“Partnerless” Law Firm -- NY Times is missing something

In a recent Dealbook article, the NY Times describes Axiom Law as a "firm, with some 900 lawyers, [that] has no partners. " 

The ABA Journal, always searching for a controversial headline, picks up the story and asks, "Will the Law Firm of the Future Have No Partners?"

What both papers should realize is that this is much ado about nothing new. ABA Model Rule 5.4, which is adopted in every US jurisdiction, prohibits nonlawyers from having an ownership interest in law firms. (DC's rule has a slight exception, not relevant here.) The end result is some lawyer must own every law firm, whether it is one lawyer or multiple lawyers (who might techically be members, shareholders, partners, or whatever, depending upon the corporate structure). 

There is nothing new about one lawyer owning a firm. Before its sole partner was indicted and the firm dissolved, Dreier LLP was a notable--and ultimately notably bad--example of a large law firm that only had one partner. I am aware of several St. Louis law firms that have multiple lawyers but only one owner. 

Axiom may be a revolutionary new business model. (I am not even certain it is, as I think many firms have provided similar services on numerous different pricing models for decades, albeit on a smaller and less media-savvy scale.) But the fact the firm apparently has only one lawyer owner, and no partners, does not seem worth a headline. 

 

The NY Times article: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/09/24/big-law-steps-into-uncertain-times/

The ABA Journal article is at:  http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/law_firm_of_the_future/?utm_source=maestro&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly_email