The legal industry is known for adherence to precedent, not innovation. While precedent remains a guiding principle in the practice of law, innovation is transforming the models, methods, and players involved in the buy/sell process of legal services. Technology, process, access to institutional capital, re-reregulation, client demand for enhanced value, and changes in other professional service industry delivery models—notably medicine and accounting– are legal innovation’s principal drivers.
Legal innovation has lagged compared with other industries. Law’s Uber has yet to pull up to the curb. But that does not mean that the breadth, scope, and pace of legal delivery innovation has not picked up in recent years. Consider, for example, that in-house corporate departments and legal service providers (read: legal providers that do not ‘engage in the practice of law’ but deliver ‘legal services’) now account for nearly half of total legal spend. The rapid growth of these new supply sources—and their tech and process savvy delivery capability and corporate structures that are better aligned with client standard operating procedure—is a paradigmatic shift away from the long-dominant law firm partnership model. So while no dominant provider has emerged to replace traditional law firms, it’s clear that the search for new delivery models is well underway and yielding an ever-expanding array of client options.
BigLaw partners still rake in princely sums, and entry-level lawyers at their firms earn a lavish lunch less than $200K, but that hardly supports the case that the traditional law firm model is alive and well. Consider the shift in buying practices among corporate clients and the delta between overall legal demand and flat demand for law firm services during the past five years. Then note the shrinking number of equity partners, the smaller classes of incoming associates and the overall declining percentage that large firm lawyers represent in the overall legal population. This is the fallout from changing customer expectations and their internal steps—as well as the growth of well-funded providers—to fill the void being created by buyer migration from the traditional law firm partnership model.
Let’s consider for a moment ‘disruptive innovation,’ the oft-misapplied term coined by Clayton Christensen to describe a paradigmatic industry shift. Professor Christensen’s theory posits that change takes hold in the lower end of a market, introducing new customers into the marketplace by creating ease of access, lower cost, and greater efficiency. That’s precisely what is happening in the retail segment of the legal industry.
LegalZoom, a legal technology company that now has over 3 million customers—and sky-high approval ratings– is successfully using technology to improve access, promote efficiency, and reduce the cost of legal services. They are also bringing new customers into the market. The company is also creating a template for how, when, and for what service level lawyers are required for different tasks and functions. LegalZoom is pioneering levels of lawyer touch-point determined by the value assigned by the customer, not the provider. This ranges from self-serve (standardized documents); to limited access (short online chats with lawyers or calls on a fixed fee basis); to full-blown engagements (with approved panel counsel). This approach is a paradigm shift worthy of the ‘disruptive innovation’ moniker. More importantly, it is one that will migrate to more complex matters in the corporate segment of the legal market. The question will be: who and what is the appropriate resource to deploy for a specific task—or matter– based upon its value to the client?
MARK A. COHEN has had a long and distinguished career as a lawyer and innovator in the legal vertical. His unique perspective on the legal industry is derived from roles he has had as an internationally recognized civil trial lawyer, legal entrepreneur, early large-scale adopter of technology for the delivery of legal services, partner at one of the largest law firms, founder and managing partner of a national litigation boutique firm, outside General Counsel, federally appointed Receiver of a large, international aviation parts business with operations on four continents, Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, writer, speaker, and acknowledged global thought leader at the intersection of law, business, and technology. Mark currently serves as CEO of Legalmosaic, a company that provides strategic consulting to service providers, consumers, investors, educators, and new entrants into the legal vertical. Prior to founding Legalmosaic, Mark was Co-Founder of Clearspire (www.clearspire.com), a groundbreaking legal service provider whose disruptive, proprietary IT platform and reengineered legal model garnered international acclaim. This followed his founding of Qualitas,an early entrant into the LPO space. Earlier in his career, Mark was an internationally recognized civil trial lawyer. He was an award-winning Assistant U.S. Attorney and the youngest partner of Finley Kumble prior to founding his own multi-city litigation boutique firm. Mark is widely known for his blogging and speaking on a range of legal topics focused on changes, challenges, and opportunities in the current legal landscape. He is an Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown Law Center (devising and teaching two “contemporarily relevant” courses) and is recognized as a global thought leader in the legal vertical. Mark has been active in sports and the arts throughout his life, and this is reflected in his writing and speaking on legal issues where he frequently makes references to those topics. He enjoys mentoring students and young lawyers and is known for his colorful sense of humor and candor. Contact – Google+ – LinkedIn – Twitter
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