I recently had a long conversation with Iohann Le Frapper, a French lawyer and Board Chair of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC). We identified several common challenges confronting lawyers — legal education and new skillsets, access to justice, technology and globalization yielding automation and labor arbitrage, the ‘gig economy,’ ethical challenges, and new models of legal delivery. These issues transcend geography or regulations. They are global challenges whose solution demands a broader perspective.
I gave a talk last week at University College London. The topic was The Changing Legal Services Marketplace: A View From Across the Pond. It began with my admission of ‘acute ABS envy.’ No, ABS is not a Midlands light lager. It refers to ‘alternative business structures,’ an element of The Legal Services Act of 2007 (LSA). LSA—and ABS–is the UK’s re-regulation of its legal industry intended to spur innovation and competition to better serve the public. ABS–among other things– removes long-standing regulations preventing non-lawyers from ownership, profit sharing, and other managerial functions in law firms. Those restrictions made sense when legal delivery was solely about selling legal expertise. But they are now impediments to structural changes necessary to jump start new models at a time when legal delivery involves legal, IT, and process expertise.
The litany of law firm gripes is long and familiar: exorbitant cost and rates, overstaffing, budget unpredictability, IT and process deficiencies, and limited knowledge of clients’ business. One would think that law firms would be responding to all this—they read and hear about it every day. So why are legal consumers—not law firms—driving change in the legal marketplace? Simple answer: most large firm partners have yet to feel the financial consequences of stasis and are staying the course so they can “run the table.”
Michio Kaku, a noted theoretical physicist and futurist, predicts, “The job market of the future will consist of those jobs that robots cannot perform.” Robots have recently entered the legal workplace, performing several tasks once assigned to newly minted law grads. What does this mean for current and future lawyers? Simple answer: robots will not replace lawyers but they will work with them.
There is no single path to becoming an innovative lawyer. Every lawyer has a unique set of personality traits, skill sets, passions, and priorities. Successful lawyers draw from their personalities and exposure, fusing it with legal expertise. Innovative lawyers understand that legal expertise is only one facet of legal delivery. They devise and deliver legal services from new models that combine legal acumen with advanced technology and management skills. The goal is to provide clients with “better, faster, cheaper” – and transparent – legal services.
It’s hardly news that the once-cozy relationship between BigLaw and corporate legal departments has morphed into something quite different. In Facebook terms, it’s gone from “in a relationship” to “it’s complicated.” Relationships once cemented over rounds of golf and scotch have yielded to RFP’s and reverse auctions. The bloom is off the rose. And clients are voting with their feet as companies replace law firms about as often as laterals hopscotch in search of sweeter deals. But corporate legal departments are doing a lot more than simply substituting one firm for another.