Domino Pieces
06 December 2017

Digital disruption is reinventing the law firm

Published on 06 December 2017

As the pace of technological innovation speeds up, the traditional law firm model is being increasingly challenged. To thrive and survive, law firms are re-evaluating their business and billable models, reinvigorating their client relationships, and, as a whole, reinventing what it means to be a lawyer. Key themes are emerging, such as closer client-lawyer partnerships founded on a sound understanding of the client’s business goals and challenges. Flexible work practices, more interesting, complex work for lawyers, and strong uptake of legaltech also characterise the reinvented law firm. 

Insights spoke to three members of the profession leading the reinvention of the law firm: Sarah Rey, Managing Partner of workplace law firm Justitia, Melissa Lyon, Associate Principal of Hive Legal, and Catriona Macleod, Director of Cullen Macleod.

According to Sarah, the traditional lawyer simply does not exist anymore.

“Lawyers who have diverse skills, particularly IT and entrepreneurial skills, will be more in demand,” Sarah said. Hybrid skillsets which include technical legal expertise serve to benefit firms seeking to seize the opportunities legal tech offers.

Traditional methods of resolving disputes – via court and involving lawyers – are also likely to change.

“Courts are streamlining their processes, which will hopefully lead to less costly access to justice for clients. Increasingly, courts will cut out lawyers because of perceived improvements in efficiency and fairness, as we have seen with the Fair Work Commission.

“Courts have adjusted to self-represented litigants,” said Sarah, noting court procedures have been simplified to benefit more self-represented litigants. “As a result, clients now think there is less or in fact no role for lawyers.”

Justitia has responded by reconceptualising how its lawyers work together and how efficiently legal work can be undertaken. The firm is known for its flexible work practices and positive workplace culture, as well as its adoption of technology to achieve better efficiency. It is an approach which is defined by a better understanding of what clients require and what lawyers need to do their jobs well.

Similarly, Melissa Lyon’s firm, Hive Legal, has sought to seize the first mover advantage of innovating early and purposefully.

“Whilst technology is definitely an enabler to change it is not necessarily driving change – innovative and creative thought drives change, and technology is often a tool to enable this process,” said Melissa. “Hive Legal exists because the founders were prepared to think innovatively and create a firm from a clean slate. Its business model is predicated on disruptive elements – value pricing, smart use of technology and truly flexible and contemporary work practices which enable all staff to work from the cloud wherever and whenever they are most effective.”

Through this approach, Hive Legal developed HiveThink P – a framework which captures the firm’s purpose (to improve the experience for its clients and team), assisted by principles of design thinking.

“This framework assists us to identify, assess and implement innovative ideas. It also underpins our strategic business development programs. Working this way encourages the use of multi-disciplinary teams with skills other than legal skills.”

Innovation is only to be feared, said Melissa, by those who deny its onset and fail to implement strategies to align legal services with client expectations.

For Catriona Macleod, director of Cullen Macleod, the opportunities of innovation have provided significant benefits to her firm.

“In my direct experience, it means that I can attract and retain great specialist lawyers, and use their expertise as and when needed,” Catriona said. “We have people who work, at various times, from Norway, Melbourne and Canada. Innovation in IT, and an innovative mindset, has made this possible.”

Dull ‘drone work’ -  such as typing, dictation, inputting data into precedents, document review – can now be automated or tech-assisted, which frees lawyers to do more interesting, conceptually complex work.

“Intelligent people want to be stimulated, and do stimulating work – innovation promotes that,” Catriona said.

“Rather than the ‘robots are taking over the world / will remove lawyers’ jobs in 10 years’ Armageddon message that media outlets find so easy to trot out, innovation is providing a whole raft of opportunities – to make humans’ jobs far more stimulating and produce better outcomes, far more efficiently, for clients.”

In practical terms, digital disruption means the days of undertaking discovery for forty hours a week may soon be over. Along with flexible work practices, more interesting work and less time spent tackling courtroom conflicts, the future is promising for firms able and eager to reinvent themselves. 

 

The Centre for Legal Innovation is holding a Digital Legal Practice and Innovation Masterclass on 23 - 24 February for all leaders and managers of law firms and legal departments. This Masterclass will take you through the A to Z of the differences between traditional legal practice and new law, and will discuss many of the issues raised in this article. Click here to find out more and to register for this event.