BigLaw’s slow death toll?

27 Jul 2019

Traditionally as an LLB gradate you had to decide whether you would enter a big law firm or a small law firm. Today, the same choice must be taken by law graduates. However, the choice now entails consideration of an additional branch of law, that which is being called NewLaw.

Conventionally, BigLaw conceptualises the traditional law firm, consisting of a hierarchy of legal personnel, starting with candidate attorneys, paralegals and secretaries, and moving on up to the Partners and Directors of the law firm. NewLaw on the other hand refers to alternative legal service providers that are providing legal advice and services through new and innovative business models, generally encompassing technology to streamline the legal process to provide more efficiency, clarity and transparency.

With the gradual encroachment of technology and digital advancements in the legal field, it may be expected that Biglaw’s death knell will soon become just background noise, almost completely forgotten about as we move further into the fourth industrial revolution. The pace of the revolution is accelerating. From the first industrial revolution that occurred towards the end of 18th century, to the second in the late 19th century, the third revolution around the 1970s, and now the fourth occurring only a few decades later. Following this trend, it is clear that things are speeding up as we move further along the successive waves of innovation. (Devops, 2017).

In light of these developments, the modern client is questioning the billable hour and the foundation of inefficiency upon which it rests, along with the motivation of legal professionals to resolve legal matters as soon as possible and at the most reasonable cost. Clients are increasingly seeking alternative pricing structures that enable them to pay only for the legal services truly necessary for their matter, avoiding the fees for repetitive work that could be out-sourced or automated at a fraction of the cost charged by the traditional BigLaw firm.

Nowadays, alternative pricing structures and options are provided by the NewLaw service providers, offering more flexibility, agility and transparency within the legal process. New technologies offer speedier legal advice and services, impacting the traditional interpretation, application and practice of law. Legal tech allows for the streamlining of services which can be tailor-made to be client and matter specific. The NewLaw models utilise technology to provide innovative, mostly remote legal services, thereby allowing for trim, low expense legal teams that are comprised of exactly the right legal skills needed to optimise the outcome and cost of a client’s matter. (Lim, 2016)

Lastly it should be kept in mind that with the internet, people have a library of knowledge at their fingertips – a never ending encyclopaedia of facts that are widely accessible and often free of charge. The ease at which modern clients can obtain free legal advice and services means that as legal tech advances, BigLaw attorneys and legal practitioners might be consulted only in more unique, complex and specialised cases, where the internet does not provide sufficient information on a particular legal matter and/or process.

While the fourth revolution will not necessarily bring a complete end to BigLaw, it will make the dull ringing in the background more identifiable as the knell of BigLaw’s slow death toll, signifying a change in the legal industry with new clients, new legal service providers, new technologies and more accessible legal advice.

Intrigued by BigLaw v NewLaw and the options provided by NewLaw?

Join Futures Law Faculty for an evening of personal stories from those that have shifted to NewLaw after traditional legal study and work at the BigLaw firms. Hear their reasons for breaking away, the challenges faced and overcome, and how NewLaw fares in the Future of Law.

15 August 2019 – 17:00 – 20:00 – Inner City Ideas Cartel – 71 Waterkant Street, Cape Town. Tickets available through quicket- For more information –

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)

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