Alternative Legal Service Providers

Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs) on the market. This is the result of a growing demand for legal services that are more efficient and affordable. Maybe surprisingly, not only businesses, but law firms and legal departments, too, are increasingly using the services of these ALSPs. Let’s have a closer look.

What are Alternative Legal Service Providers?

Alternative Legal Service Providers are service providers that offer legal services outside of the traditional model of legal professions and organizations. The Georgetown Law Center for the Study of the Legal Profession, the University of Oxford Saïd Business School, and Thomson Reuters, published a report last year on ALSPs. In it, they “considered ALSPs to encompass activities performed by non-traditional legal service providers (including independent affiliates of law firms), that are directly related to the provision of legal services. The definition excludes other nonlegal activities that might be outsourced such as accounting, IT support, HR management, etc. And it also excludes companies that provide legal-related software only rather than services.”

So, what legal services do they provide?

ASLPS tend to be niche companies that specialize in one or more specific tasks. These tasks typically require a certain amount of expertise and are in high demand. The services they provide include:

  • Discovery and eDiscovery (electronic discovery)
  • Document review (including contract review)
  • Contract management
  • Litigation support
  • Contract lawyers and staffing
  • Investigation support and legal research
  • IP (intellectual Property) management, etc.

What makes them ‘alternative’?

They are alternative in two ways. Firstly, the entity that delivers the legal service is usually not a law firm. Secondly, the services, too, are delivered via a model that departs from the traditional law firm delivery model.

From an article titled “What is an alternative legal service provider?” on the website:

“The thing that makes an ALSP alternative is that it is not, and does not pretend to be, a law firm. Instead, it is a legal services business that can provide one or more services that law firms would traditionally offer, but often at a lower cost or with other advantages, including increased expertise, flexibility, and speed. Because they do not have to fit into the structure and hierarchy of a typical law firm environment, ALSPs may be free to alter their business practices to increase efficiency using technology or other innovative practices.”

ALSPs tend to be more tech-savvy than traditional law firms, and some of the services they provide rely on cutting edge technology. Great progress was made, e.g., in areas like eDiscovery, contract and document review by using Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning. The market share of ALSPS is expected to grow because they take advantage of increasingly sophisticated Artificial Intelligence technology.

Who is using the services of ALSPs?

As was mentioned in the introduction: ALSPs are not only used by businesses, but also by legal departments and law firms. The report mentioned above found that 51% of law firms and 60% of corporate legal departments are already using Alternative Legal Service Providers for at least one type of service. And those numbers are expected to grow.

More specifically, the findings show that law firms are more inclined to use litigation support services (e.g., e-discovery, document review, litigation and investigative support), while corporations are more likely to use services in specialized areas (e.g., regulatory risk and compliance services, specialized legal advice, legal research and IP management).

Why use ALSPs – What are the benefits?

There are several good reasons to consider working with an ASLP. Initially, people turned to ALSPs because they could offer legal services at a lower cost than law firms did. The report found that these days people also use ALSPs because they tend to be more efficient than law firms. They usually can deliver their services faster than law firms can. Lastly, and increasingly more important: because they specialize in specific tasks they can offer a level of expertise that others don’t have.


Law Firms and Innovation

Making headlines some days ago, was a story of how the UK government is spending 1 billion GBP to modernise its court system. The aim of this innovation project is to cut annual spending by £250m and staff by 40%, while at the same time improving access to Justice, as well as the speed and quality of service delivery (e.g. by the use of online forms for petitions).

Lawyers, too, are being urged to be innovative. Last year, the British Law Society published a 116-page guide on innovation for law firms, called Capturing Technological Innovation in Legal Services. And there are good reasons to being innovative. It gives a competitive advantage, improves productivity, profitability, and, as mentioned above, the speed and quality of service delivery.

But what does it mean for a law firm to be innovative? The first thought that usually comes to mind, which is also reflected in the title of the Law Society document, is the use of new technologies. Lawyers have already successfully been automating many aspects of their law practice for over three decades. New advances in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning are heralding a new age, a second wave if you want, of office automation.

Some examples: law firms can already use virtual legal assistants to do legal research. They can even use virtual receptionists. Document assembly and document review can now be done more efficiently by AI than by their human counterparts. In fact, many specific tasks that have a sufficient degree of repetition can already be automated, as the advent of robot lawyers and legal chatbots has proven. Progress is also being made with smart contracts, where human intervention is often no longer required. AI is proving useful, too, in knowledge management and eDiscovery, as well as in predicting the possible outcome of cases.

These advancements in legal technology are resulting in a change in the professional demography of law firms. With new technology comes a demand for new skill sets, which in turn leads to new roles and positions that need to be filled in law firms. It is not uncommon, these days, to find law firms who employ specialized programmers, statisticians and data scientists, chief data officers, and project managers.

One of the more novel new occupations is that of Data Analytics Attorneys (often shortened to either data attorneys or analytics attorneys). In their article on legal innovation, Wendy Butler Curtis and Kate Orr explain that “the data analytics attorney understands the needs of the client, the function of the tools, and the value of the data. They know it is necessary to train and maintain the artificial intelligence and the richness and quality of the data to predict the accuracy and value of the AI output. Analytics attorneys are also adept at identifying tasks that can and should be automated.”

But just as innovation in law firms is not limited to the use of new technologies, so are the new roles in law firms not limited to tech related jobs. Gone are the days where lawyers were solitary consultants who would charge by the hour. Lawyers now are professionals who are running a business that delivers legal services and products. They are concerned with optimizing and automating processes and work flows, with improving service delivery, as well as customer relations and customer satisfaction. As a result, law firms started employing non-lawyers to run their company (CEO), to keep their finances in check (CFO), and to handle their accounting, marketing, and even customer relations.

As these examples show, innovation requires a different approach, which can affect each aspect of being a lawyer and running a law firm. The first part of the Law Society’s paper focuses on technological innovation in practice. It deals with working smart (which involves putting the client first, innovation hubs, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence, and predictive analytics), with agile resourcing (where attention is paid to a fluid workforce), with new pricing models, as well as with innovating for Access to Justice.