Tuesday, 5 April 2011

New Structures for Law Firms?

Julie Adams has written an article in Accountancy Age speculating on new structures for professional partnerships. She makes it clear that younger partners do not see the traditional model enduring.

Conventional partnerships will change into more "employee-owned" forms along the lines of the John Lewis department store model. See this discussion for how it works. This would enable employees and partners to participate in ownership but with greater ease and flexibility of movement. Their equity would be tradeable.

Of course there are other models such as the Goldman Sachs quasi-partner model which isn't a partnership but behaves like one. Stephen Harper has written about this.

Both John Lewis and Goldman have very high leverage ratios (if John Lewis can be said to have one). While some people may spend their entire careers with the firm, average tenure is short. In the case of Goldman burnout occurs after 7 years. Or as the Jesuits would say, "Give me the man and I'll show you the corpse."

Moreover, the advent of ABS there will be increased competition for senior positions as more professionals participate. The world will be more multi- and inter-disciplinary.

Technology and client demand, according to Adams, will lead to a greater segmentation of services and their delivery. Commoditization and standardization and new forms of service delivery are the key here. It's worth reading Jordan Furlong's paper "The Talent Portfolio: New Options for Where, How and By Whom Your Work Gets Done."

The part I like in Adams' article is her depiction of the changes wrought by Generation Y who use work and technology differently from earlier generations. We haven't got to grips with the potential of the scale of change here yet. In part I suspect people discount Gen Y as a fad, even chimerical. It's not and we won't be able to impose our values on it. See, for example, the shillingmesoftly blog. So, as a necessity, change will happen.

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