Some big firms are getting bigger to achieve economies of scale and expand their global reach. As competition heats up, boutiques and specialty firms are playing to new strengths.
Carol Hansell already had a top name in corporate governance when she left her longtime corporate law firm in 2013 to form her own governance-based boutique, Hansell LLP. That makes natural competitors for her five-lawyer boutique just about every other large and mid-sized law firm out there. “When it comes to corporate lawyers, everybody deals with governance to some extent,” says Hansell.
With law being commoditized, it’s driving prices lower so boutiques like hers can’t compete on price alone — and she is far too pragmatic to try. “We’re very careful with our pricing but when it comes to judgment-based advice, technology won’t ever overwhelm that. I guess the message at the end of the day is, getting judgment-based advice from somebody whose judgment you want will never go out of style. We’re not anybody’s regular law firm. They come to us for very specific advice at a senior level.”
People may go to Hansell for that highly governance-focused expertise, but sometimes they get more than they bargained for — in a good way. Her boutique also includes non-legal analysts, government-relations people and crisis communications consultants. There are many excellent external crisis communications and government-relations experts, she says, that don’t work within a law firm. And most law firms are strictly law.
“Our idea is that the clients are looking for integrated advice, but if I say to a client, ‘I think we need communications advice, so I’m going to hire a consultant,’ often they’d say, ‘Hmmm.’ But if we can just provide the communications advice, or have a government-relations person step into the meeting to say, ‘This is what this looks like,’ we’re not going through a whole separate vetting process, [requests for proposals] and all that. There’s a lot of complication to hiring other advisors versus having them in-house.”
Also, Hansell points out that an integrated team is more likely to talk openly and work co-operatively “because if you’re siloed, everybody wants to win the point, because that’s how they’re relevant.” That’s just the kind of advice technology will never offer.