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In one weekend I heard this from a successful entrepreneur and from a General Electric senior counsel: big firms are arrogant,   overpriced, and we will not play with them anymore.

One of my close friends has been very successful in overseas finance over the last 3 years.  Recently, he began several new ventures and approached big law firms for advice and assistance. My friend, let’s call him Arthur as he’s very private, asked the lawyer from the BF to review some paperwork for a real estate venture. From experience as a hands-on, high IQ personality, Arthur knew that he could do it himself. But it would take him too long when he had other priorities to attend with his new ventures.

The lawyer from the BF firm told Arthur he would have to retain the firm for $10,000 before he could take on the project and help him.  Arthur was livid and tried explaining to the BF lawyer that this was an easily contained project of reading and advice which should not cost more than $2,000!  The BF lawyer stood his ground and quickly lost Arthur as a client.  Not only did he lose Arthur as client for that firm, but for all BFs.

Arthur soon after found a former BF lawyer, who not only turned the work around in only 2 days, but for $600!!!  Which leads me to my next story….

My wife is attending an employment law seminar in Miami and heard a senior counsel from GE talk about hiring law firms. I used to be GE legal and from experience GE only used established BFs.  I can only guess that 3 years later, and a recession (GE Capital’s losses are not helping), that GE has now reconsidered. According to this source, GE is now retaining boutique firms, as well as former BF solos and outsourcing discovery operations to India.

Both stories end with people who have the capital and need to retain BFs, that choose not to deal with the bureaucracy, expense and in some cases the perceived arrogance of BFs.  I still believe that BFs will have a role, but some will have to redefine what a BF is.  In many cases, they may benefit from building new ventures and building those brands rather than resuscitating the old one.  Yup, say goodbye to some of our cherished Dudley Fudleys and Moore!

Solos and small firms (SSFs), while a viable service option for less complex tasks, cannot scale up to compete with BF’s massive infrastructure and pedigree stables of talent. Only when SSFs organize themselves into L-VEN’s (legal virtual enterprise networks), will they achieve what was never possible before – scale and autonomy.

SSFs will need to build networks of trust amongst themselves to scale up. When they do, they will have dealt the final blow, the one from which nothing can save the rapid decline of BFs.

Game over!

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