A puzzling finding as to a permanent shift in the client-lawyer balance of power

Eversheds, the globe-straddling UK firm, has published “Law firm of the 21st century: The clients’ revolution.” Based on questions asked of 130 general counsel and 80 law firm partners, Eversheds concludes that the “current balance of power in the client-lawyer relationship is now with the clients.”

What they mean by the shift in balance of power is unclear. At page 5 they give one clue. “Many managing partners have recognised that they are becoming primarily service providers and that their previously dominant role at the centre of the client-lawyer relationship has irrevocably altered.” The once-mighty law firm partner now kow-tows to an inside lawyer who funnels the firm’s thoughts and work product to the ultimate client, a business executive. (Yet the report refers repeatedly to “the client” as the general counsel, not a business executive or the company as a whole.)

Another interpretation is that law firms are perceived as just another group of vendors, on a par with copier repairmen. There are lots of firms, all about the same, and it’s a buyer’s market. Partly the dozen-page report attributes this shift to “the increasing power and importance of General Counsel.”

These guesses aside, what the report means by this transformation of influence, not to mention the consequences of it, remains murky.

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