Our friend Bruce MacEwen has written a trenchant analysis of the predicament currently facing the large law firm business model: Growth is Dead: Now What? In the words of Paul Weiss chair Brad Karp, the book “is an extraordinary body of work that reflects enormous insight and ought be required reading by managing partners of law firms,” as well as “a much-needed wake up call for our profession.”
Originally a twelve-part series on Adam Smith Esq., Growth is Dead will soon be released as a paperback. Next Tuesday, February 26, ATL will host a salon-type event for law firm partners in celebration of this release, at a sleek new venue in a convenient area of Manhattan. Peter Kalis, global managing partner of K&L Gates and author of the foreword for Growth is Dead, will introduce Bruce, who will then (briefly) discuss his book and take a few questions. This will be followed by a free evening of cocktails and thought-provoking conversation. We’ve had a robust response so far, but limited spaces are still available. Law firm partners, please join us; you can RSVP here.
By way of preview, we spoke with Bruce about his book. How did it come about? What did he find out in the course of writing it that was most surprising? Encouraging? Discouraging?
ATL: Tell us about the genesis of the book.
MacEwen: As with many ambitious ventures, I had no idea what I was getting into when I started. I simply wanted to describe the post-2008 landscape for Biglaw in a more thorough-going way than I’d seen elsewhere. The only concession I’ll make to its being purposeful (because honestly at first it was anything but) was that I realized it would require more than one column, and maybe more than a few.
What was the most surprising thing you discovered in the course of writing Growth is Dead?
MacEwen: That the story actually cohered. You could see that the Great Reset had consequences in the market, particularly in terms of the (over-)supply of talent and clients’ new willingness to exercise their power over demand. And you could see that people more or less rationally following their own self-interest, given the incentive structures in front of them, had system-wide consequences that no one might have actually intended.
More importantly, you could see how so many of those repercussions had been waiting in the wings, as it were, and just needed something to launch them on stage, front and center. We were on an unsustainable trajectory before 2008.
ATL: What was the most depressing or disheartening thing you discovered in writing the book?
MacEwen: How many lawyers are in denial about the permanence of the changes we’re experiencing; they want to believe it’s cyclical when it’s structural. And more importantly, what the human consequences already have been and will continue to be for some time, from partners and associates to staff and recent JD grads. As Bill Henderson has said, the upward mobility law school escalator is broken.
ATL: The most hopeful thing?
MacEwen: The flipside of your last question: How many lawyers are determined to adapt themselves and their firms to our new reality.
But my greatest fear (no, you didn’t actually ask me about that) is that complacency and worse, intransigence, may keep us from changing. Here’s what I mean: Whenever presented with anything new, the typical lawyer’s reaction is the reflex question, “Who else is doing that?” And if the answer is hardly anyone, that’s seen as some sort of economic justification for rejecting it. Economic and business history shows exactly the reverse. Placid incumbents challenged by disruptive conditions typically have a very high mortality rate.
ATL: Thanks for your insights, Bruce. We’ll see you on the 26th!
Again, we have limited spaces remaining. Any law firm partners interested in a collegial evening of cocktails and bracing discussion with industry thought leaders? Please RSVP: