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My Law 2050 class has moved into group presentations (format explained here), the first round being their assessments of new companies and business models emerging in the “new normal.” In two days of presentations, so far we’ve heard about a wide variety of fascinating developments: Axiom, QuisLex, Neota, MetricStream, Yusin & Irvine, Pangea, CEB, Clerky, Onit, MyCase, and Legal Outsourcing Partners. Also, one of my students, Christine Carletta, wrote an insightful description and assessment of Lex Machina as a post on the JETLaw blog for Vanderbilt’s Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law. I couldn’t be more pleased with how the students are engaging with their projects and the class in general!
The Irony of Axiom and Clearspire: If Most of Their Lawyers Are Top AmLaw 200 Firm Alums, AmLaw 200 Firms Must Be Doing Something Right
Anyone following news of the changes taking place in the legal services industry has heard of the much-touted new law firm models represented by Axiom in the UK and Clearspire in the US. Both claim to have reimagined how a top law firm is structured and operates, and they truly have done some innovative thinking. Plus they have slick websites. Hats off to them.
But here’s the irony of Axiom and Clearspire: they proudly pronounce that most of their lawyers were trained in the BigLaw world they say is broken. Clearspire says its attorneys are “drawn predominantly from the ranks of AmLaw 200.” Axiom says that of its over 1000 attorneys in the network, “most have worked at an AmLaw 50 or Magic Circle firm.” Sure, it’s the profit pyramid/billable hour business model they and countless others piling on say is “broken” in BigLaw, but apparently Axiom and Clearspire have no problem with the training young attorneys receive in those firms. Indeed, that’s what they are marketing–their clients get BigLaw trained lawyers at half the rate. Here’s the bottom line: Law firms like Axiom and Clearspire are telling Fortune 500 clients to shun BigLaw while at the same time telling Fortune 500 clients they are staffed by attorneys trained by BigLaw. Huh?
Axiom and Clearspire also seem to have absolutely no interest in hiring and training new post-graduate lawyers in ways that would produce the quality of seasoned lawyer Axiom and Clearspire are marketing to their clients. Everyone seems to agree BigLaw does a pretty good job of moving lawyers from young post-graduates to experienced senior attorneys ready to handle complex legal matters faced by Fortune 500 companies. But according to Axiom, Clearspire, and their champions, BigLaw is over and they are now the best bet in town.
Here’s the problem: If Axiom and Clearspire are the wave of the future and BigLaw is obsolete, who will train the lawyers the new “reimagined” law firms will staff as senior, seasoned counselors. Couple that with the utterly unimaginative proposal to reform legal education in the US by lopping off the third year, and you should see the disconnect. Law firms like Axiom and Clearspire (and their clients) apparently don’t want to carry the lawyer training burden, and law schools (even with three years and plenty of clinical and skills training) can’t possibly graduate fully-formed lawyers any more than medical schools can graduate experienced neurosurgeons after their four years.
This is the one piece of the puzzle the “Rethink Law” and legal education reform movements haven’t quite figured out if their vision of the future of the legal industry and legal education comes true: Who will train the newly licensed lawyers?