Friday, 16 August 2013

Looking back on the Summer's Legal Commentary

Below is a round-up of some of the latest and best observations made on the state of the legal industry in the UK and US.

Legal Innovators and Entrepreneurship:

"Law firms composed of visionaries have the ability to rise to become leaders of a new industry."

Lawyers and law firms are stuck in a steam bath of trouble. For lawyers and law firms to get out of this pickle and succeed in a world of excess capacity, they need to change. This has been the prescription I’ve heard time after time.

Including from the Wall Street Journal here, from the Hildebrandt Institute here, from the ABA Journal here, from the Global Legal Post here, from the Managing Partners Forum here, on the Lawyer Magazine here and on the American Lawyer here.

And of course I always refer to the following reports by: Deloitte (UK), PWC (UK),the Law Society of England and Wales (UK), Citi-Hildebrandt (US), Wells Fargo (US), Georgetown-Reuters (US) and the FT
To change, lawyers need to offer new price competitive services. But that is no use if lawyer still “think” like a traditional lawyer. Modern lawyers need to “think” and operate like start-ups and tech entrepreneurs.

Although this is a bit of a social silence in legal circles, some people have been making some good news on this topic.

And this is what I was reading this month. Standing out from the pile was John Grimley (@JohnGrimley) who wrote a fantastic article, ‘Why Silicon Valley May Produce the Law Firm of the Future,’ back in 2012 but which resurfaced this week. John said: “I believe that law firms composed of visionaries have the ability to rise to become leaders of a new industry.”

I also read the piece by LexBlog president Kevin McKeown (@kevinmckeown) on legal trailblazer Axiom Law here and shared our article on legal entrepreneurs here around social media and email. Then there’s the American Lawyer feature on the 14 non-lawyers that have changed the legal industry here. That why I wrote an essay on Defero Law here about Harper Reed - the man behind social media for Obama 2012 - and how lawyers can learn and even emulate him.

And that has to be the watchword: think like a non-lawyer; think like an entrepreneur. Before I finish this section I should say that whenever it comes to legal entrepreneurship and innovation I always refer to the FT, which since 2006 has been running the Innovative Lawyers series. You can see all the 2012 coverage here. And I encourage you to keep an eye out in October 2013 when the next report will be published and awards ceremony will take place. 

"Big Law is Dying"

I couldn’t talk about Summer 2013 and the legal industry without referring to The New Republic and its editor Noam Scheiber who wrote a cover article by the title, ‘The Last Days of Big Law.’ And as you can imagine, the cries came wailing from all directions. Some heralding Scheiber as a teller of great truths; others saying the man was an illusionist.

And so it was batted around for some time on Twitter, email, on Above the Law and with an interesting rebuttal on Slate Magazine by their legal features editor here.

Noam then answered his critics on Bloomberg Law with Lee Pacchia which you can see here. Noam then answered the charges made by his critics more fully on The New Republic with another article with the title, ‘Big Law Really Is Dying.’ He made three points:

One: the Big Law model will not completely die out; but where the category is now in the hundreds, in the future it will only be a handful and even those firms will have radically changed. The others will not all disappear off the face of the earth but will rationalise and streamline into the new marketplace.

Two: on the charge that Scheiber took no regard for history he explained that the fundamentals in Big Law have been bad for the last 20 years but where hidden by two economic bubbles – the tech boom and then the one in housing. We now know that those heady days where “an aberration”, so now Big Law has no cushion, but must change.
Three: on the charge that Big Law will bounce back Noam said to his critics that the legal industry is facing a unique challenge; adding that the legal econonmy will not pick up at the same rate as the normal economy. How so: because the way legal products and services are delivered has changed immensely even in recent years, so even the bread and butter work isn’t there for them - it’s been exported.

But what for UK Big Law? I asked that question on Defero Law here and said that big firms in the UK face many of the same challenges and temptations but that the liberalisation legislation has really marked things in red that law firms must change. UK lawyers too can learn from the now infamous New Republic public debate.
Using Technology to connect small businesses with affordable legal services

The Noam Scheiber Big Law debate also raised another issue on The New Republic. That being the need for “voters, law-makers, community leaders, and other stakeholders need to put mechanisms in place for paying lawyers to do legal work on Main Street."

