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Lawyers at Traditional Firms or Attorneys For Legal Startups: When Following the Money Tells the Fut

Legal education is changing, law firms are changing and practices are changing. All across the nation, what “going into law” looks like and the entire legal industry is experiencing massive growing pains as traditional law firms become more costly to operate and the public falls out of love with the mahogany and marble model. Television shows and movies about lawyers, trials and the glamor and glory of the courtroom may still be around, but more and more, running a sustainable legal business is requiring a flexible idea of practice. Creativity and innovation is driving the industry to find new ways of organizing firms, and attorneys for legal startups may have found gold, at least according to this article in the American Bar Association Journal online.

One corporate and securities law attorney has recently turned venture capitalist, and has been working hard to convince other investors that attorneys for legal startups have more flexibility and stronger arguments for economic benefit for both company and clients. Jason Mendelson is pretty convinced that the legal industry’s “complications and barriers” prevent traditional firms from being a lucrative business model, and it would seem that the last couple of decades, culminating in the Great Recession, have echoed Mendelson’s understanding.

Clients want affordability and attorneys for legal startups and law firms alike want profitability—at least enough to pay back that student debt: law school is becoming less and less affordable. The painful cycle of raising billing rates to keep practices afloat alienate clients or send them into their own debt in their efforts to resolve personal legal issues from corporate to family concerns. And that’s just not right, say some law firms like Shumway Van & Hansen and attorneys for legal startups working to change the traditional model. But how?

Through a paradigm shift.

Aided by technology and the World Wide Web, legal services and law firms are discovering incredible flexibility in developing a viable business model that meets the needs of clients while remaining profitable. The lawyers-turned-venture capitalists are insisting that providing affordable access to legal help through the budding segment of the legal industry online is a profitable avenue. Venture capitalists are throwing money at legal technology vendors as they tout concerns about “efficiency and access to justice.”

But companies like LegalZoom and Lex Machina—the online legal giants—aren’t the only way to revamp the legal industry, say firms like Shumway Van & Hansen. Providing clients with expert and affordable services within a framework of a flexible and creative business model may mean going online, but doesn’t have to mean offloading all the legal expertise into a website database. Part of legal representation is the relationship between lawyer and client, and that doesn’t have to change.

Still, even traditional law firms know how much Apple’s Siri and Google’s search engine are clients’ first mode of inquiry when faced with a legal question and are leveraging it. And the legal industry is catching up. Articles like this one in the Texas Bar Journal promote using “The Cloud” online as a virtual office, but some law firms are going beyond simply using the web to warehouse their work and are doing more to innovatively utilize what the internet can do for their clients and their business. This paradigm shift is here to stay.

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