How Law Firms Have Been Adapting To The Changing Environment

By Tony Restell

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Warren Bongard InterviewI recently had the opportunity to interview Warren Bongard of ZSA Legal Recruitment. We delved into lots of topics concerning the legal market and how law firms have been adapting, including:

-> The impact that virtual law firms are having on the legal profession

-> How law firms have been coping with the turmoil caused by the pandemic

-> The impact that's being seen on Partner-level and junior hires recruiting within law firms

We also reflected on the similarities between what's being seen in the legal sector and what we've been seeing within the consulting industry.

Watch the full interview

Here's the full video, a transcript of which follows underneath


Interview Transcript

Delighted to be joined today by Warren Bongard, who's the President and co-founder of ZSA.

Warren, thanks ever so much for joining us today.

Do you want to start by just telling us a little bit about your company?

 

Thank you, Tony and thanks for having me on.

I really appreciate it.

Our company is a legal recruitment firm that was started in 1997, Canadian exclusive.

So we're in four cities in the country and our market focus is exclusively legal, so that would include anything from Admin support in law firms and law departments, as well as lawyers in law firms, all the way up to senior partners.


Fantastic.

And I can imagine that, like a lot of industries, the legal profession has been changing quite a bit.

To what extent have virtual law firms emerged to compete with the big name brands?

And do you think this kind of trend is going to accelerate over time?


I actually do, and it was accelerating even before March, to me, March 16 is a date that sort of stuck in my mind as the date we closed our offices. And so pre March 16th, I would say that virtual law firms, which is not really the official term that they go by, they go by LPOs or other forms of law firms.

But what essentially they are, are low overhead sole practitioners that are all working together.

In some cases, you may have heard of companies in North America and the UK that are doing very similar things where they address an inefficiency in the market place, where you have underemployed lawyers looking for work, some of whom are extremely talented and trained in Big Law, but for whatever reason, have found themselves out of work or out of hours and have some capacity.

So the collection of these lawyers have been providing services for years now to companies on a reduced hourly basis that what Big Law would otherwise charge.

And since COVID, what we're seeing is more lawyers being forced into this sort of entrepreneurial world of practising law.

And frankly, from my perspective, I think it's a wonderful thing to address this inefficiency in the market where lawyers are finding work, they were gaining experience in the BigLaw firms, and now are deploying themselves with their own resources.

Some cases, entrepreneurs have sprouted out starting these mini law firms with no overhead, no Bricks and Mortar, just offering their services through marketing. And it's working.

And so I think, with COVID, I think you're going to see a big uptick in this.


We've seen almost exactly the same thing happen in the management consulting industry.

So I'm not at all surprised to hear that.

In terms of other challenges that the pandemic has thrown up, what kinds of things have you seen law firms trying to contend with over the last few months?


So the minute lawyers were sent home, like all of us in March, I noticed managing partners, with whom I've been monitoring closely, their comings and goings They've all, mostly I should say, not all, most of them have taken some anticipatory measures to prepare for what may be, initially we all thought was the apocalypse turned out to be not so much, but nonetheless, law firms have cut partner draws right out of the gate to ensure they had cash to deal with things. Many firms not all, cut salaries of associates, which frankly, we haven't seen ever, as far as I can recall for the 23 years.

If anything, the law firms are fighting with each other to pay more, to attract the best talent And now you see across the board many firms cutting back on salaries.

And lastly, I would say they've even cut back on some administrative support just to manage expenses. And so, to give you a summary, in fact, I just had a phone call yesterday with a partner from a major law firm.

Most of these firms, at least the ones I've spoken to, have managed to maintain their budget expectations for this year.

We're now at the halfway mark of the year, just early July, and not because their revenues maintained itself based on budgets, but the profits have, and what I mean more particularly about that, is that their expenses are down significantly, and so that's enabled them to manage with less revenue, which I do think is across the board, a fact.

I find it hard to believe that firms have maintained their revenue expectations throughout, but those that I've spoken to said they're impressed and they're relieved to see that their numbers each month as they come in, since March, have been manageable and they've been better than expected.


Interesting, and in terms of recruitment specifically, have you seen this having more of an impact to the partner level or more of the junior ranks?


That's a good question. On the junior ranks, I think we're seeing a bit of a shut down and it's been going on, We've seen hiring freeze across the board in many law firms where they're just trying to figure out what to do with their existing associates that may not have enough work, so it's either a redeployment of skills within the firm.

But at the partner level, and more interestingly, I see firms being more opportunistic, and so what I mean by that, I think some firms realize they may be in a better financial scenario than others, in which case this may be an opportunity to go and recruit those folks that you might have not otherwise had a chance at six months ago.

And so I hear from Managing Partners telling me, "Keep me in mind. I want to hear from you on various partners that might be looking to move."

Frankly, one of the challenges in that is that firms that have instituted these sort of cash preservation measures have to be holistic on that and be fair to all their current partners but all their lateral partners as well.

And so that has an impact on recruitment of course.

But by and large, we're busy on the partner side, and that's good news for us because I was a bit concerned in March whether we would be doing anything at this stage.

But luckily we've maintained the pace. So that's great.


It's really great to hear, Warren.

Really interesting insights about the market.

If either candidates or employers would like to contact you, find out more, do you want to direct them to the website or a phone number anything?


It's a pretty self-serving website, it's www.zsa.ca and for our American friends, it's zsa.ca

We've got a pretty robust website with a lot of postings and tools to help people build resumes.

And I spend most of my time talking to people, with no expectations whatsoever, Tony.

I'm more than happy to talk to people about how to prepare a resume, give them some tips, and we'll tell them quite candidly if I think I can help them.

And if I can't, I'm still happy to speak to them.

And in my view, it's about goodwill building more than anything else.

 

Absolutely. Well, thanks ever so much for your time.

And have a great rest of the week everyone.

Bye for now.


My pleasure. You too, Tony.

Thank you so much for having me.

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