The New York Times recently ran a couple of articles that highlight current changes in the practice of law. One article discussed the use of analytical computer tools to simplify discovery in complex litigation. Rather than firms having to dispatch an auditorium full of young associates to wade through mountains of documents, firms can now set specific search parameters and isolate relevant documents and phrases more quickly and more cheaply. The other article noted that law school applications are down more than 12% from last year, with the number of people sitting for the LSAT down more than 16%. The article suggests that a dawning recognition that law school is not a quick path to riches accounts for this decline.
On the one hand, these articles might give fodder to the death-of-the-legal-profession-as-we-know-it meme that is revived occasionally by national events or changes in the economic landscape. Certainly, the legal profession is changing in that it is more reliant on technology than it has been in the past. Even the most Luddite of attorneys in the Virgin Islands must contend with the electronic filing system that is used by the District Court, even if it means hiring someone to handle the filing.
But the upshot of these stories is that, while the legal profession is changing at the large-firm level, small and medium size firms will continue to survive and thrive. This is because small firms provide both value and a personal touch that sometimes evade the larger firms. Whereas national firms might have a presence in several cities, small and medium sized firms generally vest themselves in a single community. And even if law school no longer guarantees (as if it ever did) a highly-paid position at a white shoe firm, there are always opportunities for committed and intelligent lawyers within their local communities.
In the Virgin Islands, small firms are the norm. The largest firms rarely exceed twelve to fourteen attorneys, and the majority of firms operate with fewer attorneys than that. This means that Virgin Islands firms have opportunities that are largely unavailable to stateside firms of equivalent size. Take the example of national and international corporations. Broadly speaking, these companies tend to gravitate to large firms for their legal needs. However, given the absence of large firms in the Virgin Islands, local mid-sized and small firms are tapped to represent these entities. BoltNagi has the honor of representing several nationally-known companies, including Fortune 500 companies and other household names. This kind of representation gives BoltNagi a level of practical knowledge and experience that likely would be unavailable to other small firms. As a consequence, our small-business clients get the same high-quality representation as our big-business clients.
Technology will change the way law firms practice law, and economic fluctuations may determine who chooses to practice law. Even so, there will be a place for small firms who listen to the needs of their clients and provide solid legal assistance for them. BoltNagi strives to be such a firm, leading the Virgin Islands both in the practice of law and in our relationships with our clients.