The other day I wrote a post, In Startup Law, Big Can Be Beautiful, in which I reflected on the trend of boutique law practices popping up in the startup space, and whether large law firms really are as out-dated in this area as today’s zeitgeist would suggest. One theme of the post was the notion of startup law being integrated, much like healthcare, in the sense that input from many specialists is often required to provide proper counsel to a client. Boutique practices are obviously at a disadvantage in this respect because their whole model is built around not having teams of lawyers in dozens of specialties under the same roof: they call this “overhead.”
I recently came across an article with an extremely interesting concept: the ad hoc law firm. It talks about how solo practitioners and boutique practices, at least in some areas, are creating networks through which they can consult with one another and scale when required, but operate independently when not. From a theoretical and economic perspective, this certainly sounds like the best of both worlds: you have capacity equivalent to a large firm built into your network with specialists and generalists on call when needed, but you only pay for what you use.
I posted a question on quora, which unfortunately no one has answered, asking what sorts of process boutiques and solos have in place to make this kind of system work. The area that really interests me is how technology can be used to facilitate this concept. Right now it seems that most boutiques simply call a specialist when they need one, and then begins a process of probably checking conflicts and transferring the necessary documents over. Consulting outsiders seems to carry far more friction than it would inside of a firm.
But what if all the boutiques/specialists in this “network” operated on the same platform, and scaling was simply of matter of “inviting” others to a particular deal, much like you invite someone on LinkedIn or Basecamp. A few clicks and all the requisite checks and file access could happen automatically. Going one step further, what if these networks had a shared document management system, through which they could share work-product with one another? That would address another advantage mentioned in my post: that volume and experience curves favor large firms.
That sounds like a powerful idea, and if someone’s not working on it already, there’s an enormous market opportunity to be grabbed. Cloud-based law practice services like Clio and Lawloop are well-positioned to go after this, but right now it seems they’re focused more on connecting attorneys within a single firm. Some form of Google+-esque granularity would need to be built in to accommodate a wider network.