Thoughts on the growth of the Middle Coast for legal services - its more than just our lack of rosewood conference tables
Posted by J Matthew Buchanan at May 25, 2005 10:17 AM
The firms in the “middle coast” are expanding to fulfill a real need: client driven legal services, alternative billing and compensation systems, sanity concerning the number of billable hours required, and service.
Companies are no longer willing to pay sky-high rates in order to subsidize $100+ per square foot office space rates, unsustainable associate salaries and rosewood conference tables.
Is that good stuff, or what?
Doug’s post made me think a little deeper about the “middle coast” concept.
Why is the middle coast growing as a destination for legal services work?
I can at least offer a theory as it relates to patent work.
The new expertise has landed in Toledo…and Oklahoma City, and Boise…and Anytown, USA.
Corporate counsel continue to get hammered on legal expenses. For patent work, India is an option but most corporate counsel that are in a position to consider it are worried about the quality of the craftsmanship. They’ve been through a patent litigation or two (or twenty) and understand the importance of quality craftsmanship.
The hammering continues, so they slowly look for other options.
And there we are, right in the middle….offering the best of both worlds:
lower expenses (ask — you’ll be amazed!) with the same level of expertise.
I’m willing to guess that the difference in expenses has probably always existed. But, I think the expertise issue has changed dramatically over the last decade or so. I’m not referring to expertise in substantive patent law and practice — small firms in the middle coast have always had a high level of legal expertise. No, I’m talking about technical expertise.
In the past, technical expertise meant engineers. Lots of engineers. And physicists. Middle coasters had access to these people and therefore had the technical expertise that allowed them to compete. But, in the last 30 to 40 years, the requirements for technical expertise have changed. Now, patent firms must offer skills in biology, chemistry, computer science, and other developing fields — the new expertise.
Over the last several decades, big firms seemingly had a lock on this new expertise. They gobbled up newly minted lawyer-PhD's in all of these new fields. They took their push for the new expertise even further by hiring squads of non-lawyer PhD’s and resurrecting patent agent practice in the process. For awhile, the middle coasters couldn’t compete…geography, money, culture and many more criteria heavily favored the big city.
But that’s changing.
All of a sudden, experts in these new fields are staying in the middle coast. For some, the middle coast is home, making it an easy decision. For all, its a different way of life — the sanity Doug mentioned in his post. Have you heard? We’ve got PhD microbiologists in Toledo now (and I’m not just talking about my wife!). Doug has ‘em in Oklahoma for crying out loud. That’s a little tongue-in-cheek, of course, but the point is that big cities — and big firms — no longer have a lock on the new expertise.
This changes everything. All of a sudden, when big city and middle coast firms are compared, the spotlight shines almost exclusively on expenses, which is where we really shine.
There is another feature that attracts companies to large firms (which are typically big city firms) — raw capacity. You want 35 associates to handle your patent prosecution needs? There’s a big firm or two (or twenty) that can do that. In fact, they’ll make sure those associates start on it tomorrow evening.
None of our firms, individually, can do that.
But our network can.