Last week’s Legal Horizons Conference in Chicago sponsored by Chicago-Kent College of Law and consulting firm Janders Dean provided an opportunity to hear the latest in legal service and technology innovation in law firms, legal departments and the legal tech space. While there’s much more going on than can be covered in a post (or the rapid-fire 20-minute sessions that took place), there are some important lessons about where we are in adapting and embracing new ways of delivering legal services. There was at least one example from every part of the legal services industry showing that change is gaining momentum and innovation in the industry has taken hold. The gap has also become greater between those who want to and are willing to innovate and those who will soon be left behind.
The future is here. It’s no longer a matter of whether legal service providers and their clients are utilizing current technologies and new business designs, but how they are leveraging those assets. There are more and more examples of successful innovators in the marketplace who are garnering large swaths of the multi-billion-dollar legal market. Technologies that assist in creating efficiencies, project management, automation, performing complex regulatory analyses, and using data to create solutions are game changers. They have gained traction over the last few years, and they are producing new ways to conceive of and deliver legal services. The number of law firms considered to be innovators has grown as well.
Innovation in law is taking place at all levels. Law firms, legal tech companies, and clients are partnering to create new and innovative solutions. While there is still plenty of focus on improving back-end operational efficiencies, front-end service delivery and co-creating solutions in firms and legal departments is an increasing trend. Some law firms like Dentons are even investing in legal tech startups. It’s not only the largest law firms and clients who are benefitting. Law firms of all sizes are discovering the value of doing things differently, creating, and then marketing innovative solutions to win new clients. There are many success stories out there, and those numbers will increase with the continued advance of AI and machine learning bringing additional possibilities.
It’s necessary to rethink delivery of legal services. In an information age where technology makes it possible to deliver services cheaper and more quickly than ever before (think Uber, Airbnb, Alibaba), traditional methods of delivery cannot stand. The only limits that exist are those in the imaginations of those who refuse to explore new solutions. Client-centric service is and will remain at the forefront of new legal service delivery design. Methodologies like design thinking can help to meet the challenges in re-conceiving how to leverage the latest tools available for the client’s benefit. Firms like Novus Law, Seyfarth Shaw, Baker Donelson, Davis Wright Tremaine, in-house legal departments like Microsoft and 3M, and technology providers like Allegory Law, iManage, Neota Logic, and HighQ are all succeeding. No one is doing exactly the same thing, which shows that there are unlimited solutions.
Culture and change management are key to successful adaptation. In order to change how you do things, you have to change how you think about them. The most successful change initiatives are supported by a firm or company culture that embraces creativity and risk-taking, not just following the herd. The pillars of Google’s philosophy – transparency, mission and giving employees a voice – are relative given the context and environment in which they’re operating. Transparency in a law firm might look more like creating a system of collaboration, and fostering and rewarding new ways of thinking, rather than clinging to unquestioning tradition. Change is a process and there’s no substitute for buy-in, a change strategy, and support. It’s necessary to do an initial assessment of current culture and then examine values that, if adopted, would foster greater openness to change. Making significant changes in law firms and legal departments is necessary but not easy, but it’s taking place in enough places to have an impact on the system as a whole.
Many will be left behind if they don’t heed the call to innovate. While it may become a bit overwhelming digesting all that’s happening – legal tech startups, law firms partnering with technology service providers, new and advanced technologies like machine-learning, AI and blockchain, the vast majority of those in legal services are still operating under traditional methods. And all too many have no interest in learning how the market is developing, as if they have that option. It’s difficult to imagine that a lawyer who has another decade or more to practice would ignore the tectonic shifts, but it’s still all too common. If a firm’s main strategy is to combine or be acquired, that’s no strategy at all. Survival in a more complex, competitive market takes much more.
Whenever I attend a legal innovation conference like Legal Horizons, I leave invigorated, excited and enthralled with the possibilities. There are some stunning examples how players are re-thinking, re-defining and creating new tools and models in legal services. The possibilities are limitless, which makes the challenges all the more exciting.