Forbes’ article Cab Companies and Law Firms Are Taking the Same Route presents the provocative view that law firms face disruptive innovation similar to the kind experienced over the last eight years by cab companies. Ride sharing innovation through the likes of Uber, Lyft and others has undermined the once financially formidable cab business. The article, written by Mark A. Cohen, predicts a similar future for the legal services market. He suggests that a game changing approach to the delivery of legal services, as of now not fully understood, could hit traditional law firms and upset their world much like Uber did to taxis.
Cohen talks about legal service change but does not simply speculate. He observes significant change already experienced-more legal work going in house and greater client reliance on alternative service providers. This trend has impacted traditional law firms already. Even though the need for legal services keeps rising, the market share enjoyed by traditional law firms has remained fairly flat. These inroads into the demand for law firm legal services could be, according to Cohen, the tip of the iceberg.
Citing to the transformative effect Legal Zoom has had on existing and untapped consumer retail need, Cohen posits that although a similar transformation in the corporate sphere has not yet been widely experienced, it likely is coming.
Knowing that time marches on and we live in a business culture in which innovation as the great differentiator stimulates entrepreneurial thought, it is hard to argue against significant change being in the future for Big Law (and for that matter, traditional small law). Preparing or planning to stay ahead of the curve is the laudable goal but is not the easiest thing to do. Since few law firm leaders can predict the breadth of future change and plan accordingly, it is best to prepare for its uncertainty by following five important guidelines:
Think About Work Being Scalable and Repeatable. As unnatural as it is for some lawyers and firms, making daily work scalable and repeatable is great preparation for the future. Not only does it improve the efficiency of client work, but also it will instill a thought discipline about efficiency that translates to client value. While unique work will still exist, that notion should not be the crutch to ignore the need to think about scale and repeatability.
Think About Delivery. Even if work is made more scalable and repeatable, the benefit will be lost on the client if delivery of the work is not improved. Delivery of legal services is one of the most outward facing aspects of the attorney-client relationship. Improved delivery enhances that relationship for the client and differentiates the firm from its competitors. Improved delivery goes hand in hand with scalability and repeatability.
Listen to Clients About Satisfaction. The ultimate measure of client satisfaction is in the times it returns for additional legal work or refers you to others. Getting to that point depends on communication. Having a client express how it is best satisfied gives a law firm a window into how it can be successful. It also can give the firm insights on how it can achieve greater scalability and better delivery, an expectation that clients will increasingly have. Ask and listen.
Be Technologically Savvy. Being technologically savvy is not just buying the latest in hardware and software so that no competitor is more current than you. Rather, it is using technology to provide the means to improve client satisfaction with your legal services. Whether it is relying more on artificial intelligence or tech based process, technology is the tool to make a difference. Today’s technology is woefully underutilized if it is not used as the instrument of innovation in the delivery of legal services.
Listen to and Integrate Your Newest Generation of Lawyers. The old way of integrating new lawyers into the firm was to bring them along slowly until they were like the firm lions and fit into long-standing firm culture. Culture is always good, but in disruptive times it may be the young entrepreneurial-minded lawyers whose ideas and perspectives stimulate a watershed change in how the firm does business in a changing world. Your young lawyers may have more value sooner than you think. Remember, it was not a crusty old cabdriver that brought us Uber.
Few law firms have the will or the means to invest millions of dollars towards the goal of disrupting the traditional law firm delivery of legal services. That investment in disruption will come from others. But every law firm can invest time, thought and resources in preparing for a disruptive future. Will your firm?