In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I put around two thousand lawyers through a hands-on computer course on how they could use a PC themselves. For a few years, one lawyer returned annually. Turns out that his motivation was to re-assure himself that his colleagues were still luddites when it came to IT, and that he had nothing to fear with respect to their catching up to him.
I suspect that he had a good 3 decades start on most. However, one would have to say that now tech is finally being accepted as playing an important role in law.
But just when we think that you only need to add IT to law, along comes Prof Dan Katz who says that there is much more to it. The starting line has moved way beyond just email/website/accounts/wordprocessing. It’s now a combination of law, tech, process, design and delivery. That sounds a lot like a Law Factory we have heard about, particularly in connection with BigLaw. However, I still suspect that large law firms might not be the ones best qualified to build such factories. I would suggest that businesses other than law firms are still probably better at all but one of those necessary elements.
For the first time in the UK non-lawyers can now own or invest in law firms. The Stobart Group became a remarkable example of an alternative business structure a granted licence to provide legal services.
Stobart Group is a FTSE listed company employing over 6,000 people at 50 sites across the UK. Both highly successful and one of the country’s best known companies, Stobart is a business Superbrand. The company is a national leader in multimodal logistics, warehousing and biomass fuel sectors, as well as operating in the property development, ports, airports and civil engineering sectors.
If you visit the Stobart Group site, you will notice under the Stobart Brand, Stobart Barristers. As a logistics company, they would know a lot about tech, process, design and delivery. The one element they lacked was the law, so they turned to barristers. Barristers tend to be legal “purists” unlike solicitors whose legal expertise is often not as focussed due to a need to also deal with marketing, tech, process, design and delivery.
Stobart certainly deliver.
Once its clients have received a barrister’s opinion, which the service would typically look to deliver in under seven days, its sister company Stobart Business Services can provide the necessary paralegal support to help a barrister prepare their case instead of a solicitor. Overall, Stobart’s fixed fee model of delivering barrister’s services will be up to 50 per cent cheaper than if provided via a solicitor.
Interestingly, Legal Technology Insider’s April Fool story from a decade ago announced that UK retailer, Tesco was going into the business of law, and would use their delivery vans to drop off lawyers along with groceries at customers’ homes.
Now, on every day of the year, not just April 1, almost anything goes, particularly the opportunity for jokes, with services such as Law to Your Door and even a form of Tesco Law with Co-operative Legal Services a reality.
Such talk of superbrands and design, bring to mind Apple. That one-time computer company which outsources manufacturing, particularly components i.e. Toshiba might make the hard drives, Sharp, monitor screens, and Intel the chips etc, while Apple provides a quality experience by bringing together all these different products of other tech companies into one easy user experience.
For a long while, legal service companies provided legal components for law firm solutions. These components have always been research materials and precedents from legal publishers. Increasingly, “paralegal” services, such as document review and legal research are also being outsourced by firms, or more likely, directly by in-house lawyers. There is even an argument to go one step further and source some high level legal components from other firms.
While damaging the law firm pyramid, and seemingly competing, one school of thought is that it might actually be doing some law firms a favour by allowing them to focus on what they do best, and be more profitable. This would not be applicable only to large firms …. many solos take too little home as they waste time on work they shouldn’t do. But unfortunately without that “superbrand” it is not easy to get the right work.
That’s why new models are emerging for the business of law. Branding helps – it even makes the virtual firm, real. Smart firms, just like trucking companies, now supplement their workforce with sub-contractors on an ad hoc basis. The ad hoc law firm is something we will be seeing more of.
Tech support is crucial for all this, and for some, worth spending serious dollars. Clearspire, for example, developed an $8 million-plus piece of proprietary software called Coral. It’s aim included removing from its business model the large, expensive downtown office.
For those of you who don’t have that sort of money, or who would prefer to spend it on Google Ads, you might find one of the increasingly capable cloud-based Practice Management Systems (PMS) a good starting point. You will need to extend it with other cloud solutions, hence any PMS that means business, should have an API so the programs can talk to each other.
You do need to have a real PMS as a starting platform which will enable you to collaborate with colleagues, and most importantly facilitate digital workflows:
Trilby Misso has also opened a series of local client service centres throughout south east Queensland, where clients can discuss the progress of their case without having to travel to the main Brisbane office. Our paralegal staff there are able to access all the material on a client’s file remotely, and we are also introducing videoconferencing if they need to talk to a lawyer directly. [source]
To extend their reach beyond their own “client service centres”, Trilby Misso set up a referral network that connects law firms throughout Queensland.
The network provides potential clients the opportunity to speak with a local law firm and then, if accepted have their case run by one of the state’s leading specialist firms in their field.
By all means top up your PMS with apps, but don’t make the mistake of basing your processes (read ToDos) on a non-scaleable app. You risk being run over by a competitors’ delivery vehicles – particularly those that deliver to your clients’ desktops.
And speaking of rapidly moving vehicles, and legal superbrands, Slater & Gordon, the world’s first publicly listed law firm, took over Trilby Misso in 2010 on its way to the UK.