Law 2035: Reimagining Legal Services

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The Legal Revolution: Don’t lose your head

September 30, 2016 by · 9 Comments · Legal Fees, Legal Management, Legal Technology, The Future of Legal Services

Change is difficult. Especially, in large autocratic organizations without the will or pressing need to change. Would the breakthroughs in synthetic rubber have occurred without the dire World War 2 rubber shortage? Would fuel efficient cars be available without the 1973 oil crisis? Perhaps, but history is littered with examples that human behaviour only changes when environmental factors force it to change. Unfortunately, law is autocratic, adamant, and aged. Although environmental pressures for change have increased the gap between law and other industries is not yet wide enough to spark real consumer outrage. If the couch is comfortable and you still have some Kettle New York Cheddar chips you don’t bother changing the channel just because Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith is on. The remote is on the other side of the room! Hey, at least it isn’t Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Comfort, complacency, and sloth are the enemies of change. Therefore, the only true friend of change is peril.

The legal profession lags behind other industries in technical adoption but not to a perilous degree. And although most legal professionals recognize the need for change and innovation, little occurs. Only when consumer dissatisfaction reaches a tipping point or innovation is undeniably superior do disruptive technologies like Uber or Netflix take hold in the market. However, law has one more strike against it than the tech industry. The tech industry idolizes the startup. Law idolizes safety. The dream in tech is to start your own company and make it big as an entrepreneur. In law the dream is to get hired at a big firm and enjoy the spoils of aristocracy. Admittedly, while that is not the dream of all young law students it is certainly the dream for many if not the majority. Somewhere between now and the orators of ancient Rome who created a profession the entrepreneurial spirit was lost.

Other autocratic fields like medicine and banking have recognized the need for change. A glaring example being the move towards patient participation in medicine. Or in banking online transfers, account creation, credit lines, and photographic chequing (depositing cheques via your phone’s camera). These industries have recognized their clients 21st century needs. They’ve fundamentally changed aspects of their business for the convenience of their client. Has the legal profession sacrificed for the client? By no means do I assert these other professions are the gold standard but they are more client focused than law. Consumers complain about doctors and bankers but they hate lawyers.

The Buying Legal Council conducted a survey in January 2016 and outlined the top 5 factors for selection by legal procurement. Or more simply the five things clients are looking for in lawyers. They were:

  1. Experience with similar matters
  2. Industry experience
  3. Service Excellence
  4. Familiarity with the organization
  5. Value for money

One, two, and four are frankly the bare minimum. The cancer lies in three and five. Clients don’t receive service excellence or value for money. The lawyer isn’t intellectually superior to the client. The lawyer simply knows the cipher to the purposefully obtuse case law and statutes. The client isn’t purchasing reasoning, the client is buying Rosetta Stone for law.

The comfort of partners, complacency of associates, and risk avoidance of students has paralyzed the profession. The only real advocate for change right now is the consumer. A consumer who has been priced out of legal representation. A consumer who is alienated. A consumer who is angry; and only through a lack of alternatives, a consumer. What was it that caused the French Revolution? The financial strain of servicing old debt and the excesses of the current royal court? Well, it’s not like Louis XVI lost his head over it, oh wait.

The danger isn’t change isn’t coming. The danger is change will leave the lawyer behind.

Jeff Reimer

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9 responses so far ↓

  • 1   cbwolff // Oct 1, 2016 at 9:29 am

    Nice blog Jeff. I think white cheddar is the best flavour of kettle chip but there’s an argument to be made for salt and vinegar.

  • 2   Jesse.S // Oct 1, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Excellent use of violent imagery, Jeff. You’re bang on with the point that law does not value entrepreneurship like tech does. I’m not offering excuses, but I think part of the issue is the nature of product that lawyers sell versus that of the tech start-up. The “buying legal council” list makes it clear that the top 2 things that clients want is experience. Whereas, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that a tech start-up is more likely to get off the ground with just an idea.

    For this reason the young revolutionaries entering the market lack the one trait so highly sought after (experience) and, therefore, will likely have a hard time enacting change. Also, the monarch (experienced lawyers) have all the power and, like you said, are very comfortable given their compensation. But, as your post makes clear, hopefully the consumer (Napoleon?) will save us from this tyranny.

    Also, Miss Vickie’s S & V. Hands down.

  • 3   klforbes // Oct 1, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    Interesting thoughts Jeff! I wonder to what extent the consumer will continue to drive change in the legal marketplace? I have no doubt they will, but I think the intimidating and foreign legal world might make the consumer less willing to take risks required to drive change. It also seems like the access to justice problem has been around for decades, and the consumer hasn’t really driven change in a meaningful way.

  • 4   jeffreimer // Oct 2, 2016 at 11:56 am

    Thanks for the comment Kelsey. I think the difference today is that the consumer has more alternatives to traditional legal services and that will bring the situation to a tipping point. But your point is well taken that access to justice has been an ongoing and worsening issue for several years.

  • 5   jeffreimer // Oct 2, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    I take your point Jesse but experience is likely a top customer concern in almost all industries and yet those industries still have a culture of entrepreneurship. Assuredly, some customers will be driven away by lack of experience. However, some will come due to competitive pricing and the promise of a better customer experience. Those new customers will form the base of experience that will eventually grow to a size that allows conservative legal consumers to feel comfortable with new business practices.

  • 6   Calvin Ho // Oct 3, 2016 at 8:23 am

    Great article – I would caution against using the stats from the legal procurement survey however as that only looks at business and corporate clients as the survey was done on legal procurement professionals. Your off-hand assertion that “Or more simply the five things clients are looking for in lawyers” is kind of misleading in that sense. After all, you can look at something like this graphic to see that almost half of the legal market is either small businesses or individuals.

  • 7   jeffreimer // Oct 3, 2016 at 9:50 am

    Thanks for the comment Calvin! I take your point regarding the survey but I think it is still fair to say that most clients value service excellence and value for money. Most consumers value those factors in any business relationship whether choosing a hotel, buying clothes, or receiving legal services.

  • 8   Katie Sykes // Oct 5, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    Really enjoying the great, thought-provoking posts on this blog. I love the term “Rosetta Stone for law.” Can I steal that? I’m in the process of setting up a new course where students will design apps to assist non-profit and pro bono organizations in providing services to clients. Rosetta Stone for law is a perfect description of what they will be creating.

  • 9   jeffreimer // Oct 7, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    Sure Katie! Just point some of those students at the blog so we can get some cross traffic and I don’t mind at all.


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