Welcome to the Archipelago.
We are building a different kind of firm. One where lawyers, engineers, scientists, policy & communications strategist, all at the top of their respective disciplines, work in the same building. They collaborate formally around conference tables but also informally around coffee machines. When clients come in, they are greeted not by lawyers in a narrow set of specialties, but by professionals with specialized expertise across a broad swath of disciplines.
Why not just build another law firm?
Traditional law firms face an existential problem. Clients don’t particularly like them, and lawyers don’t particularly like to work for them. In a recent survey, 56% of law firm clients said they were unsatisfied with their current law firm. The same survey reported that 78% of clients said they were open to take their business to a new firm if something else were available. And it’s not just the clients. In another recent survey 31% of lawyer between the ages of 30 and 50 reported being unsatisfied with their jobs. 34% of lawyers reported being stressed most of the time. 22% reported that the amount of work they were required to perform was “abusive or inhumane.” In 2017, the American Bar Association reported that 28% of lawyers suffered from depression and 19% had severe anxiety.
Imagine owning a company where most of your customers would leave if given an alternative and where a third of your workers hated their jobs? We have seen this before. Remember the American automobile industry from the 1970s? Unhappy customers, unhappy workers, and exploding Pintos. It took a seismic disruption to re-shape that industry into what it is today. It’s time we do the same for law firms.
It starts with asking the right questions. The fundamental question most lawyers consider when faced with a new task is: is this a transactional problem or litigation? Transactional problems go to one side of the firm and litigation problems go to the other side. This two-dimensional thinking is not the lawyer’s fault, it is how we are trained to think from the very first day of law school.
The question we should be asking is far more basic: Is this even a legal problem to begin with? Lawyers don’t ask this because they assume the client has already decided on the answer. That is an outdated assumption. It might have been true a generation ago, but today’s businesses operate in markets and regulatory regimes that are far more complex. Yet still today, lawyers assume that since you are talking to them, you must have a legal problem.
Remember the three little pigs? Imagine they went to a law firm the day after the wolf attack. A litigator might approach the problem by suing the wolf for trespass. A corporate lawyer might suggest they incorporate and sell shares in the brick house so that the other piggys might continue to use it for refuge. Now imagine a biologist is at the table. What additional insights might the biologist contribute in terms of the predatory behavior and migratory patterns of wolfs?
When we step back and realize that we have been asking the wrong questions, the reason for client dissatisfaction becomes clear. Law firms are charging a lot of money to solve problems they are not qualified to handle. This becomes even more apparent when you dig into the data behind client surveys. The second most reported reason for client dissatisfaction is over-lawyering on irrelevant or insignificant issues. In other words, lawyers are spending time on things that don’t provide value toward solving the client’s problem.
When the focus shifts from what type of law should apply to what type of disciplines should apply, strategies become dynamic as advocates can speak not only to the law around a conflict but also to the science and social benefits supporting a resolution. And those resolutions are durable because they address more facets of the original problem.
That is the idea behind Archipelago: a collection of professionals, each independently qualified in their own right. Working not as islands alone at sea, but together to provide an archipelago of professional services, all focused on finding better solutions for Maine and New England’s biggest challenges.