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Private practice jobs will have to change as firms re-evaluate pricing, says expert

Posted by: Laurence Simons 02/10/12

Allow us for a moment to touch our white-gloved hands to our shaved temple and hum over a crystal ball, because we are psychic, and we can predict the future. Dogs will one day be the size of horses. iPads will be the size of dogs. And, in between all that, the future of lawyers in private practice is set to change.

Professor Richard Susskind could be one such mystic, gazing into an abyss of tea leaves and coffee grounds and divining that yes, the way legal firms have to go about their business is set to change. This is not a crazy prediction. This is not really that game-changing.

However, Susskind - who recently penned the ominously titled 'The End of Lawyers?', so knows about this sort of thing - has actually gone some way to explaining just how law firms have to tailor their services, especially in relation to major corporations, rather than just pointing at the dust of Dewey & Lebeouf and saying "well, you don't want that to happen".

According to Susskind, private firms responding to tender invitations from major in-house legal departments are increasingly being asked to state how they intend to source the work. And that little question, in turn, is leading to private firms re-evaluating both their current working practices (and pricing policies) and the direction of their company.

"The clients are now interested not just in how you work today but where you think you'll be as a law firm in three years' time," Susskind told Legal Futures. "How will you be working differently and will you be the kind of firm they'll want to work with in X years' time?"

As a result of this, the academic has broken some joss sticks, rang a little bell between his thumb and forefinger and predicted that such demand for re-evaluated legal services will actually lead to new legal jobs developing, such as legal process analysts, legal project managers and legal knowledge engineers.

"Regularly major firms are saying to me, 'Do you know anyone who can come in and have a look at our corporate practice or our litigation practice and do some analysis of it?'," he said. "I call that person a legal process analyst."

But where is this pressure to change coming from? According to Susskind, it's coming from those occupying in-house counsel jobs. As fellow legal academic Ben Heineman Jr. noted this week, general counsel is quickly overtaking private practice law firms as the go-to advisor for major corporations' chief executives following a 25-year sea change. Add to that the faltering performance of both Biglaw and Magic Circle firms (a number of which have been partnering up in recent months), and you kind of have a perfect storm to instigate legal change among private practice firms.

Obviously those changes won't become evident until they manifest themselves over the coming year, but in the meantime if you're in need of a change yourself then talk to one of our legal recruitment consultants.