I always keep a close eye on how the legal market evolves. In the last ten years, we have witnessed quite a number of evolutions that have disrupted the traditional legal market. In a presentation at Lexpo 2016, held in March, Chris Bull gave an interesting overview of ten ways in which innovative business models have changed the market. (Chris Bull, An uncharted world: 10 ways in which innovative business models have changed the shape of the legal market forever, presentation at Lexpo 2016. Available on video at http://lexpo.com/videos). Here are the highlights.
Ten years ago, a law firm typically consisted of partners who co-owned the firm. Now we see law firms that have external investors on board who are not lawyers. These can be insurance companies, accounting and consulting companies or plain capital investment companies.
As the correlate of the first evolution, we find more and more law firms in a more traditional commercial corporation model. Where ten years ago, law firms were partnerships, many law firms have adopted a corporate structure of a Limited company. In this corporate structure, law firms often have directors (CFOs, COOs, CIOs, etc.) who are not lawyers.
Law firms tend to focus more on specializing in certain fields than before. As a result, anything that is not part of their core business is subcontracted to third parties.
Another way in which the legal market has been disrupted is by an increase in the insourcing done by the customers of the law firms. Bigger corporations tend to have bigger legal departments and do more in-house than before.
- Agile Firms
In the last ten years, we have also witnessed the emergence of ‘agile firms’. Four aspects set an agile firm apart. A) Role: ‘role’ has to do with who plays what part/role in the company. Apart from the partners, agile firms tend to use more paralegals, and temps, and have a larger diversity in who works full time or part time, etc. B) Place: where does the firm operate from? These days, many firms operate in a multi-site set-up. At the same time, people spend less time in the physical office and work more from home. There even are ‘shared service centres’ for lawyers. Traditionally, law firms were located in the city. Now they may just have an office there, where the main site of operation has moved to the outskirts of the city because it’s cheaper. C) Time: more and more firms are using flexible hours. Some companies have moved to a system where work hours are counted on an annual basis instead of per week or per month. D) Source: where do you find your people? Recruitment is no longer a matter of just prospecting at law schools.
Over the last ten years, we have seen a tendency where bigger firms merge. In spite of that, the number of law firms remains more or less the same. As big firms merge, people also leave to set up their own start-ups. These start-ups typically operate differently.
- Legal Tech
Legal tech has dramatically changed over the last ten years. New on the scene are online offices, which can take one of two forms. On the one hand, there is the ‘Remote Office’. Here, lawyers are still involved and do the actual work. They don’t necessarily ever meet the customer in person but operate through a website front. On the other hand, there are offices that are entirely virtual: the AI office. Here no lawyer is involved. Everything is done through and by the website, using an Artificial Intelligence engine.
- Fixed Price
The traditional law firm worked with timesheets and billable hours. But because of market demands, more and more firms offer to work for fixed prices. That way the customer knows exactly in advance how much what will cost.
- Group Structure
Traditionally, law firms were single legal entities. Now we also see group structures that can be national or international. There may even be a holding company.
Over the last years, there also has been a sharp increase in collaboration between law firms. These can take the form of collaboration networks, franchises, membership groups, purchasing groups, joint ventures, and/or firms using a common brand name.
All of the aforementioned changes have a dramatic impact on how the firm operates. But for CICERO LawPack 10, this is not a problem. It is designed to be able to handle things like multi-site set-ups, corporate accounting, etc.