Law Firms in Transition 2020: An Executive Summary

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Here we are again.

When the Altman Weil Law Firms in Transition Survey debuted in 2009, the nation was pulling out of a deep recession. In an environment of slow demand growth, extreme price sensitivity and intense competition, it was obvious that law firms needed to deliberately improve on their approaches to pricing, staffing, technology deployment, process efficiency, profitability analysis, practice leadership and lawyer accountability to meet the external demands of a more challenging marketplace and the internal demands for income security and viable career paths.

Did law firms adapt and transition as needed to achieve lasting competitive advantages? Some did while most did not—at least not in full. This year’s survey highlights the persistent disconnect between what firm leaders agree they should have done during the intervening years and what they actually accomplished. The survey findings point to the many opportunities still available to firms that choose to pursue them.

In 2020, amid a global pandemic and a stalled economy, firm leaders are presented with an opportunity for another reset—an opportunity to truly rethink what a law firm ought to be doing to meet the needs of a marketplace that has already changed in terms of how clients define and measure value and what they’re willing to do to make sure they get it. Clients will be pushing anew for pricing concessions, predictable budgets, more efficient staffing, more sophisticated utilization of preferred technologies, better communication relating to goals and metrics, and new strategies to create winning outcomes. Corporate law departments will reassess how, when and how much they use outside counsel. Competition from well-funded law businesses will surely accelerate.

Will law firms respond by rethinking their methods and structures to align with clients’ expectations?

History says that most will not. Will this time be different? 

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