More law firms may end up like Dewey, Forbes says

Large law firm model promotes free agency, stifles change

When it comes to Dewey & LeBoeuf, we’ve been like gawkers driving slowly past a car crash, our morbid fascination at times overwhelming the tragedy of the long-established firm’s slow and painful demise. Today on Forbes, though, Axiom CEO Mark Harris warns that Dewey’s saga may not be an anomaly, and in fact, the traditional model of a large law firm sets itself up for similar failure.

While the rest of the business world changes, law firms stay the same. “The micro-economy of corporate lawyers has been preserved in the kind of pristine stillness usually associated with nuclear waste in an underground salt cavern,” Harris writes. For example, while nonlegal business costs have increased by 20 percent over the past 10 years, law firm prices have increased by 75 percent, and corporate clients are not happy. A 2010 survey showed a decrease in legal spending for the first time in years.

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