Beneath the threads of the current legal industry storyline, there’s a sense of fatigue. There are only so many “disruption” or “xyz is dying” stories, conferences and webinars an industry can take before becoming numb.
This is what makes the Law2023 project so interesting: The underlying message is similar, but the positioning is dramatically different.
The projects participants, “appreciated the fact that Law2023 avoided the false extremes of ‘doom and gloom’ and ‘elation’ that frequently accompany future-oriented discussions,” according to a press release published. It cites legal management consultant Timothy Corcoran, who is currently serving as president of the Legal Marketing Association
An Outside-In View
“While conferences on the topic have typically taken an industry-centric or ‘inside-out’ perspective, Law2023 began by examining wider changes occurring in technology, culture, and economics, then ‘dropped law into the conversation,’” the announcement said attributing Jeff Leitner.
Mr. Leitner is the founder of The Insight Labs, a Chicago-based think tank where the Law2023 project originated.
The overarching conclusion is one that lends itself to optimism rather than pessimism:
Law is facing disruptions like those that reconfigured media, telecommunications, health care and other fields. As in those industries, the changes will introduce unexpected challenges and unprecedented opportunities, and will undoubtedly produce new winners and losers.
New Names Among Familiar Faces
The project conducted 22 interviews, or in-depth conversations over the course of a year and resulted in a recently release report on its findings.
The roster of those associated with the project includes names like Mr. Corcoran’s and brands already familiar to the legal community: ReInvent Law, Riverview, The Carnegie Foundation and Andrew Smulian, the chairman and chief executive of Akerman LLP.
However, readers will also notice new names – and from roles outside of the legal industry – an economist, a designer and a technologist for example.
Perhaps most notable is the findings – where the minds behind Law2023, “foresee a future where the legal sector not only prospers, but leads the most exciting changes in our society.”
7 Profitable Technology Opportunities
Recently a market research organization asked if inside counsel was using our legal spend management and data analytics tools for continuous improvement. Instead of reacting to legal issues (and subsequent legal costs) the researcher was asking if corporate counsel was using the data to stop the problem before it happens.
For example is there one division of a business that finds itself in litigation more often than others, understanding the root cause, and developing polices to mitigate the cause. This is a very different construct for thinking about legal trends such as predictive analytics.
That line of questioning completely turns over one challenge facing this slice of the legal industry. To that end, it’s the same “outside-in” logic that Law2023 used to develop the “rules” found in its report. We see these rules as seven profitable opportunities technology offers to the future of law:
1. Create new legal services. Technology may well be taking market share for legal work at one end of the market – online legal services for example. Law2023 says some law firms will react by tapping technology to find more efficient ways to serve the market. However, the breakthroughs – the winners as the report calls them – will come from those firms that find ways to leverage technology to create new services:
Others will bring disruption in-house by hiring or acquiring talented technologists and their intellectual property…Firms will also discover entirely new forms of practice, like computer-assisted law, that can only be pursued in this technological environment.
2. Boundaryless. There is data to suggest a global opportunity. For example, BTI Consulting says even as legal spend among the Fortune 1000 has slowly descended, the Global 500 has grown approximately 8% in over the last several years. It’s an opportunity Law2023 identifies:
Firms will employ technologies to help them rapidly understand how a transaction might play out across all possible jurisdictions. Then, crucially, they’ll use their human ingenuity to craft offerings that transcend jurisdiction, maximizing clients’ freedom to act across the globe in real time.
3. Market for navigating transparency. Technology has given rise to new media and user generated content – blogs, social media and other new media. This has altered means and methods of corporate communications: Transparency is becoming an expectation of business. Navigating the balance between the demand for transparency and risk is an area Law2023 says provides a new business opportunity for law firms:
Smart firms already understand how important the element of trust is to their long-term viability. Such firms will be well-positioned to help repair trust in other institutions…They’ll do it not by throwing up walls around institutions’ secrets, but by crafting policies and practices that help all kinds of organizations remain transparent and accountable.
4. Rethinking talent, staffing and progression. Law firms in particular have changed up staffing models in the last few years. Dimitra Kessenides of BloombergBusinessweek reported recently, “Of the 100 top firms by gross revenue, 50 cut the number of equity (or profit-sharing) partners last year.” Law2023 takes this a step further noting all organizations, “need in a workforce of unprecedented demographic and cultural diversity.” While there has been a trend toward new roles in law firms – project management and pricing strategist for example – Law2023 points to additional opportunities:
New positions such as programmer, business analyst, industry advisor, etc. could be filled either by lawyers or professionals with other backgrounds. These new positions will organically increase firms’ intellectual and demographic diversity. Firms that adopt more flexible work practices and pay structures will be best prepared to compete with other industries for the capable people needed to fill these new jobs.
5. Creating a new niche. GE’s Jack Welch had a concept – he wouldn’t compete in a market where GE couldn’t be #1 or #2. In many ways, this opportunity as presented by Law2023 is an extension of the previous opportunity – using talent to create a new niche:
Forward-looking firms will seek to define and dominate niche markets in which they can credibly claim to be the best…driven by organizations’ collective ability to produce disruptive innovations, in addition to individual lawyers’ skills and experience.
6. The law firm R&D department. Technology companies invest heavily in research and development or R&D. The purpose is to research, design and build and commercialize new innovations. Law2023 suggests this is a model for law firms to follow to shape the way, “way legal solutions are conceived, packaged, sold and applied.” Indeed Akerman LLP, one of the participants of the study announced plans in April to create the first law firm R&D department.
To keep up with the pace of change in the field, firms will create R&D departments that use product development methodologies to explore new ways of practicing law.
7. Beyond customer service. Few would dispute that law is a business built in many ways on relationships – and by extension superior customer service. Law2023 advocates thinking beyond responsiveness and in place foreseeing the future needs of clients:
Firms will fortify relationships with clients not only through great customer service, but by using everything they know about them to anticipate their future needs.
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Photo credit: Law2023’s Twitter profile.
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