What if . . . the next decade does to law firms what the last decade did to newspapers?

The new millennium was one of great promise for the newspaper business. Notwithstanding the emergence of the Internet, newspapers were, at the turn of the millennium, still among the most profitable businesses in the world. Media company annual reports were full of promises for, as the Washington Post's 2000 annual report said, "another record-setting year."
A decade later, the newspaper industry is decimated (actually far more than decimated, since that word implies a 10% casualty rate). Many once leading daily newspapers are now gone, and even The New York Times is threatened. Layoffs have been rampant across newsrooms and printing plants alike. Financial results are abysmal for all but a handful of media companies with significant newspaper holdings. The culprit for this downfall (aside, perhaps, from hubris)? The migration of a newspaper's principal source of revenue — classified advertising — from print to online venues such as Craigslist, eBay and the like.

2007 was the most profitable year for law firms on record, and in the legal press that year we heard talk of law firm margins the likes of which even Microsoft would envy. As the decade turned, however, a shadow loomed. Not only had the economy turned sour, but clients were in revolt against high legal fees and at the billable hour itself. Moreover, clients began organizing their opposition to high rates in the form of the Association of Corporate Counsel's Value Challenge. In 2010, it became clear that a sea change is taking place, and law firms face the prospect of the most dynamic and threatening decade of the last fifty years.

But, as happened with newspapers, some firms will emerge from this decade thriving. Some will treat the changing environment as a field of opportunities and from that field will harvest real growth. The question presented by Law2020™ is what factors will allow those leaders to triumph? What skills will be needed, and what kind of leadership? What technologies will be key for those firms that not only survive, but thrive over the coming decade? And what can you do to acquire the skills you need to be part of a thriving firm?

A slate of sessions of ILTA 2010 will tie into Law2020™, an ILTA multi-year, multi-platform educational programming initiative focusing on the ways in which law firms will have to adapt in order to thrive over the next decade. Sessions will center on the skills, leadership and technologies that will allow firms to harvest real growth from the changing environment. Watch for details of the specific sessions that fall under this theme.