Lawyers parse words and define terms. So why do they so often use “legal practice” and “legal delivery” interchangeably when the terms have such different meanings and implications? This distinction is especially important in the context of the tectonic shift occurring in the legal vertical. The practice of law is very different than the delivery of law. This is more than a semantic distinction.
The Practice of Law Has not changed all that Much
The practice of law has not changed much since I became a lawyer a few decades ago (Jimmy Carter was President and the Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series). Trial, corporate, and the other practice areas are pretty much as they were then as are the Rules of Evidence, Professional Responsibility, and other core precepts that govern lawyers and guide their practice. Yes, international practice has become more prevalent and practice areas like IP have taken on heightened prominence, but choice of law, forum non conveniens, and all those other things lawyers struggled to master for the Bar exam have changed little over the years.
Some will say, “but what about technology?” Certainly, technology is now a part of legal life-just as it is in virtually every other facet of our existence. Technology is no longer a vertical; it has become a horizontal. And this certainly applies to its impact upon law. But it is not so much the practice of law that it affects-what lawyers do and how they do it. Rather, technology has profoundly changed the delivery of legal services- how and by what structure those services are best rendered and by whom. Technology has been a key factor in creating a legal supply chain in a vertical where, until relatively recently, law firms were the sole outsourced legal service providers.
Electronic discovery has exponentially increased the volume of data-and ironic that technology generally drives costs down and promotes efficiency except with law firms. At the same time, privilege, relevance, and other legal precepts governing the production and evidentiary value of that data have scarcely changed. What is different is client unwillingness to pay BigLaw rates for high volume, low value work such as document review. [Read more…]