What do 2018 surveys tell us about the future of Big Law?

by GrowthPlay Library /

If there is one thing I’ve learned about future-casting change, there is no such thing as a “new” trend. That said, the legal profession continues to face the challenges that come with a time of great disruption and change. As you imagine what’s possible for your firm in 2019 and beyond, consider these sobering findings from some recent surveys on the state of Big Law:



Partners continue to fight innovation. This resistance is a major challenge for those of us who want to help law firms adapt. The Altman Weil 2018 Law Firms in Transition survey found that in fully 69 percent of law firms, partners “resist most change efforts.” The paralysis that comes from fear is very real, but it doesn’t have to be the default position. Client demand for more cost-effective legal services and technology that will improve the delivery of those services will continue to shape what success looks like in this new era. The good news is that firms can meet those demands if they are willing to innovate. Forward-thinking lawyers innovate across every aspect of their work: staffing, pricing and efficiency. Firm leaders need to demand this, for starters.


Law firms continue to underinvest in technology. A survey by Intapp and The Lawyer showed that “86 percent of law firms said automation is important to deliver insights and analytics to clients, but only 18 percent of these firms had made investments to make this capability part of service delivery models.” Of course it’s true that innovation doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to technology. There are many ways to innovate. But a lack of investment in new technology is an indicator that a firm continues to cling to the old ways of doing business. Law leaders must embrace innovative technology and experiment with how it can improve their process and help them differentiate their firm. Progress on this is absolutely key to developing new business and keeping current clients happy.


Law firms still don’t fully appreciate the power of excellent client engagement. The BTI Client Service Survey 30 for 2019, based on more than 350 in-depth interviews with top legal decision makers, has once again named the top law firms when it comes to client service. An interesting note in this year’s report demonstrates how firms don’t just appear in the list of the top 30. Instead, through hard word and commitment to their goals, the best firms inch up the rankings each year until they finally reach the top. Developing a top-notch client service approach takes time. It also takes management backing, accountability, metrics, and funding. We all care about our clients, but simply wanting them to be satisfied isn’t enough. It takes a plan with teeth and leaders who are willing to look to the long horizon to see the plan through to fruition.


These truths about today’s Big Law are a tough pill to swallow. But they also present engaged law leaders with a massive opportunity. What if you made 2019 the year of innovation in your firm and committed to tackling even just one of these challenges? Law will never go back to the way it was, but the future is not yet written and you don’t have to do this work alone. Engage partners who understand what it will take to thrive in the future, and get down to business.