“Good Enough” and Stratification of the Legal Market

The legal blogosphere has been awash in discussion of whether law firms can serve the different markets that are emerging. In this post Jordan Furlong conveniently collected links to a number of contributions to this discussion, and he provides a concise introduction:

[I]n light of the huge changes in the marketplace, what will become of law firms? More specifically, given the increasing segmentation and stratification of the universe of legal work, how can law firms—traditional, inflexible, one-size-fits-all businesses that they are—respond to these changes and continue to thrive? Can law firms serve multiple segments of a newly diverse market simultaneously, and if so, how?

Since the links in Jordan’s post provide plenty of reading as it is, I’ll limit myself to the following:

Some of the discussion relates to legal work that can be given the “good enough” treatment—Jordan refers to it as “ordinary course of business” work, as opposed to higher-end “mission-critical” work. The distinction between the two is discussed variously in terms of both resources allocated and the quality of the work performed. And there’s also discussion of “big-firm quality at small-firm prices” as being a fig-leaf for “good enough.”

But for the following reasons, I think these distinctions may not be so clear-cut:

First, there’s plenty of room for improvement at the mission-critical end of things—just look at the drafting on display in many a big-time M&A deal.

Second, as I noted in this May 2010 post on AdamsDrafting, the notion of “good enough” shouldn’t relate to the quality of work applied to a given task but rather the resources allocated to it. There’s no reason why a given task shouldn’t be performed excellently, taking into account the parameters, particularly as the closer the work comes to being a commodity, the more it can be automated, with established standards being applied consistently.

And third, one need not equate Jordan’s categories with a distinction between BigLaw and smaller law firms. The mantra “big-firm quality at small-firm prices” has been changing from a face-saving ploy to something that can, depending on the firm, be taken as a realistic assessment of a firm’s capabilities. Technology has increasingly allowed smaller firms to fight above their weight. And apparent disaffection with BigLaw suggests that smaller firms have available plenty of talent. It may be that for some “premier” firms, increasingly their main advantage will be their reputation, and that can be a wasting asset.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.