Business Alternative law firms Bargain briefs
商业 律师事务所可他选 概说律所议价
Technology offers 50 ways to leave your lawyer
CONVENTIONAL law firms charge vast hourly fees and then hand the work to underlings while the partners play golf at clubs their clients are too poor to join. At least, that is how it seems to many clients, whose irritation at being overcharged turned to fury during the recession.
Some clients are switching to unconventional law firms, which claim to offer equally good lawyering for much less money. Take Clearspire. The firm's 20 or so lawyers work mostly from home, collaborating on a multi-million-dollar technology platform that mimics a virtual office. A lawyer checking in on a colleague automatically sees a picture of her on the phone when she is, in fact, on the phone. Clients use the platform too, commenting on and even changing their own documents as they are being drawn up. Conventional lawyers are far less open.
From the start, Clearspire offers cost estimates for each phase of a legal job. Employees who underestimate how long it will take cannot simply jack up the bill—they must take the hit themselves. But if a lawyer finishes his work faster than promised, he gets a third of the savings. The client also gets a third, as does Clearspire. This gives everyone a stake in making the process more efficient and predictable.
Bryce Arrowood, the founder, notes that law firms reward partners who bring in business, and not necessarily the most brilliant lawyers. Yet clients' priorities are exactly the reverse. So Clearspire has an unusual dual structure. American law firms cannot have non-lawyers sharing fees with lawyers. (Britain used to be the same, but will ditch this pointless rule this year.) So Clearspire must be two entities: a law firm, with salaried employee-lawyers rather than partners, and a second company that focuses on bringing in business and supporting the lawyers.
布赖斯. 艾尔伍德,这位Clearspire的创建者指出，律师事务所奖励那些招揽生意的合伙人，而这些人不一定就是最出色的律师，但是客户们的首选可不是这些人。所以Clearspire有一个双重的运作结构，因为美国的律所不能分享律师们的非律师业务的收费，（英国从前与美国一样， 不过今年英国要废除这一毫无意义的规定。）因此Clearspire必须为两个公司：一个为律师事务所，与领工资的雇佣律师们而不是合伙人打交道，另一个工资则旨在招揽生意并给律师工资。
The discount for clients is sweet. George Kappaz is a private-equity boss who recently gave a complex job to Clearspire (structuring an equity package for Astrata, one his fund's firms). He estimates that it cost a quarter of what he would have paid the big firms he used before, and Clearspire's work was just as good. (Many of its lawyers come from top-notch law firms.) Mr Kappaz predicts that the Clearspire model, or something like it, will revolutionise the legal business.
非传统的律所给客户带来了甜头。乔治.卡帕兹是一个私有股份公司的老板，它最近委托Clearspire一个复杂的业务。（为他的一个基金公司Astrata建构一个股份组合）他估计这个业务的花费，可能只为以往他用的那个大律所的花费的1/4.并且 Clearspire干的一样的好。（很多Clearspire 的律师来自高级律所。）卡帕兹预测说Clearspire的这种模式，或是类似它的运营模式，会在律师界引起大革命。
Perhaps so, but for Clearspire it is early days. Can it make money? A company like 11-year-old Axiom proves that clients have an appetite for alternative models. Axiom either seconds some of its hundreds of lawyers to a company, takes on a whole chunk of a client firm's legal work (such as commercial contracts), or performs "discovery" (reviewing documents for litigation). Rather than charging by the hour for each lawyer, it asks for a single flat fee, or charges for a team by the week or the month. Expenses are kept low by having headquarters in SoHo, a chic bohemian bit of New York, and by stashing many lawyers in even cheaper places such as Houston and Hyderabad.
也许是这样的，但是对于Clearspire 来说此言尚早。Clearspire会盈利么？Axion这一运营了11年的公司证明了客户喜欢不同的律所模式。Axion要么从几百名律师中调派一些去客户公司，处理大量的客户公司的法律业务，（例如商务合同）要么做"证据开示（程序）"（复审诉讼文件）。 比起按律师按小时收费，公司简单地收取统一价。或者按周/月收取一组律师的费用。通过把总部设在索霍区/休南区——这个雅致又富有波西米亚风格的纽约一角，还有通过把律师们储备在像休斯顿和海德拉巴这样消费更低的地方，律所的开销就能保持低廉了。
The recession was good to Axiom. After it sent its consultants, recruited from the likes of McKinsey and Accenture, to clients to help them trim their legal spending, the clients gave Axiom more work. Revenue grew from $55m in 2008 to $80m in 2010. This year the firm expects to rake in $120m. Companies were always under pressure to cut their legal bills, says Mark Harris, Axiom's boss. But "fake pressure" before became "real pressure" during the downturn.
Axiom and Clearspire serve some of America's biggest companies. Other entrepreneurs are aiming at small-business clients. These would normally take a chance on finding the right sole practitioner or small firm. But on LawPivot, a year-old social-networking website for lawyers and those who need them, potential clients post questions (up to three a month), and lawyers provide free, brief answers. The lawyers make nothing, but use the service to drum up custom. Clients can test a lawyer's skill before opening their wallets.
LawPivot is a social-networking site, not a law firm—it will make its money initially by charging lawyers to upgrade their profiles (similar to the networking profiles on LinkedIn). Google Ventures is a backer, and Apple's former top lawyer for mergers and acquisitions is a co-founder. This kind of heft will bring it up against LegalZoom, the biggest seller of online forms and easy, repeatable legal services for small businesses and individuals. LegalZoom now wants to put more of its contract lawyers to work directly for clients at a flat rate.
It is more than a decade since the internet made book-buying cheaper and more convenient. If technology now helps cut gargantuan legal bills in America and elsewhere, it will be better late than never.