Recently I spoke at lawTechcamp at the University of Toronto about the future practice of law. The session generated a great deal of discussion with the audience, some of it quite heated – particularly when I raised the question, “Why should we hire students or junior associates?” The point of my question was to force lawyers to question everything we do – not take any process or practice as a given. The players in the legal industry who are able to forget the past and re-invent how legal services are delivered will be wildly successful.
One of the questions from lawTechcamp was, “How can small firms and solo practitioners become more innovative, given the lack of capital and economies of scale?” I didn’t have much of an answer at that time. However, the more I thought through the issue, the more I realized that perhaps the days of solo and small firms are numbered. A new model is needed – that of a franchise or of a co-ordinated national network of offices.
I look to the UK for inspiration on this point – and the news is incredibly exciting.
It seems that every month a new Alternative Business Structure (ABS) is announced, all of whom are dedicated to making legal services more accessible than ever before. Two recent announcements have application to solos and small firms.
Stobart Barristers is the creation of UK trucking giant Stobart Lorries – who knew that trucking companies would have an interest in the legal field? Stobart Barristers looks to generate £10m in fees over its first three years by acting as an intermediary that puts clients directly in touch with barristers (without using a solicitor as middleman) – this is a situation unique to the UK – and receive its part of the fee from the client. Fees for barristers are fixed based on the nature of the matter.
The Co-operative Group (CLS) has just announced that it's expanding its legal services and funeral planning services to all 330 branches of The Co-operative Bank and Britannia. Legal and funeral???? A new family law operation will also open in London late this year. This means something that is quite new for the legal service industry – a slew of new jobs! 3,000 to be exact; with about 90% of them to be fee-earner positions. As the CEO of CLS said to Legal Futures, “We already have a first-class reputation for delivering professional services. We see the law as yet another area where a Co-operative solution can be successfully applied for the customer’s benefit. Over the next five years we want to fundamentally change the face of legal services and make access far easier – today’s announcement underlines that ambition…We believe that the presence of The Co-operative’s trusted brand and values, our UK-wide branch network, first class people and services together with fair and fixed pricing options, will enable customers to find it much easier to access expert legal advice from someone they trust.”
So, circling back to the lawTechcamp question of what can solo and small firms do?
Learn from the UK experience and lobby provincial governments to permit outside investment so that we can all take advantage of the innovations necessary to create accessible and affordable legal services.