Alternative practice models are gaining steam. Even with Big Law hiring ramping back up and law school enrollment hitting new lows, new JDs are seeking out non-traditional employment opportunities driven by a greater desire for flexibility and work/life balance. Considering a shift to a non-traditional practice model?
Before you jump straight into an alternative legal model, there are a few key differences to consider when deciding where you want to practice. Alternative legal models attempt to balance workloads and personal life, while also addressing unmet legal needs. This means that these models often pay less for the trappings of a traditional law firm. The savings that new model firms earn are often passed down to their clients. Savings like these:
If you haven’t seen a Big Law firm, you’ve probably seen one on TV: expensive space with excess capacity in a high-rent area, with all the bells and whistles. New Model Firms frequently embrace the concept of a ‘virtual office’, and work out of home, client sites, or flexible office spaces. This results in significantly reduced overhead that can allow lawyers to offer competitive rates to clients.
To go along with their fancy, overpriced offices, BigLaw frequently uses unwieldy, legacy IT systems that necessitate entire departments to manage. New Model Firms are embracing new and emerging technologies like cloud computing and SaaS services that enable attorneys and staff to work from anywhere, provide free training and support, and assume the cost of managing IT–resulting in greater flexibility for staff and greater cost savings for clients.
New model law firms are able to offer reduced hourly rates due to lower overhead, and they also frequently reject the pyramid structure that traditional law firms employ—splitting the business management function from the function of providing legal services. This essential change in the business model is allowing these firms to significantly reduce rates. New Model Firms also utilize a number of innovative fee structures, such as subscription models or flat fee billing, while traditional firms remain transfixed on high hourly billing (which disincentives efficiency, places pressure on the attorney, and can be harmful to clients) and Profit Per Partner metrics.
Lawyers continue to suffer from depression or burnout at a rate 3.6 times higher than the general workforce, not to mention general stress, anxiety, or dissatisfaction, due in no small part to high-pressure Big Law environments focused on minimum billables, rigid schedules, and client development. New Model law firms take the pressure off, with greatly reduced billable hour requirements, flexible scheduling, and remote working options, giving lawyers the opportunity to find balance and reduce unhappiness.
Even Big Law is wising up to the changes New Model firms are employing as they find themselves losing business to small and medium-sized firms due to cost efficacy and flexibility. In order to maintain a competitive edge and attract top talent, New Model firms must continue to adapt and innovate beyond entrenched behavior in the legal industry by focusing on processes that more benefit employees and clients rather than the firms themselves.