“New Law” Opportunities for Law Firms

I recently came across a presentation I gave in April 2015 to senior partners at Eversheds LLP in London. At the time, Eversheds were proactive in starting to diversify their professional services offerings away from traditional legal and transactional work into ‘alternative’ services areas, such as business improvement consulting for in-house legal teams, and flexible resourcing solutions.

At the time, it was unusual for a major corporate firm to be experimenting into different areas.

The question for the presentation was as follows:

Downward cost pressure, deregulation and new technology are transforming the legal industry, as ‘New Law’ providers compete with traditional law firms.  What are the opportunities for large law firms in this evolving marketplace? 

I focused on 2 main themes of (a) Changing the mind-set and (b) Managing innovation.

Since then, in six years a lot of innovation has been introduced into the legal sector. However, it has been a fairly low-bar for many years with the legal sector ‘glacial’ when it comes to change and technology.

Certainly the ‘legaltech’ and/or ‘lawtech’ markets have received significant injections of VC to build next generation B2C and B2B solutions. Most large firms are now experimenting with different AI and automation solutions, running incubators, offering flexible resourcing arrangements, investing in start-ups, and so on.

To better support Fortune500 General Counsels with their efficiency challenges, the Big4 are building services and capability at scale, as are legal process outsourcers and ALSP’s.

Many of these ideas were referenced in the presentation.

However, the critical question is has anything really changed in how legal services are delivered, bought and sold? How much of this is ‘innovation theatre’ and nibbling around the edges versus real change?

For example:

  • Does the partner in the Freshfields office in HK work any differently then they did as a trainee 20 years ago?
  • Are the skills and requirements of a newly qualified lawyer any different?
  • Does the single lawyer law office in Bristol run their practice any differently?
  • Does the COO of a regional law firm run the business any differently?
  • Do consumers who need a family lawyer do this any differently?
  • Does the barrister or judge involved in a trial do this any differently?

The short answer I think is not a great deal of change across the industry as a whole. However there has been a tonne of experimentation and innovation in some fragmented areas, especially in B2C (e.g. DoNotPay). COVID-19 has certainly accelerated this, and that can only be a good thing.

I think what we are seeing is a marathon, not a sprint. In fact, it is more like the start of a triathlon where there’s a washing-machine effect as participants fight their way forward before a steadier state emerges.

We see this with most new technologies, where things often take much longer to truly disrupt. In retail and e-Commerce, it is only recently that the Internet is causing significant challenges for traditional players, almost 20 years after the Dot.Com crash in 2001.

One thing is for sure – the next 10 to 15 years in the legal sector will be fascinating.