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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Whither law firm prestige?

With the economic and law market downturn we are hearing a lot about shifts in the legal market paradigm - the end of the billable hour, changes in associate recruitment and training, etc.. I recently came to find out about a web entity that made me thing about potential changes in the way clients choose and manage their law firms. Traditionally, firm prestige has been very important in attracting clients, however as with many business situations it has historically been driven by word of mouth and other fairly informal measures of the quality of past work. In the information age we inhabit, many traditional paths to acclaim and reputation have been either supplanted or at least augmented by more direct and systemic measurements of perceived quality. 

For instance, consider Tripadvisor and similar hotel rating programs. They provide a good bit richer information than the traditional star rating, word of mouth, or travel book recommendations. Prior guests post numerical ratings on a number of dimensions, provide specific comments on their experience, and can even upload photos of their room and the rest of the hotel. In similar vein, professors now are subjected to online ratings for their classes. How long will it be before clients come to primarily use similar services to inform their choice among law firms? Granted, I am pretty sure that the NLJ 250 probably won't be displaced by small local firms completely. Further, there are the M-H peer review rankings to consider. 

Still, I am curious as to whether firms will be able to fend off these type of evaluation systems that have, at least to some degree, come to drive markets in other areas. Further, might clients also take note of sealed bid proposal systems that have become popular in e-commerce (similar to traditional construction firm practices) in deciding which law firm will represent them? Now, back to that web entity I had alluded to previously - Elance.com. This site allows clients seeking expertise (including legal expertise) to evaluate potential contractors with rich evaluation data and it incorporates a bid system for hiring. Is this the future of law firm hiring? Whither traditional notions and pathways of law firm prestige? I'm guessing that it's unlikely that such a system would largely supplant traditional firm prestige, but I would not be surprised if certain aspects of such a system became increasingly utilized in the law market. Below is a short video explaining how Elance works - rest assured, I have no stake in their success; it just started me thinking on these matters.

Jeff


Posted by Jeff Yates on January 3, 2010 at 05:29 PM in Information and Technology, Travel, Weblogs | Permalink

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