The legal services sector has reached a critical juncture in its history and it is only those firms which proactively embrace and chase change who will survive and thrive as we move further into the twenty first century.
Patrick Susskind, IT Adviser to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and considered by many to be the world's leading expert in legal technology, is of this view. Simply put, in his opinion, if firms are to prosper over the next decades they are going to have to find a way to achieve "more for less".
Although, at a superficial level, this might sound like a recipe for disaster for the consumers of legal services, it is actually a response to their changing needs and demands. Old-style legal firms that are reliant on staid and stultified ways of practising, whether through a commitment to old-style paperwork and file management or through inflexible adherence to "billable hours" fee structures, are increasingly anachronistic, often to the point of becoming irrelevant.
In fact, many legal services consumers, from larger corporations all the way down to individual private clients of limited means, can no longer afford to recruit their legal advice and representation via the old paradigms; they too want "more for less".
But how to achieve "more for less" and is this even a realistic notion? Well, the answer here is "yes" and "yes"; legal technology is changing the archetype and enabling firms to become more efficient, whether it is in sharing and managing case files, identifying key issues or more. But, and of greater importance, it is also beginning to revolutionise the client experience. Sadly though, the process of change can be painfully slow and some of the most inveterately old-fashioned firms are going to be left by the wayside as consumers embrace the possibilities of legal technology.
One of the salutary lessons that Susskind likes to tell his students and readers is that of Kodak. Once one of the world's best known and most successful companies, the photo giant found itself trailing in the wake of its competition as a result of its failure to properly appreciate the advantages and inevitability of digital photography. Sometimes, it is the largest giants that have the most difficulty rousing themselves from their torpor. It is complacency, but to those in the grips of it, it is identifiable as dangerous only when it becomes too late.
The 2015 Law Firms in Transition survey of 320 U.S. law firms, underpins the necessity for change. It found that those firms which were most proactive in embracing change were the same ones that were most likely to see increases in gross revenue and other indexes of success.
For example, the survey found that firms which implemented significant changes to their legal service delivery models saw increases of 76% to their Profits Per Equity Partner, compared to only 61% among those who did not.
These findings are further underpinned by the September 2015 Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor survey which found that firms embracing technological changes to improve the cost effectiveness of legal services delivery exhibited stronger financial performance than their competitors. This outcome was regardless of firm size; legaltech clearly represents an opportunity for smaller and medium sized firms to challenge the fustier members of the establishment. This applies whether they are providing commercial law services, conveyancing solicitor services or family law services – the list could go on.
It is easy to see how the established elite can be dismissive of this new wave, perhaps because until they wake up and smell the coffee they might feel it is in their interests to preserve the status quo. It is also easy to dismiss the impact of legal technology, but legaltech goes beyond simply providing a few tools to assist the lawyer, it is actually providing new platforms and new operational models for firms, while clients are finally being given the opportunity to take control and to make informed and intelligent decisions about their legal advice and representation. Oratto is proud to be at the forefront of this movement, helping clients find the lawyers who are right for them.