Book Review: Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century

This book was written by Mitch Kowalski a Canadian lawyer, author, speaker and entrepreneur and is aimed at anybody who expects (hopes) to be successfully practising law in the second decade  of the 21st century and beyond.

Read more about Mitch here.

The Plot

Maria Fernandez is a GC for Kowtor Industries and is fed up of her external legal partners. Maria and her team begin to create an ITT for a new panel of lawyers and as they document their requirements a new form of law firm begins to emerge.

Their key decision making factors are:-

  • Value for money and not billable hours
  • Knowledge management not just IT that doesn’t work
  • Environment and diversity taken seriously
  • Effective as well as efficient
  • A culture of continual professional development
  • A fixed term; fixed fee model
  • KPIs and SLAs that offer bonuses as well as penalties

She then encounters Sylvester Bowen of Bowen, Fong and Chandri (BFC) a new and very progressive law firm. Following an interview she watches of Bowen on YouTube and a visit to their offices with her boss Henry Kow, CEO of Kowtor Industries she feels she has discovered the promised land.

Blue-print for a Modern Law Firm

The book then moves onto Mark Reynolds a newbie lawyer at BFC as he lives thru his first day at the firm. He learns about the firm’s approach to green issues, Cloud and SaaS IT, liberal working practices, project management, budgeting, LPO and knowledge management. Following a series of meetings with key BCF staff and a breathtaking lunch with Bowen himself he begins to see how BFC are worlds apart from traditional law firms. He learns such things as:-

  • BFC sells results not time
  • Law firms that concentrate on billable hours perpetuate inefficiency and will become obsolete
  • A virtual working environment including place of work, IT, Knowledge management and training is the most effective approach to take in the modern legal services world
  • Use of smart sourcing including outsourcing and home workers to provide a flexible support for the permanent lawyers
  • Rewards should be based on experience and performance including bonus’s and a share option scheme
  • Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO) is a key part of the equation but only if it’s integrated and monitored
  • Only hire experienced lawyers, let somebody else do the training for you
  • The law is only just another business service
  • The firm and it’s processes are more important than any one lawyer
  • Lawyers should be free to do the law and not be burdened with unnecessary administration. The death of timesheeting.
  • Billable hours encourage ineffectiveness.
  • Continuous improvement is essential based upon a platform of e-learning
  • Project management is key in a fixed fee environment
  • The lawyers don’t own the clients the firm does – cross selling is about gaining revenue not losing control

The book ends with a management meeting dinner where Bowen announces he is resigning in favour of a non-lawyer CEO implying that business should be run by business people whilst lawyers practice the law. A fitting end to the book I feel.

My thoughts

The book certainly is worth a read but at £50 it comes at a hefty price (despite the author’s protestations that it should retail for less). I have been banging on about how law firms have got to get all “21st century” for ages but what Kowalski has done here is present his (and my) version of what that law firm should look like in a very easy to read format.

Maybe you could get the managing partner to shell out for a shared copy for the firm. Anyhow, if you fancy a glance at the future buy it here.


Passionate about making business development a profession not just a job. Built and sold a £40m group in less than 9 years. Doing it all again and loving it!

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Posted in Book reviews, Lawyers

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Mike Ames

Passionate about making business development a profession not just a job. Built and sold a £40m group in less than 9 years. Doing it all again and loving it!

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