BigLaw Breakups FLF

As first year law students, we all have dreams of working in BigLaw, the traditional legal firm with a hierarchal structure, starting at the bottom and wining case after case, billing one billable hour after the other, until one day, we would have the corner office, with a crème coloured couch and lush carpet, with a view over the city skyline and a whiskey trolley in the corner. And while many first year law students and law graduates still have this dream of BigLaw, times are a changing. With the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterised by the evolution of technology and data, clients are demanding more agility, flexibility, adaptability and cost effectiveness. While generation Y, the generation of employees within the current workforce, born between 1980 – 2000, want a more balanced lifestyle that is family orientated and provides  flexibility, authenticity and diversity.  In light of these changes a new field of Law is emerging and growing in market share, that is NewLaw. NewLaw refers to alternative legal service providers that are providing legal advice and services through new and innovative business models, generally encompassing technology to streamline the legal process and provide more efficiency, clarity and transparency. 

So what about NewLaw could be so attractive as to seduce previous BigLaw players into this new and different field and practice of Law. 

Rico Burnett is a former BigLaw lawyer, and now the Director of Innovation at Exigent, a global provider of alternative legal services, legal consulting, process optimization and data analytics. He works alongside other legal professionals, accountants, data scientists and software pros to design creative ways to solve client problems. Rico, having studied law for the thrill of arguing, completed his articles at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr in Cape Town, continuing as an associate until he joined Webber Wentzel Linklaters as a Technology, Media and Telecoms lawyer, primarily drafting technology-focused agreements. Although Rico is thankful for the opportunities he had in being exposed to non-traditional legal fields such as technology, intellectual property and media law while in practice, BigLaw soon lost its appeal. 

Firstly BigLaw, as experienced and expressed by Rico and countless practicing legal professionals , tends to remove one from the business side of law, firmly entrenching one in a maze of theoretical drafting and administration,  often without the sight, feel or experience of the law as a business tool.  Further,  BigLaw is focused on single-discipline transactions, with not enough focus on fostering and maintaining wider relationships with clients, professionals and industries, and not helping to solve more than just the matter at hand. Additionally, many legal professionals such as Rico, found themselves incompatible with the hours-at-the-office model still quite prevalent today, and desired a more balanced (in his case family orientated) lifestyle, which is often hard to maintain as a traditional practitioner.

Moving away from traditional BigLaw to the somewhat new and still emerging NewLaw does not necessarily happen without challenges or mind shifts. As explained by Rico, initially one of the biggest challenges upon entering NewLaw from BigLaw is the flexibility that NewLaw offers. “ In BigLaw you [have] a department, with a client list and your key focus areas of legal practice . But in NewLaw you are given the freedom (and the challenge) of exploring the boundaries and being just a little bit disruptive every day, which sounds great, but requires a very different focus.” Practice in NewLaw requires a different thinking, shifting from a single focus perspective on law, to a wider focus and understanding of not only the law but also the legal technology marketplace, legal outsourcing and innovation. Additionally, NewLaw requires a shift from thinking like a lawyer, to thinking more like a business person , a strategic advisor. Thus, it demands thinking, considering and conceptualising new strategies and alternative models to offer non-traditional, creative solution to clients. 

So whether you are attracted to BigLaw or NewLaw, remember (as expressed by a former BigLaw Player) that “NewLaw IS the Future of Law.  [There] is a significant shift in how clients require legal services to be delivered, and the role that humans play in delivering those services (supported by technology).  Ultimately NewLaw is moving legal services into the 21st century, and this is to the benefit of our [legal] profession.”

Join Futures Law Faculty and Exigent for an evening of personal stories from former BigLaw players on reasons for breaking away, challenges faced and overcome and how NewLaw fares in the Future of Law, 15 August 2019 – 17:00 – 20:30 – Inner City Ideas Cartel – 71 Waterkant Street, Cape Town. Tickets available through quicket- For more information –

Written by Kristi Erasmus 
Head Futures Law Faculty 
(Futures Law Faculty in association with Law For All and ILPDR) 


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