A & O may be on to something here, though in truth it is a route being trodden by a number of law firms at the moment: Eversheds and Capsticks with their respective consultancy services spring to mind. At first blush it appears to be what the accountants were doing in the late 70's and 80's - facing declining profitability from their core business (auditing) the then "Big 8" (now the Big 4) moved into management services and consultancy in a big way in order to obtain the larger profit margins provided by these services.
It is perhaps worth noting that this created the situation where accountancy firms were scrutinising the behaviour of corporates via audit whilst at the same time telling them how to behave. This led ultimately to Enron and the Sarbannes-Oxley Act and despite this, I am not sure that the concern about the independence of the advice from firms that are engaging with their clients through multiple sales channels has ever been fully dispersed.
Are we lawyers heading down the same route? Not, I suspect, in the case of A & O, who are seemingly banding their legal advice according to degree of complexity and price. But with proposals afoot to amend the Separate Business Rule to remove the prohibitions on links with separate businesses that carry on non-reserved legal activities, there are going to be a lot more legal and quasi-legal businesses looking to occupy the consultancy-sized space in the market. So there is at least the potential for the sort of issue that laid Enron's advisers low. It is not hard to imagine that the tempting targets for the consultancy arms of legal businesses - say advising a healthcare provider on its regulatory compliance - might be the same areas where litigation will ensue. So keep your copy of Hollander and an expert conflict lawyer (such as @IainGMiller) close at hand. You may need him...
Perhaps the most forward thinking law firm approach has been taken by Allen & Overy. Yes, they operate on the other side of the pond and, so, in a different regulatory environment, yet their model could certainly be reprised here. That strategy involves a recognition that the traditional law firm model, standing on its own, is unsustainable. In an effort to “re-bundle” disaggregated tasks, A&O is redesigning itself as a “hybrid” firm with five inter-related, technologically inter-connected parts: (1) the law firm; (2) a contract lawyer service (3) a consulting service; (4) an online legal service; and (5) a document review service