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law firm, agency cost, market, information, transaction, contract


Following the contraction in demand for law firms’ services during the Great Recession, “Big Law” was widely diagnosed as suffering from several maladies that would spell its ultimate demise, including excessive fees, excessive size, increased competition from in-house counsel, the commoditization of legal work, and the decline in demand for “relationship firms.” While each of these market pressures is only too real for certain segments of the law-firm population, their threat to the most elite U.S. law firms has been largely misunderstood. Even as many firms reduce their fees and contract in size, we should expect certain firms to continue to charge more and grow bigger. The current prescriptions for fixing Big Law fail to recognize that the top-tier firms within the group serve a unique market function.

Focusing on a particular type of legal work – major corporate transactions – this Article proposes a novel theory of the value created by elite law firms: their private information about “market” deal terms, acquired through repeated exposure to the same types of transactions, provides clients with a significant bargaining advantage in deal negotiations. By aggregating expertise in the ever-changing and ever-increasing set of deal terms for certain transactions, law firms help their clients price such terms more accurately and thereby maximize their surplus from the deal. This pricing function – traditionally thought to be limited to investment banks – is one that cannot be replicated or subsumed by in-house counsel, other service providers, or commoditized contracts.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Law firms, Business enterprises--Law and legislation, Companies Law, Corporations—Finance