It’s Am Law 100 season. My former colleagues at The American Lawyer have just published their biggest issue of their year, the annual scorecard of the 100 top grossing US law firms. This much-anticipated report has managed to survive three decades of criticism and consternation and remains the financial benchmark in the legal market.
But a recent set of lamentations from the legal academy has lead me to ponder where the profession would be if The Am Law 100 had never become more than a mote in Steve Brill’s eye. (To follow the latest critique of how-the-profits-per-partner charts careened into pernicious-short-term law firm behavior, please see both a powerful recent essay from the Harvard Center on the Legal Profession and a challenging new article in the University of Southern California Law Review by Jonathan Molot of Georgetown Law School.
It is undeniable that in a bid to maintain or maximize their annual financial results, some firms have failed to invest in training and technology, measured performance poorly, and skimped on public service. Those are profound failures, embarrassments to a profession that is charged with helping to maintain the rule of law in our republic. Whether the solution lies in reinventing the law firm capital structure to create “permanent equity” and permit outside investment as Molot suggests, or cultivating an inspired and balanced new generation of law firm leaders as Harvard suggests, are fair questions best left for another, much longer day. My one caution is to beware promised cures that may be worse than the disease itself. [Read more…]