Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.
As we have observed in this space a few times this year already, law firms and the practice of law are changing. For example, law firms are employing more attorneys on a temporary, project-connected basis. They are now often negotiating fees for specific legal assignments instead of by the hour. There is another change that signals an empowerment for attorneys and law firms and an enlargement of their role in business and legal affairs, even in international governmental affairs. The term being used for this new type of functioning is “entrepreneurial”, entrepreneurial law firms, entrepreneurial lawyers.
This week a posting by Project Counsel profiled an established international law firm that practices primarily in the Middle East and whose team of international attorneys work on client legal matters, but also on a much broader scope as business advisers and negotiators, foreign government liaisons, international “go to” facilitators.
In this new legal model, the attorneys become an integral part of their client’s business, understanding the client’s business to the point where they can add value and anticipate client needs. Providing coordination of service providers such as accountants, appraisers, marketing and management experts and language services is part of this relationship.
I see an interesting merger of business and law. Thinking of a lawyer as an advisor for other than very narrowly constructed legal questions is a huge step for the legal profession. This type of relationship between business manager and attorney would not have been entertained even 10 years ago. Having a lawyer advise as to business entity structure, yes, having a lawyer advise as to how to run your business or provide business resources, is not. In fact, as a business manager I would never have considered, nor had any attorneys I worked with at various companies ever dreamed of becoming involved in the actual operations of the business.
Integral to the new paradigm is building teamwork between a company’s lawyers and its management and employees. Knowing the client’s business inside and out, anticipating challenges and being cost-conscious are the mandates for counsel.
This entrepreneurial model for attorneys and law firms presents tremendous opportunities as well as challenges for attorneys. I anticipate interesting issues surfacing with regard to ethics considerations, accountability if things go south and attorney capabilities. It is not easy to be an expert schooled in all aspects of clients’ affairs and to be able to straddle the business and the legal world equally competently. But it is very exciting to consider the possibilities of making legal work more vibrant and relevant.