The Big Firm Conundrum

We are closing in on the dog days of summer and so I was thinking about what greater efficiency, technology and new players do to large firms in Canada.

If a law firm invests more heavily in process improvement, it becomes more efficient – in other words it can do more work with less people or through a different mix of skill sets. The firm will no longer need to hire huge swaths of new lawyers every year as most of any annual growth will be accommodated either by efficiency gains or by better use of non-lawyer personnel to do the same work.

If a law firm invests more heavily in technology a similar outcome results. More work can be done in less time, using less people.

The common theme of “more with less,” means that lawyer headcount at large Canadian firms must plateau and that profit will become more highly valued than gross revenue.

Efficient lawyers will be more highly prized over less efficient lawyers and suddenly – with few exceptions – being smart, will no longer be enough to earn a living.

Factor in the appearance of LPOs like Exigent and CounselQuest which can do traditional junior associate work and one begins to wonder how large Canadian law firms will be able to afford junior associates at all – especially if other providers can do the same work better, faster and cheaper.

At that point the traditional model breaks down.

When day-to-day work needs less lawyers to complete, or if that work goes to other less expensive providers, how will the large firms keep lawyers busy between the lucrative “bespoke” matters that they specialize in?



  1. Interesting post as usual Mitch. Perhaps the most successful firms in your new model will focus on training lawyers, especially juniors, on business building, client retention, business development – dare I say it: Sales. The traditional model is to works so that the clients find us. Perhaps the new normal will be selling the services of the firm/lawyer.

  2. Training lawyers to build business would be amazing, but at this point I’d settle for firms recognizing it in year end performance reviews. Most firms still give little or no credit for ‘rainmaking’ when assessing performance and just look at the hours billed. The fact that an associate can bring in $200K in new revenue and get no credit towards their target hour is ridiculous; the last thing a firm should want is for that person to walk out the door, as it should be obvious whose clients they will successfully be poaching once they do.