The legal industry isn’t known for innovation. But a few upstarts have come up with a business model that challenges the tight grip big law firms hold on corporate business. This new breed of firms is landing blue-chip clients and, in the process, making money.
The newcomers aim to provide highly qualified lawyers, often working on site, for a good deal less than traditional law firms. They are nowhere near to replacing their more-conventional competition: companies still turn to brand-name law firms for the vast majority of the legal work they farm out. And it isn’t easy to recruit talented attorneys willing to give up the prestige, colleagues and career-track of a large law firm.
But for certain work, the new outfits offer businesses a welcome alternative to in-house lawyers or outside law firms.
Kirk Wickman, general counsel of Morgan Stanley’s global wealth-management arm, is a client. A few years ago when he had a knotty securities-law issue to solve, the right in-house lawyer didn’t immediately spring to mind. He says he feared the bill a law firm would submit for the lengthy project.
Instead, he tried New York-based Axiom Global Inc., which provided a lawyer who had spent several years at the elite New York-based firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP. Mr. Wickman says the lawyer did “fantastic” work, and he estimates he saved about 40% of what he would have paid a lawyer at a large New York law firm.
Axiom, with some 220 lawyers on staff, and a host of smaller counterparts, like Outside GC LLC in Boston and Phillips & Reiter PLLC in Houston, offer experienced and often-pedigreed attorneys to companies as needed, frequently at discounts to law-firm rates. Some of them cater to small businesses that don’t have large in-house legal departments. They can charge less because they aren’t compensating scores of highly paid partners, and their lawyers often work from home or at a client’s offices, keeping real-estate overhead to a minimum.