Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Henderson Reviews American Law Firms In Transition: Trends, Threats, And Strategies

William Henderson (Indiana), Book Review (reviewing Randall Kiser, American Law Firms in Transition: Trends, Threats, and Strategies (ABA Aug. 9, 2019)):

KiserWhen it comes to empirical research on lawyers, we’re all lightweights compared to Randall Kiser. Over the last decade, Kiser has authored books on lawyer decision making in the context of litigation, Beyond Right and Wrong (2010), the mindset and work habits of trial lawyers who consistently outperform their peers, How Leading Lawyers Think (2011), and an empirically grounded analysis of the skills and behaviors needed to build a successful legal career, Soft Skills for the Effective Lawyer (2017).

Now comes Kiser’s treatment of U.S. law firms, American Law Firms In Transition: Trends, Threats, and Strategies (2019). I doubt any law firm leader could read this book and conclude that Kiser got it wrong.

The portion of the book that is primarily diagnostic (chapters 1-4) includes a detailed analysis of law firm demographics (we’re getting older), hiring practices (invalid, unreliable, underspecified), clients (they’re insourcing and innovating ahead of firms), strategy (preoccupation with firm size and lateral hiring rather than excellence; obsession with premium rates, which props open the door for new entrants), fragility (collapses are commonplace), and the normalization of all things short term (among other things, highly toxic to the next generation of lawyers).

Kiser has some thoughtful ideas on how a law firm could turn things around, including empirically grounded treatments of Culture (ch. 5), Character (ch. 6), Practices (ch. 7), Systems (ch. 8), and Leaders (ch. 9). Because Kiser’s prescriptive advice is so original and fresh, for the purposes of this Review, I’ll focus on these chapters.

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