The practice of law is changing. While it remains unclear how much movement there will be away from the billable hour, one thing is certain: this time around, talk about alternative billing is no longer just talk. In conjunction with billing changes, staffing models will also be changing (once law firms no longer have the incentive to spend as many hours as possible to get work done, they will look for ways to create efficiency).
Change in the practice of law is particularly disruptive. While no one likes change, accepting new ways of doing business is particularly challenging for lawyers This may come in part from the fact that lawyers spend their days helping their clients to avoid risk.
But like it or not, change is coming to the legal profession and what was yesterday’s hot practice area can easily become today’s moribund practice group (think collateralized debt obligations). What was once a highly profitable way to staff a case (e.g. placing a team of high priced associates on a large document review project) may no longer be viable in a world economy where document review can get done in India for half the cost.
Adapting to change is easier said than done. Humans are not well wired for change and as a group, lawyers are particularly bad at accepting new ways of doing things. Being a profession that advises clients on how to avoid risk, change is uncomfortable because it feels risky.
But staying put is even riskier. Just ask all the manufacturers of buggy whips who were unable to (or unwilling to) recognize that the automobile was going to replace the horse and buggy.