What's My Bottom Line: Managing Law Firms Through the Great Recession

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Pamela Rogers Melton hosted this session, and was joined on the stage by James Lehman and Christine Sellers, both from Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough.  Lehman is the Managing Partner, and Sellers is a Research Specialist, at the firm. 

I liked the way Melton kept the session informal and conversational.  The speakers sat in chairs on the platform, without using the podium or tables.  Questions were encouraged and integrated into the discussion instead of being left for the end. 

The session provided audience members with valuable insights into management's perspectives on issues facing law firms and law libraries.  Lehman made it clear that firm attorneys appreciate and value the work done by law librarians.  He acknowledge that firm management probably takes the value of law librarians somewhat for granted (though in a positive way), and encouraged the audience to work to develop new ways to demonstrate their value to the firm.

Lehman highlighted the economic issues continuing to affect law firms.  He noted that there has been a bankruptcy involving a major law firm each of the last five years, and stressed "that there are still a lot of challenges to work through before we are on solid ground."  Demand for legal services remains relatively weak; as a result, clients continue to enjoy significant pricing power.  Information technology continues to be very disruptive to the legal industry, a trend he did not expect to go away anytime soon. 

The session highlighted Nelson Mullins' approaches to cope with these problems, including efforts to work more closely across practice areas in order to offer a diversified portfolio of services to clients and to maximize their chances of winning engagements.  Lehman believes we will continue to see the movement of support services to low cost areas, both in the United States and offshore.   He described the inherent fragility of the law firm partnership structure, in explaining why firm management needs to respond proactively to any signs of trouble.  Despite these challenges, he is confident that clients will continue to value the attorney's role as trusted adviser, and is optimistic about the industry's future.   Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons from the session is the need for law librarians to continue to strive to be this "trusted adviser" for the firm's attorneys. 

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