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Can Outsourcing Innovation Make Biglaw Firms Heros?

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I’ve been enthralled by the concept of large firms outsourcing innovation to small fry ever since I first posted about the topic in 2008.  As I describe (very rapidly!) in myIgniteLaw presentation, outsourcing innovation is a win-win for both sides of the bar:  the big firm gets the benefit of a new practice area at a low cost while the solos can attract a steady stream of revenue that enables them to get their practice off the ground.  Outsourcing innovation can take lots of forms; in some ways it resembles the franchise legal services business model that Professor Larry Ribstein described in his presentation at Georgetown Law School’s Symposium on law firm evolution.

But in addition to the obvious profit motive for oursourcing innovation, turns out there may be a benevolent reason as well.  This week’s Business Week summarizes a talk by Harvard Business School competitiveness guru Michael Porter, who argues that corporate investment in small business in inner cities can “give purpose to capitalism and represent our best chance to legitimize business again.”

Just as the public image of corporate America has taken a beating in the recession, big law too has lost its shine.  Yet big firms are comprised of smart lawyers who like corporate leaders have much to offer.  By outsourcing innovation to small firms and solos – for example, funding solos to devise innovative and profitable ways to deliver affordable legal services to the poor and middle class (instead of just paying unemployed lawyers to volunteer for legal aid), large firms could reap the benefits of new business models and help a new generation of lawyers in the process.  What do you think?

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