The “inverse pyramid” model is increasingly being adopted by boutiques, a report from The Australian Financial Review
reveals, wherein senior lawyers are doing most of the work for clients to deliver strategic advice quicker.
Typically, law firms have been operating using a “pyramid” structure where there are a lot of associates, fewer senior associates and only a relative handful of partners.
The change, though it may reduce training opportunities for some junior lawyers, would also benefit some lawyers just starting out.
“Frankly I think if you're getting someone to a very good boutique firm, they'll get much better training than 35 graduates at Allens
because they get thrown in the deep end,” said Peter Keel, Ash St. CEO and former Clayton Utz
Hannah Ellis, co-founder of The Workplace which has three principals who are senior lawyers, says the typical structure did not fit her firm.
“A large number of billable hours done by juniors tend to get written off even though they are hugely busy and have no life,” she said, noting senior lawyers spent considerable time and effort redoing work done by junior lawyers.
“You need to be able to think on your feet and have commercial understanding and we found junior lawyers lacked the experience to do that,” she said.
Other reasons for the move are lowering overhead, avoiding over-servicing and optimising work to avoid duplication, Ellis explained.
Meanwhile, Keel hints at a more fundamental argument for carefully examining the work allocated to junior lawyers.
“Most lawyers grew up with an old pyramid structure and that's always going to be the case where the simple objective of the law firm is to maximise billable hours,” he said.
“The most profitable spot of course is having senior associates, because they have high charge-out rates and they are desperate to get to partnership so they put in lots of hours. The criticism we have of all of that is where is therefore the law firm's focus? If their focus is to maximise billable hours, the law firm is not really doing the best thing for the client,” he added.
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Some boutique law firms are cutting work done by junior lawyers in a bid to cut costs and also benefit clients and even some junior lawyers.