The Morningstar Story


On a cold rainy Sunday in April 2012, ten lawyers from two major law firms met in a small office in Downtown Durham.  They shared a common view that the “big law” model required a serious overhaul.  The billable hour, which originated as an innovative concept, had come to plague the lives of lawyers, and more importantly, their relationship with clients.  Law firms now saw themselves as a business, existing merely to maximize profit.  Their management structure had layers of personnel to run the firm.  The so-called “partnership” had eroded, disconnecting lawyers from the running of the firm.  As each lawyer’s relationship to the firm became increasingly economic, the role of the profession diminished.

Over the course of several months, the ten lawyers had discussed their vision of a new firm.  It was this Sunday they would finalize plans for its launch.  The dark clouds outside reflected the uncertainty many felt at that time.  The country had just experienced the most severe downturn since the Great Depression.  Many wondered when and if the economy would improve.  However, those in the room sensed these turbulent times offered new opportunities.

A common commitment to several core principles gave these lawyers the confidence to take a leap of faith.  First, the new firm would put clients first by letting client needs dictate their arrangement with the firm.  That meant alternatives to billing by the hour for clients and the elimination of the billable hour as a metric for success within the firm.  Second, the new firm would be governed by a true partnership.  Lawyers would manage the firm and share equitably in its success based on financial and nonfinancial contributions to the enterprise.  Finally, the new firm would create a flexible work environment to allow meaningful participation in the firm and the communities in which we live regardless of life circumstances.

Shortly after this cold Sunday morning, the founding partners chose the name Morningstar Law Group.  Historically, the morning star provided direction to travelers arising before dawn to embark on a journey to new lands.  To the founding partners, Morningstar signified a new beginning in legal services.  It seemed more fitting than a list of individual names like other firms.  Morningstar would serve as a reminder of the high aspirations held by those in the room that day.

A number of weeks later, the founding partners launched Morningstar Law Group.  Several other attorneys joined the new firm shortly after its opening.  Since that time, the firm has carefully added lawyers to build one of the Triangle area’s premier business law firms.  That means offering legal services by experienced lawyers in several core areas, including corporate, intellectual property, real estate and litigation.  The firm’s new model has received national recognition for innovation.  Most importantly, it has created a more collaborative relationship with clients and fulfilling place to work.  In a place where the Research Triangle Park established a new model for organizing companies, Morningstar Law Group has charted a new direction for how law firms do business.