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by the hour (forsaking fee caps, risk collars and other accommodations to the new reality of alternative fee arrangements), while commodity work can only tarnish a big law firm’s well-established blue-chip reputation. The opposing perspective focuses on the fact that the amount of premium work is limited and that only a few law firms can play in that rarefied world of bet-the-company work; only high-volume commodity work can sustain the huge corporate infrastructures that big law firms have built. The legal industry has spawned far too many players — and our law schools have churned out far too many lawyers — to have them all competing only for the high-margin work. If law firms can focus on performing commodity work efficiently and cost-effectively, there is enormous potential for growth and profit, sufficient to sustain their big-firm infrastructures. This debate is a fascinating academic endeavor, perhaps worthy of a Harvard Business School case study. Indeed, some law firms may imperil their future success by making the wrong decision between premium and commodity work while others may do even worse simply by failing to make a decision at all and trying to be “full-service” while relying on their traditional legal service delivery models. On the other hand, many law firms may thrive by successfully delivering both types of services, but only if they can re-evaluate and re-engineer their existing business “The line between commodity and premium work is constantly evolving as legal practice and the marketplace for legal services change.” processes. For this reason, from a practical knowledge management perspective, this academic debate is largely irrelevant. Regardless of which strategic direction a firm chooses, there remains a critical role for knowledge management and for KM professionals if large law firms, as we know them now, are to continue to be at the epicenter of the legal industry. There is, of course, an entirely different perspective in this debate, which is that law firm efforts to compete effectively for commodity work are doomed to failure. Big law firm infrastructures are not designed to take advantage of rational business processes, and their entrenched compensation systems — high starting salaries and incentives for inefficiency — will prevent them from competing on quality or price with all of the non-law firm alternatives available to clients. These include legal process outsourcers providing document review less expensively and with greater quality control and enhanced security measures; off-shore providers offering legal research and a myriad of services at costs that dwarf what high-overhead law firms can offer; and highly automated providers encroaching into the routine services that law firms have long considered “bread and butter,” such as drafting Knowledge Management 33

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