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Quality or Value? If You Can’t Beat ‘Em . . .

November 25, 2013

Lil-WayneMany have heard the old adage, “If you can’t beat them, join ’em.”  Makes sense.  If your adversaries are stronger than you, it’s probably better to join ’em.  But that kind of rational response isn’t something that Big, Bad, BigLaw is going to swallow anytime soon.  BigLaw marches to its own macho beat, much like Lil Wayne in “A Milli” (paraphrased very loosely because of the incredibly explicit lyrics):

If you can’t beat them, then you aren’t fighting dirty enough!

So, instead of accepting the inevitable rise of NewLaw (or BetterLaw as suggested by Ken Grady), Adam Smith, Esq. channels his inner rapper, with a spoken word stanza in his recent post/rap “How much how fast?“:

Nowadays, when I observe client behavior, I see two thoroughly opposed, but quite consistent, trends: A flight to quality and a flight to value. No single law firm can durably respond to both sets of client demand, which means many who aren’t already at one pole or the other will need to choose, and to change.

A little less explicit than Lil Wayne, but equally incendiary when you think about it.  Quality OR Value. BigLaw equals quality.  NewLaw is the thrift store.  Sure you can get a deal and save some money, but you do realize, BigClient, that you-get-what-you-pay-for, i.e., allegedly lower-quality services from these bargain-basement providers.  But not so fast, MackleMacEwen, what your rap lacks in rhyme, it also lacks in truth.  Your little “Quality OR Value” riff, which I’m sure is a big hit on the BigLaw Oldies station, is what logicians call a false dilemma, or black-or-white thinking, or an either-or fallacy, or the fallacy of the excluded middle.  Whatever you want to call it, a false dilemma is:

A type of informal fallacy that involves a situation in which limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option.

The presentation of a “false choice” often reflects a deliberate attempt to eliminate the middle ground on an issue.

Uh, Big Boi Bruce, there’s a HUGE middle ground here that you are slyly trying to hip hop past:  how about Quality AND Value.  Think Tesla.  Or my Neuhaus Labs T-1 integrated tube amp.  For $495, it makes my iPhone sound better than most esoteric hi-fi systems (priced 10 to 20 times as much) and it can do it wirelessly.  I’ll take Novus Law for document review over any of your Tier 1 first-year associates at $800 an hour.  So would you:

The founder and head of one of these firms, which is in the business of applying Six Sigma processes to document review, and which has demonstrated consistently and convincingly that their quality is immensely superior to that produced by BigLaw associates working on the same document sets, remarked fairly casually to me not long ago that “for every dollar of revenue we gain, BigLaw loses three.

Before you tell me that Novus can’t do the sophisticated, high-level work that is needed, I’d recommend you read a couple of the recent profiles (here and here) that highlight how clients now are now requiring that their BigLaw firms use Novus, or Axiom, or Clearspire, for all their meat-and-potatoes work.  Sounds like a whole lotta BigLaw firms are actually having to join ’em, rather than fight ’em. Need more examples?  How about Riverview Law and DMH Stallard doing M & A deals together at 30% less than traditional BigLaw.  Or the new deals between LeClair Ryan and UnitedLex, and Seyfarth Shaw and Neota Logic.  Quality AND Value.  Win AND Win.  BetterLaw.

Or, as the real Macklemore sings:

We press play, don’t press pause.  Progress, march on!

The good ol’ days are over, Bruce.  It’s a new century.  BigClient finally got their groove back, and they’re increasingly marching on to the BetterLaw beat of quality and value.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. November 26, 2013 8:08 am

    In short… if I may… “Ah, he got the Velcros.” Great article, though. An important point that is often lost in the debate. Quality and value can come in the same package.

    [Originally posted on Google + group “Lawyers on G+”]

  2. November 26, 2013 8:13 am

    Great post Mike – which made me think of one question for you: Do you see practices like sovereign representation and other rarefied practices being in the future primarily the domain of boutiques?

    [Originally posted on LinkedIn group “International Business Development Blog”]

  3. November 26, 2013 8:17 am

    Very insightful piece, Mike. It really isn’t an “either-or” proposition, and no client should be forced to sacrifice quality in the name of value. Thanks for pointing out a few of the high-quality-high-value options that are currently available.

    [Originally posted in LinkedIn group “Law Firm Profitability”]

  4. November 28, 2013 6:42 am

    Good stuff as usual Mike.

    [Originally posted in LinkedIn group “Firm of the Future”]

  5. November 28, 2013 6:45 am

    Completely agree. Cost and Quality are both part of the Value equation and not mutually exclusive.

    [Originally posted in LinkedIn group “eLEGAL: In-House”]

  6. November 28, 2013 6:48 am

    Agree. Even lawyers themselves often believe in this false dilemma – considering that an optimised and systemised legal process cannot provide as much value as an individual legal expert…. For many transactions – especially repetitive ones – indeed it can.

    For too long lawyers have considered that legal work design and delivery must be in the hands of an individual lawyer – but these two competencies can be separated: Systemised legal processes enable legal expertise to be codified in the design of the process and it can be delivered by others – often lower skilled and also non-legal personnel.

    [Originally posted in LinkedIn group “Legal Innovation”]

  7. December 4, 2013 9:51 am

    Great post Mike. So true. And I consider your blog both high quality and high value.

  8. March 16, 2014 4:14 pm

    Excellent point, Mike. There’s no need to choose when one can have both quality AND value. And while I hate to distinguish between BigLaw and “BetterLaw”, I will say that in my experience, there are many in the BigLaw camp who are hearing the message and responding to it. Sometimes, though, it’s just hard to turn such a large ship quickly. And that’s where the innovative legal startups have an advantage.

    [Originally posted on LinkedIn group “Streamlining Relationships With Outside Counsel”]

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