Commoditized Legal Products – a Reality Check

After the front cover piece in CBA National , recently mentioned on Slaw, it may seem as if there is a certain inevitability in the move away from billable hours, and to the development of technology-enabled commodity products.

This was the view espoused by Richard Susskind and embraced by legal futurists in North America and Australia.

I questioned whether this was really occurring in practice and whether firms were prepared to make the necessary investments in a piece at the first Pacific Legal Technology Conference back in 2002.

Now a survey of major projects suggests that there has been a shake-out and only five firms are seriously still in the market.

Pinsent Masons’ excellent service is not on the list, because it is given away entirely for free and is therefore not a for-profit business in its own right.

Linklaters has ploughed millions into the development and maintenance of its Blue Flag online services portfolio — the last survivor from the first crop of legal online service offerings. Blue Flag is still going and its document-drafting services remain some of the most sophisticated in the market.

Berwin Leighton Paisner’s BeProfessional is aimed squarely at small and medium-sized companies, co-owned by Deloitte and offers a broad range of basic professional services beyond legal advice. It has 20,000 businesses among its subscribers.

Eversheds launched its suite of online services – the returns are “not huge at present” but adds that in terms of market share gained and brand established online, the project has been an unmitigated success.

Allen & Overy is focusing its efforts in promoting its client extranet service. It has more than 80% market share among global financial institutions, its prospects are good. One senior figure in the field of online legal services once said the secret is this: do not even think about doing something online unless you are sure that clients are going to want to pay for it. And do not give it away for free unless you absolutely have to, because clients will not see the value in something they do not have to pay for.

Addleshaw Goddard gets voted the most innovative player in the market. See the excellent background article in Legal IT. It is the only firm that sells legal information and advice via a Web-TV service. Set up in 2004 with help from the BBC, The Employment ChannelNote that it requires registration. has broadcast twice weekly ever since, proving itself to be an effective compliance training solution for clients.

And few North American firms – let alone Canadian law firms – are playing in this space.

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