The transformative potential of technology in legal practice is well recognized. But wholly apart from how law firms actually use technology is the question of what law firms say about how they use and relate to technology—in particular, how law firms communicate whether technology matters and has value in what they do. In the past, firms in the BigLaw category, especially at the top echelon, have grounded their reputations on the credentials and achievements of their lawyers. In this paper, we explore whether elite law firms use technology similarly by describing it as an additional tool of inter-firm competition—a sort of“technocapital” that wields power in the war for clients, talent, and reputation generally. Based on an in-depth review of the websites of fifty- one nationally recognized and highly ranked law firms, the article analyzes differences in how firms use tech as a means of promoting themselves.
We found that elite law firms adopt one of three distinct approaches. The most prestigious firms generally refrain from making claims about technology that might undercut the preeminence of their lawyers. Rather, tech is simply one among many organizing themes for describing what their lawyers do, whether on behalf of an industry or with regard to particular legal issues arising in the course of legal representations. A second group of firms couples their description of work for tech clients and on tech matters with claims of expertise in harnessing technology to provide conventional legal services better and faster. Finally, a small subset of firms describe tech as transformative of their practices and identities, and integral to their claims of being innovators. These firms’ descriptions of tech reveal its role as a kind of capital being used to distinguish themselves both from traditional law firms and from new entrants to the legal market. These variations in law firms’ descriptions of the importance and role of technology in their organizations offer insight into the ways in which tech serves as a new form of capital in the ongoing competition for status in the legal services market.
Bruce A. Green and Carole Silver,
Nw. J. Tech. & Intell. Prop.