The legal industry has long operated as a clubby guild. Law firms dominated the delivery of legal services. They sold one thing: legal expertise. The practice of law was synonymous with the delivery of legal services. In the corporate segment of the marketplace, the legal buy-sell dynamic was simple and predictable. Corporations had a legal matter; they retained a law firm; the firm performed the work start-to-finish; and a bill was rendered. Rinse and repeat. That was the process for decades.
All that has changed. Technology, globalization, the complexity of contemporary multinational business, and the global financial crisis of 2007 have reshaped the way goods and services are bought and sold. And that applies to legal services, too. Law firms are no longer the only providers of “legal” services—nor are they any longer the dominant providers. Corporate legal departments are now law’s biggest providers. A growing array of legal service companies (read: providers other than traditional law firms) are also taking on more and increasingly complex work once handled exclusively by law firms.
Legal practice—the core tasks that lawyers should perform–representation before tribunals, strategic elements of large commercial transactions, and other tasks that require differentiated legal expertise and/or skills– is narrowing. Legal delivery—-the “business of law”—is expanding. Legal delivery has become bifurcated and now consists of “practice” and “service delivery.” This begs the question: how should the new division of labor be determined and which providers and resources should be tasked to do it? Legal delivery is no longer solely about lawyers—technologists, process and project management experts, and other service professionals and paraprofessionals are part of the legal supply chain. So too are legal delivery’s resources increasingly technological. Legal delivery is entering the digital age.
Lawyers were not trained for this at law school. Nor did they learn about it while working at firms or in-house. Legal delivery is a whole new ballgame. And so too is legal education that faces a similar dilemma: how to narrow the gap between the existing curriculum and skills required by the marketplace.
This is the essence of what I write, speak, and consult on. I demystify and piece together the seemingly disparate elements of the legal ecosystem, shedding light on how they might fit together to benefit legal consumers, providers, and educators.
It is, after all, a legal mosaic.