Should Law Firms Be More Flexible in Staffing?

February 28, 2013

Job seekers attend large career fair at Rutgers University in New BrunswickThe Georgetown Law Center for the Study of the Legal Profession (“GLC”) has issued its 2013 Report on the State of the Legal Market. According to the report, the legal profession continues to struggle with overcapacity, which has affected the way law firms address staffing issues.  The GLC predicts that law firms will remain conservative in their hiring practices, resulting in fewer partners and partner-track associates and more non-partner-track associates and non-lawyer personnel.

Market overcapacity is likely to remain the norm for at least the next 10 years. According to one legal analyst, over twice as many law students will graduate than will be necessary to fill available legal jobs. While excess capacity may spell doom for new lawyers, it provides flexibility to law firms in hiring decisions. In fact, the GLC urges law firms to embrace alternative staffing practices, including hiring more staff attorneys, non-partner track associates, contract lawyers, and part-time attorneys to increase efficiency and cost effectiveness.

In the current legal environment, many law firms are moving towards the managed professional business (“MPB”) model, which focuses more on providing value for the client rather than the demonstrating legal expertise. As such, an individual attorney’s professional attributes (education, experience, reputation) are replaced or enhanced by concerns such as punctuality, style, and cost. Under the MPB model, a partner is less autonomous and viewed as more of a team player.

This is not an easy change for many law firms or partners to adopt. Many firms are trying to strike a balance between the more traditional model and the MPB model.  Meeting the expectations of employees as well as clients is not always easy, but in the midst of this economic downturn and the current legal market, it might provide just the right competitive edge.