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BigLaw v NewLaw debate heats up

BigLaw v NewLaw debate heats up


Fuel has been added to the BigLaw v NewLaw fire, with debate again on the rise over which model presents the better offering to legal professionals.

Following a recent article published by Lawyers Weekly, a number of legal professionals shared their opinion on the prospect of NewLaw models nabbing more non-traditional lawyers.

The debate comes after Catherine Mullins, national executive partner at Nexus Law Group, said NewLaw models are embracing more lawyers who don’t meet the status quo, suggesting they could gain a proportionate share of legal professionals currently in the Australian market.

“Many businesses and legal firms talk the talk when it comes to collaboration and collective wisdom, but few walk the walk,” she said.

“They baulk at bringing in people with different skill sets.”

In response to Ms Mullins' comments, a number of Lawyers Weekly readers took to the website’s comments section to express their opinion over whether or not they were inclined to agree or disagree.

One commenter suggested they agreed with Ms Mullins’, saying “BigLaw doesn’t like doing things differently”.

“Unlike their professional services counterparts, they're lumbering machines that are slow to evolve and adapt, despite what their glossy brochures say,” the commenter said.

“Case in point: diversity has become the new buzzword at the BigLaw firms. It features in their employment advertisements and all marketing collateral. Yet in those same employment advertisements those firms will invariably require ‘previous experience from a top-tier firm’. Seems hypocritical and much closer to 'similar' than 'diverse'.”

Throughout the original piece, Ms Mullins also commented on her time spent at one particular private practice firm, saying after just two years she decided to leave upon the realisation that it was “just another traditional firm”, where the graduates were “working very long hours”.

She noted that this particular firm, along with some other private practice firms, didn’t embrace her “non-traditional lawyer personality” and she felt as though she had to “mute” herself and not be her “happy, bubbly self”.

A separate commenter said they too had heard of a similar story, whereby a BigLaw firm didn’t embrace a “non-traditional lawyer” despite this person having extensive experience in a particular practice area.

“A friend of mine did articles at my firm having first had 10 plus years’ experience in engineering at various telcos,” the commenter said.

“They then proceeded to treat him as a normal AC, ignoring all his industry experience despite acting for telco clients and pitching to telco clients. Crazy stuff.”

In addition, another commenter praised the NewLaw model for its flexibility.

“NewLaw is for lawyers who want a life and don't base their existence solely on status and money,” they explained.

“Why does the average lawyer work more hours than the average doctor and the most hours of any profession? It's sad. NewLaw is a great alternative for people who want balance.”

However, on the opposite end of the scale, there were also commenters who refuted Ms Mullins’ claims, saying those with negative experiences within BigLaw may simply be in the wrong firm.

“There are a growing number of flexible, progressive law firms that offer big-league experience but not old-school practice techniques,” said one commenter.

In response to the original article, where Ms Mullins stated that “law is the only industry that thinks you don’t have to concentrate on customer service”, a different commenter dismissed the claims in their entirety.

“‘Law is the only industry that thinks you don’t have to concentrate on customer service’. What rubbish!" they said.

“No law firm would agree with this comment. It is a customer service industry.

“By all means take your business to a hippy ‘NewLaw’ firm, where apparently lawyers don't have to work ‘very long hours’ yet can magically deliver a service that's just as good (not).”

Despite the debate around NewLaw v BigLaw and what presents the better offering to legal professionals, a recent white paper released by LegalVision said the divide between the two models is actually beginning to close.

“The concept of NewLaw is undoubtedly apt to describe the business models of many new players in the legal market. However, the differences between the NewLaw and BigLaw models is one of emphasis. Fixed fees, capped fees and ‘no win, no fee’ billing are all loosening the strangle-hold of hourly rates billed in six-minute increments,” said James Gonczi, a LegalVision lawyer and the author of the report.

“Many firms now have non-equity partners. Flexible work arrangements are available at a growing number of firms and almost all players in the legal industry have been increasing their spending on technology.

“Traditional firms are, in an ad hoc way, doing many of the things which are said to set NewLaw providers apart."

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