Texas Law Review
Tournament of Lawyers: The Transformation of the Big Law Firm is part of the scholarly literature that seeks to understand the ongoing metamorphosis of the American legal profession. Authors Marc Galanter and Thomas Palay’s basic argument is that traditional law firm promotion practices make growth in firm size inevitable and such growth is linked to many recent developments. These developments include increased lateral hiring, the creation of tiered partnerships, and the collapse of entire firms. The exponential character of law firm growth means that inevitable structural modifications will be greater than in years past. At the same time, greater dissemination of information about the legal profession, particularly law firms, makes it more difficult for firms to avoid challenges to traditional modes of operation.
If Galanter and Palay err, it is in stating their thesis too strongly. In their argument regarding the inevitability of rapid and exponential expansion based on traditional large-firm practices, the authors place more weight on the facts than the evidence will bear. To state their thesis so emphatically, the authors must construct a model that ignores too many realities and speaks too faintly to the actual conditions of modern law practice.
The last part of the authors’ book ruminates on the future shape of legal practice. Here, the authors have diligently documented the history of large firms and articulated a theory that helps explain the internal dynamics of such enterprises. Although their theory is open to question on a number of grounds, Tournament of Lawyers is a valuable book which deserves to be read and carefully considered. If not the final word on the growth of big law firms, it nonetheless makes important contributions to a better understanding of the ongoing transformation of the American legal profession.
Vincent R. Johnson, On Shared Human Capital, Promotion Tournaments, and Exponential Law Firm Growth (book review), 70 Tex. L. Rev. 537 (1991).