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Is Litigation in America Heading Toward A Perfect Storm?

This is the tile of Gabe Acevedo’s recent article in Above The Law.  Acevedo writes on legal technology and discovery issues for Above The Law.

Gabe concludes:  “Today, litigation matters are striking like lightning bolts all over the place. The amount of data we will be processing in the near future is unfathomable, and the amount of attorneys, lit support, and paralegals that will be needed to get through all that information should be something like we have never seen.”

Normally, very few solos and small firms (SSFs) even take part in perfect storms of litigation. Some do as Plaintiffs attorneys, but almost none did as defense counsel. Let’s assume Gabe’s facts are accurate, and his conclusion is at least 50% accurate. That alone is the perfect storm of opportunity for small and solos to build scale with virtual enterprise networks (VENs) and compete with larger firms.

If you read the comments below Gabe’s blog, you will find political and moral arguments against his conclusion. I’ll leave the judgments to those who feel empowered to judge, I choose to focus on the opportunity. And this is a unique opportunity for many SSFs to formally structure temporary alliances (VENs) that can scale up to provide the services only big firms were capable of before. A group of committed SSFs can temporarily join their efforts, expertise and share their resources in ways that surpass the resources of many Big Firms.

Until the last few years, it was not convenient to build these types of VENs between lawyers. The primary difference was that our mindset has changed. Lawyers are more willing than ever before to invest in building the requisite relationship foundation for building a VEN. Technology has also made it possible to manage teams, share resources and expertise in real time without the need for investment in capital intensive technology.

Anyone interested in learning more about VENs for lawyers contact me at jorge.colon@theonlinebar.com.

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Are you going to sit idly while the waters of commoditization rise? Will you passively observe while outsourcing and technology take over your routine legal work and make you obsolete?

I suppose you could.

After all, there is an undeniably numbing comfort in doing nothing in a crisis and just watching it happen.  You would not be alone: some soldiers in the massive battles of WWII were often so numbed by the cacophony  that they just stood there; not shooting or even trying to protect themselves from harm.  The only way to get these emotionally and mentally “frozen” soldiers to act was to arouse them to the awareness that they were letting their brothers die.

Will you let your colleagues down or would you protect them?

Maybe you perceive that it would be better for you if more lawyers did “die. Cynically, it would take care of the accelerating competition.  I invite you to use your hard-earned logic and deduce the inevitable outcome of a profession in which it becomes all against all. As in chess, there is only one outcome from that move – game over!  We all lose.

How did we become so deluded, so lost in a fog of lies to believe that our own best interest was to destroy the opposition at all costs?

In fact, not theory, I propose a more hopeful, rewarding and financially successful alternative:  a legal community (OBA) wherein we share resources, support each other to succeed, play nice and collaborate.  Most lawyers belong to one or more voluntary bars designed around a particular practice like employment law.  Increasingly, these niche bars are exclusively either for defense counsel or plaintiff’s lawyers.  In these bars you will see legal communities of extraordinary collaboration, support and sharing of resources.  In one bar organization that I belonged to briefly, the lawyers, joined by a shared emotional cause, volunteered to take each other’s depositions and motion hearings throughout the entire country.

Question is can this camaraderie exist across all borders and practices? Can it include non-lawyers supporting the profession?   If only to survive and prosper in law, I propose you’re going to have to. There are hundreds of books clamoring about how business is changing towards just this type of organizations.   We are not immune from this evolution.

OBA is designed as such a legal community.  It’s a “community based knowledge ecosystem” where in participants share knowledge and experience.  Richard Susskind’s takes this topic on in his Chapter 4.7 in The End of Lawyers?  Richard predicts only in house lawyers can collaborate in legal communities.  He goes on to say that “….bearing in mind the current business models of law firms and the intense competition between them, they would not be incentivized to collaborate with one another….around the world”.  In the case of elite and large firms (ELFs), I agree, but not with Small and Solo Firms (SSF).  Why? SSFs have more to gain by joining and sharing resources, and more to lose by intense competition.

That being said, OBA is a social organization (technical term for we like to have fun) maximizing technology’s exponential growth for mutual support and success.  Let technology work for us.  The technology that is only now beginning is that of trusted communities of lawyers.  If you’re interested in becoming a part of this growing movement go to www.theonlinebar.com and join OBA.

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