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    The Changing Definition of The “Small Law Firm”


      When folks hear “solo” or “small firm”, I think the terminology itself can sometimes unintentionally and unfairly connote limitation.  I often wonder whether the terms themselves are just inherently outdated, hampered by the idea of resource limitations that are nowhere near what they once were.

      Today, a good lawyer practicing alone or with a handful of colleagues can accomplish far more than that same lawyer or team could’ve several years ago.  The difference today between working with a smart lawyer at a large firm and working with a smart lawyer at a smaller firm just isn’t nearly what it once was. It’s not even close. Technology can democratize virtually anything, and the practice of law isn’t exempt.

      In many situations, a large M&A transaction or a piece of complex litigation can be handled equally well, if not better and more efficiently, by an experienced, technology savvy lawyer than by engaging a big firm.

      Ernie Svenson, a/k/a Ernie the Attorney, recently posted a terrific article on his site that lays out some of the ways that he successfully leverages technology and project management techniques to get “big firm” benefits without big firm overhead: Little Big Firm.

      In a very concise, practical fashion Ernie details how he artfully leverages collaborative office space, contract receptionist services, virtual assistant services and technology to give him (and, in turn, his clients) cost-efficient access to resources once only available to larger firms. He is able to construct the type of setup that not only levels the resource playing field with larger firms, but arguably gives him a leg up by enabling him to quickly pivot resources – ramping up or scaling back – as necessary.  It not only gives clients the benefit of not having to indirectly pay for large overhead, but in many circumstances also provides the benefit of being able to work with the lawyer one wants without being necessarily forced to factor in where, or with whom, he or she practices.

      Ernie also hits on some key marketing issues, giving some great practical advice on websites (don’t overpay for something over the top) and publicity (invest in some good photos: they’re useful for multiple purposes).    It’s great reading for any productivity geek, and I’d think extremely helpful for any solo or small firm.

      Overall, I think it’s the kind of piece we’re going to see more and more of during 2011 and beyond. The dovetailing of:

      (a) the evolution and adoption of new technology; and
      (b) the acknowledgement, acceptance and implementations of established project management concepts, as the realization emerges that these concepts are directly applicable to the practice of law,

      is going to continue to radically change how legal services are consumed and delivered.

      In the short-term, forward-thinking lawyers like Ernie will undoubtedly benefit by being at the front end of the curve.

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