Written by Leah Plunkett here, this is a very real, urgent and shared problem that affects people and small business all over America and Britain. And with legal aid being cut in Britain this subject is particularly pressing.
In response the opportunity is there for legal innovators and “visionaries” to create new products and services. And with technology a forceful enabler, it’s never been easier.

Linking back to my July article on legal entrepreneurship, as I said: “There are innumerable areas where the legal industry can be improved; and so this gives the lucrative opportunity to those who can identify meaningful solutions.”

Step in UpCounsel, an online legal marketplace that connects private individuals and small businesses (Main Street) with affordable legal services.
Tackling Mistrust

After a BBC Radio4 feature on legal affairs I wrote that 58% of people don’t expect their lawyer to tell the truth - A shocking statistic. I wrote here about how law firms can tackle this cloud of mistrust by building an online and offline communications and marketing strategy. By adopting new and innovative practices law firms can tell a story and project a new and fresh image that smashes the status quo and the tired public image.

Then I got chatting online with Richard Tromans (@After_Lehman) who wrote a piece on Lexis Nexis with the title, ‘Gain your client’s trust: use price tags.’

Here’s Richard Troman’s answer to tackling the cloud of mistrust:
“Here is a modest proposal… full pricing transparency made publicly available on law firm websites, with fixed prices wherever possible. Where there is likely to be a high potential for a variable cost, e.g. such as litigation, then this should be explained with potential prices given and percentage chances of outcomes based on past experience added, to give clients something concrete to base a decision on.”
Tromans concluded: 
“What would any of this gain, other than upsetting many lawyers? First it would do an enormous amount of good for the profession’s image. But, more importantly, it would see far greater demand for legal services across a range of client groups as people and companies felt reassured and empowered to engage with solicitors on a more equal footing.”

Ipad and iphone usage up among US lawyers

You always meet solicitors, barristers and attorneys who still don’t do technology at all. But it seems that things are really starting to change. According to the 2013 ABA Tech survey, there has been a surge in iPad and iPhone usage by US attorneys. How for UK laywers? Anecdotally we know it’s growing; just need to do bit more research.

Going global

This is a tricky one: legal commentators are saying that law firms either need to go global or niche and nimble. I wrote about this on Defero Law with the article, ‘Big, Boutique or Bust?’ Then Helen wrote on Elephant Creative and on Defero Law here that it’s the case of, ‘Long Live the High Street Law Firm.’

And so the jury is still out. But if you are deciding to go global then you need to read this: ‘Going Global Good for Bottom Line, But Cultural Issues May Abound.’ So beware, risks abound.

UK law firms struggling, US firms mixed

News came out of the Lawyer Magazine that profitability has plummeted at nearly half of UK top law firms, more here. Meanwhile in the US: larger law firms did well, while small law firms struggled in 2012; more on the US situation on the Hildebrandt Institute blog here.

Avoid jargon, speak plain English

We’re massive fans of Matthew Salzwedel and his campaign for plain anglo-saxon legal writing. See here and here. And we’ve written about obtuse and obscure legal language here and on Defero Law ‘Made the Case For Plain English.’

Some people would oppose these arguments and make the case for the more convoluted Latinatelegal tongue. But get this: a UK judge has said that too many words are coming out of the courts. As they say: "brevity is the soul of whit."
Business development

Our friend David Tromans also wrote a wonderful analysis on the state of legal business development in the UK. A great read for lawyers, barristers and legal-marketing people alike - In full here.

Finally: Gender Equality

Over on Elephant Create were I write we’re massive on championing the woman in the workplace. And you can imagine we were pretty pleased when the CNN asked (here) leading lawyers in the U.S. and Britain how to achieve gender equality in the law. Then extra pleased to read an article (here) by former president of the Law Society, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff on what women lawyers can do to get ahead.

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