Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Law Firm Networks Compete With the Big Boys

Lawyer Marketing – now this is an interesting idea.  Axiom Legal is a company that acts as an agent for lawyers, referring them cases.  If the client engages the lawyer Axiom runs the billing and provides some basic support services, and retains a percentage of the billing.  Apparently, according to my source, Axiom has generated some well-known clients; I won’t mention the names of the clients, but they are industry leaders that anyone would recognize.  Obviously, Axiom is most attractive to small firms, and solo- practitioners, but lurking in its method may be the seeds of wider acceptance.  You never know.  Some people thought Charles Schwab was going off the deep end when he established a discount brokerage business.  Hmmmm. [Ernie the Attorney]

I like the idea. A lot. But I get worried when a site talks about client service when it has just one “news” item from the past twelve months. (Kudos to fellow blawger Martin Schwimmer for being the lonely news-worthy contributor.)

Axiom isn’t the only company trying to change the legal profession business model. For another take, check out Meritas (formerly Commercial Law Affiliates). There was a pretty good article about them in last week’s Legal Intelligencer (Philadelphia’s legal news pub). Check this out:

Meritas has one member in many major commercial centers in the world (they check in at over 200 law firms worldwide today). Each firm commits to certain standards – calls get returned within 24 hours, lawyers speak English, and so on. Firms tend to be mid-size – 50 lawyers or so is about average.

Here’s where it gets interesting: firms are subject to peer review. If the Minneapolis firm refers one of its clients to a firm in Jakarta, and the client isn’t happy with the Jakarta firm, the Minneapolis firm is expected to note that in its post-engagement form. Get dinged too often, and you’re out.

Individual firms benefit because they get “ownership” of their region. As long as they do good work, they stay in. They also benefit because they can appear larger to their clients – how many 50 lawyer firms could routinely staff a matter 6,000 miles away in less than 24 hours?

Whether Meritas actually accomplishes its ultimate goal – of walking, talking and looking like the largest law firm in the world by centralizing administration and operations between member firms – remains to be seen. I doubt it will, primarily because it will require an extraordinary leap of faith among hundreds of firms who don’t fit the mold for risk- takers. But that’s ultimately beside the point: Meritas is already succeeding because it offers its members critical advantages in a marketplace increasingly dominated by large, multi-national players.

I did a bit of consulting for Meritas back when they were CLA and provided some technology advice to them. But technology improvements so far (as far as I’m aware) have consisted of moving from blast faxes to e-mail distribution lists, and moving off of an old Mac network at headquarters and getting modern PCs. Now… wouldn’t Meritas be a prime candidate for a distributed k-log initiative? John – call me. :)

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