Lawyers Leaving Firms in Search of New Business Models

, The Legal Intelligencer


Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series.

In a post-recession legal landscape, the era of clients with seemingly unlimited legal budgets is becoming an increasingly distant memory along with the concept of limitless hourly rates.

In their place is a new business climate in which more and more corporate counsel, hamstrung by tight budgets, are demanding flexibility and predictability in their legal bills.

That shift has brought with it a wave of attorneys who set out to respond to these demands by starting small or solo practices predicated on delivering legal services in the most efficient way possible, without the bulky overhead and sometimes antiquated business models of larger firms.

Will Sylianteng left Philadelphia-based insurance firm Bennett, Bricklin & Saltzburg in December when it became clear that his plaintiffs-side property subrogation practice no longer meshed with the firm's growing defense practice.

Sylianteng and law school friend Mike Tzorfas decided to strike out on their own and start WES Litigation Group, recognizing that the legal industry had undergone some profound changes in recent years.

"There's been a shift really in how the legal profession is perceived," Sylianteng told The Legal on Monday. "For the longest time, it was always 'the art of law'—we sit here and bill big rates and sit in big offices and think about these things and it's very professorial."

Today, however, clients are increasingly holding firms accountable for the work they do and how much they charge to do it, which in turn requires firms to work more efficiently and eliminate redundancies—in other words, to run a business, Sylianteng said.

While this is a foreign concept to many law firms, Sylianteng said, it's how their clients have always operated.

"The legal profession is the only profession where [the business model] was, 'Bill it and the client will pay it.' Now, it's 'bill it' and the client says, 'Well, why did you charge this?'" Sylianteng said.

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