Garry Wise is fond of saying that “the internet and technology are the great equalizers,” in the legal world. They allow smaller players, and newer players, to gain ground swifter than 20, or even 10 years ago, making them a growing threat to larger firms.
Larger firms however, don’t see it that way. They still view themselves as kings of the hill with competition only coming from equal-sized outfits – much like American car companies in the early 1970’s.
When Japanese car makers started to export product to North America, the cars were inexpensive and of not the highest quality. But they found a niche in the marketplace, a niche that they then used as springboard to move up the value chain. We see the results today. Harvard Business Professor Clayton Christensen is famed for pointing out that disruption always starts at the low end of the market, where the incumbents don’t notice it or they outright ignore it. No one notices the disruptors until it’s too late, at which time they’re strong enough to kill off the incumbents.
Is there a cautionary tale here for major law firms across Canada?
The answer is “yes”.
Law firms that will be successful – and still in existence – in 2025, will have strong managing partners who take note of the disruptors (think Cognition, Conduit, Miller Titerle, Skye Law, Anticipate Law, Wise Law and many others) and the fact that many of these upstarts rejected big firm ways of practice. While these firms are small now, they are chipping away at large firm work by being savvy enough to see the delivery of legal services in a new light, unencumbered by, as one upstart called them, “the barnacles of large law firm practices.” These new players are to large law firms what Japanese car makers were to American car makers in the early 1970’s. Add better technology and lower cost third party service providers to these upstarts and the playing field becomes very different.
In other words, it’s a mistake to look for the one “big thing” that’s going to change the profession; it’s better to follow the words of Cisco Systems:
What if the next big thing, isn’t a thing at all? It’s lots of things, all waking up.