Can Law Firms Act Like Startups?

Listening to a great webinar by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah about "Money, Marketing, & Management with the HubSpot Founders", I was reminded about a discussion that has been floating around the Web recently and on this blog as well.  Can law firms act more like startups? One of the themes in the webinar was how companies (particularly a tech startup like HubSpot) should change the typical management philosophy in order to grow and thrive.  Among other things (and to paraphrase a bit):

  1. An organization should break down the pyramid and flatten the org chart.
  2. Extend the "open door" policy to eliminate doors altogether.
  3. Trust your employees and don't try to over-structure company policies.
  4. Be transparent and include your employees.

So everyone sits together and moves around every three months.  Online collaboration tools allow employees to contribute to tools, products, and presentations.  Employees are given latitude and flexibility, drive productivity.  These things work well in a tech startup where the emphasis is on agility and growth, but does that lend itself to a more "traditional" setting like a law firm?

Why not?

Large law firms have traditionally employed a pyramid structure - from the large pool of new associates at the bottom up to the few very managing partners on top.  Nothing is transparent and firm policies are monitored very closely.  Deals at large law firms get staffed with a range of partners and associates, which is sometimes more beneficial for the growth of the law firm (and higher bills) than for the sake of the deal.

Recently though, driven in part by a changing economy, clients, VCs, and even lawyers have reacted negatively to this seemingly outdated structure and have called for some changes.  As companies evolve, shouldn't their law firms?

I have seen a number of new firms pop up in the last few years that seem to embrace this new model - my firm, Trinity Law Group is one of them - by leveraging technology to focus on clients rather than high-rent office space, billable hours, and expensive marketing.  By emulating the companies we represent, law firms can provide better value while adapting to a 21st century business model.

What do you think?  Have you noticed a change in they way you interact with your lawyers?