As a small firm lawyer practicing in the energy industry, a field typically dominated by big companies and big law firms, I’ve always been somewhat of a rarity. But perhaps, not any more. According to Corporate Counsel, lawyers are leaving big firms in droves to join smaller firms or try a hand at starting their own, as I did 18 years ago.
Initially, the large firm exodus was a departure to the 2008 financial meltdown, causing law firms to shed associates, counsel and even partners. But now, as the article reports:
Small firms are flourishing because clients’ demands have evolved over the years. Rather than relying on one firm and paying for a package of legal needs, clients are turning to different firms, and in some cases to legal support businesses, for different tasks.
Because of the trend of unbundling, large corporate law departments are no longer bound to use a one-stop shopping firm for all their needs, but can choose attorneys from a variety of specialized firms, which offer lower rates and higher quality representation. Technology is another enabler, particularly in complex areas like commercial litigation or the energy industry, where attorneys need to manage large volumes of data and engage in complex research. Today, I can avail myself of off-the-shelf tools that give me ten times the capability that I had when I opened my firm back in 1993, at a fraction of the cost.
Still, it seems as if the energy industry is slowest of most industries to adapt to hiring solo and small firm lawyers. Perhaps it’s because of the complexity of the work or companies’ lack of sensitivity to price because many costs are passed directly through to ratepayers. So tell me, readers, what do you think? Do solo and small law firms have a place in the energy industry and is their role valued, or are they underutilized?