Live Blogging From the 2009 Futures Conference

For the next day and a half, Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver is the venue for a programme focussing on the Future of Law. I’ll post about the highlights.

The keynote address was a talk on the Legal Transformation Study Update by Ward Bower of Altman Weil, Inc.
Ward was one of the leaders of the 2008 Legal Transformation Study which identified four scenarios for the legal marketplace of 2020. The study produced reports on global developments that suggest market movement toward one or more of the scenarios, and the latest projections of the probability of each scenario dominating by the year 2020.

The legal industry is undergoing significant change and transformation due to numerous external forces influencing the nature and quality of legal service delivery. Some of these changes, such as the changes in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and globalization are obvious. Other changes, while receiving less media coverage, are also beginning to affect how legal teams are servicing their clients.
In the past, law firms, law departments and the internal and external customers they serve, have frequently been taken by surprise by unexpected practice forces – trends and uncertainties that directly influence the practice of law. These surprises have often negatively impacted the quality and value of the legal services delivered (or received) and force the practitioner into a reactive solution mode – at a higher risk and greater cost for their clients. Electronic discovery is an example. In retrospect, it seems possible to have predicted and planned for the explosion in electronic evidence, had we stopped ten years ago to consider that computers were enabling more and more documentation, and email inbox sizes were rapidly growing. It has therefore become increasingly important for legal professionals to identify and assess the impact of these practice forces, trends and uncertainties on the representation of their clients, so they can provide informed, proactive legal counsel before they are blindsided by unexpected events and risks. In order to continuously enhance the quality, value and efficiency of legal services to their clients — and proactively manage the expected risks that threaten our clients’ interests — lawyers must be more cognizant of the forces in the following categories that will directly influence their practice in the coming years:

* Societal
* Technological
* Environmental
* Economical
* Political

In response to this legal industry and practice challenge, in 2007, a group of legal industry thought and practice leaders from law firms, corporate law departments and legal service supplier organizations were brought together to better understand and plan for the future of the legal profession. The group commissioned global strategic and scenario planning experts at Decision Strategies International (DSI) to create a Legal Transformation Study to help all participants in the legal industry better understand our collective future, through the design of four potential legal service delivery scenarios that may unfold between 2007 the year 2020. This Study contains the forces constituting the four scenarios, the scenarios and their strategic implications readers can plan for and leverage these scenarios to their clients’ strategic advantage by better managing their clients’ risk profile.

The current trends thus identified by Legal Transformation Study researchers include:

• Unbundled. outsourced and bifurcated legal services
• Increased application of technology
• Expanded globalization of legal practice
• Heightened demand for legal work from economic and regulatory forces’
• Standardized legal information
• Deepened interest in work-life balance issues
• Increased Internet-based service delivery
• Heightened demand for specialized experts
• Enhanced role of non-lawyer business managers in law firms and legal departments
• Increased authority of corporate management in legal purchasing decisions
• Shifted focus to process orientation

The concurrent uncertainties include:
• What purchase and delivery models will develop for legal services?
• What type of regulatory and compliance environment will exist?
• What will the global economy look like?
• To what extent will non-attorney legal service competition move upstream?
• Will the legal profession become deregulated?
• Will the industry face a skill shortage?
• How much will third parties focus on cost?
• How much of a role will privacy and data security issues play in litigation?
• Which litigation model will prevail globally?
• Will non-governmental organizations shape and influence regulatory regimes?
• How much will smart technologies that mimic attorney tasks penetrate the legal services market?

The four possible scenarios for the delivery of legal services between now and 2020 are summarized as follows:

Blue-Chip Mega-Mania – A model that emphasizes the global consolidation of legal service providers and the dominance of giant law firms with vast global presence and offerings spanning all legal areas.

Scenario A – Mega Mania = Aggregated providers and delivery in a heavy and fragmented regulatory environment.

• Conflicts prone world
• Major economic blocks competing fiercely
• Few large firms acting as consolidators
• Still a traditional model dominated by giants
• Customer loyalty is low and frustration is high

• Middle size law firms have been forced to consolidate or join into very integrated networks to offer the bench strength and international coverage sought by their clients.
• Aggregators have reduced their costs by leveraging outsourcing and using local expertise leading to the possibility of offering lower cost for volume work.
• The complexity and intensity of the various regulatory environments has increased the ability of law firms to demonstrate their value, thus conserving their margins.
• The continued high margins and potential for international development have made the profession an attractive one.
• Technology is limited to workflow, process and data management. It has not delivered in terms of critical analysis.

Expertopia – A scenario that envisions the increasing complexity of the law and challenges of corporations operating in multiple environments worldwide, thereby placing a premium on specialization and expert-driven cultures at legal services organizations.

Scenario B – Expertopia = • Disaggregated providers and delivery in a heavy and fragmented regulatory environment.
• Regulatory driven world with the individual at the center
• High stake litigation
• Expertise is at a premium
• Numerous niche players due to regulatory breakup of large providers

• Rise in litigation cases linked to the growth of privacy and data security issues.
• Congress enacted new regulations making companies liable for the loss of employee / consumer information.
• Regulations have flourished to protect consumers and employees, but there is no harmonization among the national, federal and state levels.
• Increased demand for corporate social responsibility.
• High level of competition, increasing influx of young lawyers and NGOs providing more services have created a low margin environment.
• Technology is still a fragmented world with no standards.
• Regulations have been passed to break up the mega firms, in order to reduce conflicts of interest and to increase access and affordability of legal services.

E-Marketplace – A model built on the premise that technology will be a catalyst, but not the core, for an industry transformation in which an array of Web-based technologies will make information more available and expert judgment more valuable.

Scenario C – The E-Marketplace = Disaggregated providers in a hands-off and harmonized regulatory, compliance environment
• Major economic downturn leading to deregulation and harmonization to spur growth
• Flurry of new providers
• Online selection/satisfaction tools
• Commoditization of many services

• Regulatory hurdles have been lifted to boost global trade, resulting in increased harmony.
• Corporate organizations have adopted technology such as KM and others and are now in a position to reuse some of the knowledge they had paid for.
• Cost pressures have led to the change in the US litigation system (tort reform) and deregulation of the legal profession, enabling non-lawyers to provide a wider array of legal services.
• IT systems are still customized but pervasive and the world is digital.
• The legal marketplace has imploded and standards have emerged for the purchase, audit and delivery of services. Benchmark metrics are readily available for the comparison of multiple providers

— A scenario that contemplates rising corporate investment in automation capabilities throughout the legal services industry, leaving only the high-end services to be delivered by legal professionals and potentially requiring a complete reconstruction of the traditional business models in the legal services industry.

Scenario D – Techno-Law = Aggregated providers and delivery in a hands off and global environment.
• Peaceful world dominated by desire to further trade relations
• Harmonious regulatory systems
• Experts moving into technology field to codify content and rules
• Major aggregators offering “lawyers in-a-box”
• Selection based on value and capacity

• Customers have demanded that technology be interoperable for cost purposes.
• Technology providers and content providers (legal publishers) have collaborated to create expert systems.
• Senior lawyers with high expertise move to create technology companies that provide these expert systems.
• Neural network AI systems are a reality.
• Political harmony, the UN is working and emerging markets are being supported.
• Peaceful relationship with China.
• Global sourcing is the norm.
• Technology enables aggregators to work and access any local resources.
• Large integrators have entered the market for aggregating and managing legal services


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  1. Simon Chester: fastest blogger in the west. This was written in real-time and posted instantaneously (three rows behind me).

  2. Along with this great post, have a look on twitter for #colpm for Jordan Furlong and David Bilinski’s excellent coverage. I look forward to following along…