Over the past few years so much has happened to alter the shape of the legal industry – cloud-based technologies, mobile apps, advanced analytics, IBM Watson, Oratto – yet, despite this, too many law firms remain resistant or worse, oblivious, to the impact legal technologies are having on the provision and quality of legal services.
Perhaps it is because of the resistance and naivety of some firms that it is only when you scratch the service that you begin to get a feel for just how much things are changing. In fact, they may even take reassurance from the fact that the legal sector remains stagnant in terms of pure economic growth, but beneath these still waters there is a dynamic and fast-paced evolution taking place that is full of opportunities.
But, as Charles Darwin theorised, evolution can be a ruthless business and even the most powerful of behemoths can be left behind if they fail to adapt to a changing environment. This has already been proven true, and dramatically so, in recent years with the collapse of global law firms such as Howrey, Dewey & LeBoeuf, and Bingham McCutchen. It would be easy to characterise the once unimaginable failure of these firms as being a product of old-fashioned mismanagement. However, to do so would be to miss the point as these failures are at least in part attributable to a misplaced overemphasis on economic growth and profit at the expense of intelligent consideration of the changing global legal landscape; a landscape that is increasingly defined by technology and the ability of both lawyers and clients to understand its uses.
As Toby Brown, chief practice officer at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP said in 2015, "The day of the client is coming" and, as so many client-focused legaltech platforms are proving, the change is already in full swing. It is easy to see this from the inside of a progressive enterprise such as Oratto; we, together with our member lawyers, have understood and accepted that clients today want transparency and information above all else when it comes to the recruitment of legal advice and representation. Yet, for those who are resistant to change, with every day that passes the gap is terminally widening, and as Howrey, Dewey & LeBoeuf, and Bingham McCutchen have discovered this "do nothing" course of action is to invite total redundancy in the 21st century marketplace.
Like all revolutions though it is easy for naysayers to move serenely on while blithely ignoring all the symptoms of change – at least until it is too late. This is because even the most game-changing transitions take time but – and this is the harsh truth for more traditionally-minded firms – once certain critical junctures have been reached the inevitability of change becomes unavoidable and its acceleration as inexorable as it is exponential. Those with their heads in the sand while this continental drift occurs risk waking up to discover they have become estranged from the habitats that once fed them.
And there is virtually no facet of the legal industry that is not ripe for change. As Generation Y begins to infiltrate the legal market literally everything becomes a legaltech opportunity: client recruitment, operating models, employee recruitment, retention strategies, case management systems and more.
As Sam Glover, editor in chief at lawyerist.com recently opined, "I think 2016 might finally be the year that lawyers who take tech competence seriously overtake the Luddites who are holding back the profession."
And the reality is that no one can have anything but the most passing of compassion for these fusty old lawyers, not when it is clients who are reaping the most benefit. This is not about legal disruption, it's about legal innovation and it's time that the "wise old owls" got wise to the new reality.