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As BigLaw firms fall, "boutique" firms rise in their place. "Boutique" is just a fancy name for a small law firm that emphasizes a few practice areas. It's not just the increased cost of BigLaw firms that has enabled boutiques to become popular, though.
As Bloomberg reports, it's technology that has allowed the little guys to finally catch up to the big guys.
The Future Is Here, Today!
Think about the physical barriers to entry that a small firm used to labor under. You need office space, you need a law library, you need paralegals and legal secretaries to handle the logistical duties. You need a way to print and bind briefs and conference rooms to meet with clients.
In other words, a lot of stuff in meat-space. And the real world is expensive. But bytes? Not so much. The ubiquity of online legal research databases means that stacks of musty regional reporters are mostly gone, except for a few specialty items like treatises.
But that's not the only way technology has changed the law firm game. The rise of electronic filing means no more having to print and bind documents at the office and then get a messenger to hike them over to the courthouse. All-in-one firm management software means that you can be the lawyer, the accountant, and the secretary, if necessary. Cloud storage solutions have obviated the need for in-house servers (which come with the added expensive of IT staff who know how to operate them) and lessened the need for on-site physical document storage.
Client communications are easier than ever, too. Practically everyone has Skype, or access to something like it, so client conferences can be more interactive than a phone call, but won't require a full-on visit to a conference room.
Leveled Playing Field
For years, access to physical and logistical resources gave BigLaw firms an advantage. Now, though, technology has leveled the playing field, meaning small firms and solos can compete without having to spend money they don't have on support staff.
The "virtual" law office is truly a thing -- and it's right on time, too. According to Say's Law, supply creates its own demand, and the ability of technology to make creating your own law firm super-simple has led to a larger supply of boutique firms that can compete with BigLaw.