From Big Law to Lean Law
Our late colleague, Larry Ribstein, left us prematurely. In terms of academic productivity, however, he had already lived several lives. He was a dominant figure in not one legal subfield, but several. One of these subfields was a focus on the legal profession and lawyer regulation. Larry’s core critique, developed over a series of articles, was how the legal ethics rules, through bans on noncompete agreements and nonlawyer investment, were limiting the ability of lawyers to create new forms of organization that would facilitate optimal levels of risk sharing and innovation. Larry advanced these arguments long before the first signs of trouble. When the large corporate law firms were finally showing signs of stress, Larry reviewed the evidence. He concluded that most large law firms were evolving into highly inefficient, sprawling structures that worked to the benefit of individual lawyers and, as a result, were hollowing out the very mechanisms needed to strengthen and grow the organization. He also took stock of broader trends affecting the market for corporate legal services. The clients were wising up. Moreover, they had other options. Playing out the logical next steps, Larry confidently pronounced The Death of Big Law.