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Last modified: Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Competitors envision law firms of the future

FutureFirm 1.0 teams split $15,000 in prize money

April 20, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The law firm of the future will have an increased focus on workplace culture and a target client base of small- and mid-sized businesses, according to the winning team at FutureFirm 1.0.

The two-day competition, which concluded Sunday at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, charged participants with creating a business model for a fictional law firm that would not only survive the current economic downturn, but thrive 20 years into the future. Participating in the inaugural event were law firm partners, associates and clients; business leaders and in-house counsel; and law students from across the country.

Hildebrandt, a professional services management firm, awarded the winning team $9,000 Sunday, and split $6,000 equally among the other three teams.

Ann Schertz

Members of the winning FutureFirm 1.0 team shortly after they were awarded a $9,000 prize from Hildebrandt.

The winning team proposed a business model that emphasized a more collaborative and equitable working environment, an alternative fee billing plan for clients, and a focus on making the firm's attorneys as efficient and cost-effective as possible.

Allyson Bouldon, president-elect of the Association of Corporate Counsel's Chicago chapter and a member of the winning team, said FutureFirm 1.0 allowed her to think about the way she'll approach her job going forward.

"This has recharged my professional batteries," she said. "The takeaway for me is to be creative. We need to be bold and clear in our intentions, and I do think the billable hour will become less of a focus for firms in the future."

Legal professionals were not the only ones who learned something from the competition. Scott Flanders, a 1982 IU law graduate who is president and CEO of Freedom Communications Inc., said he will look to consolidate the number of firms he works with in the future.

"I want to develop a relationship with the firms that we concentrate our work in," Flanders said. "We are going to weed that garden and consolidate and develop a relationship with some senior managers of those firms."

Flanders even put a monetary value on the competition. "I commented to someone that if I'd attended this conference one year ago, there would've been a seven-figure savings in the last 12 months, because there would've been better-managed, better-directed legal engagements, " he said.

Each team proposed some similarities in its vision for law firm reform, calling for the restructuring of partner tracks and reducing overhead expenses like high-priced offices and costly travel arrangements for client meetings and depositions.

Edwin Reeser, a solo practitioner in Altadena, Calif., and former managing partner of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, was a member of the winning team, and said some of the ideas put forth by the competitors are going to have to be implemented soon.

"It's inevitable," Reeser said. "The only question is in what form and how long it will take. I think there was much more openness to the fact that the current model of big law firms, if not broken, is seriously damaged. With a better business model, our better will displace our worst."

FutureFirm 1.0 was organized by Indiana Law Professor Bill Henderson and Anthony Kearns of the Legal Practitioners Liability Committee in Australia. More than 40 competitors participated in the event.