. But then again more than a handful is a waste…

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