Why lawyers’ work ethic means legal practice is ripe for disruption

Big, inefficient, pyramids. The macabre frenzy invoked by criticising ‘old law’ is legal technology’s greatest marketing tool. Given the hype and marketing hyperbole, you’d think old law’s terminal decline began decades ago. Yet nearly all practising lawyers I meet are blissfully unaware of this.

And I think that’s cause for concern. The legal profession collectively suffers from corporate paralysis, unable to act to ensure it stays competitive. Things continue to be done the way they’ve always been done, with no consideration of how they could be done better. While junior lawyers can certainly feel vindicated, the underlying cause of this wilful blindness is something which needs to be addressed.

Are you thinking ahead?

Law is a profession with a prodigious workload. There’s always more to do. It’s the profession’s achilles heel. And the prime reason why I think the vast majority aren’t seeing the writing on the wall. They’re (justifiably) preoccupied with making budget, building client relationships and managing a team of professional indemnity risks junior lawyers. But they’re not reading The Digital Lawyer. None have heard of Richard Susskind or even noticed how Law Societies worldwide are responding to legal technology. Their five year plans are essentially a repeat of what’s being done today, with the perennial “do more with less” goal.

Legal practice has been unchanged for hundreds of years, albeit with its pace and billing pressure exponentially increasing as new technologies and productivity software have been introduced. While I’m not a believer that we’re on the precipice of the imminent crushing of old law business models by ‘new law’ upstarts, the next few years will be pivotal for all lawyers to decide how their practices will look in 5-10 years. As new law businesses perfect their products, and as the most nimble old law firms adapt, clients will slowly drift to a faster, better and more accurate way of doing things.

5 questions for future-proofing

To escape this inertia, lawyers need to be considering questions like: 

  1. Which existing processes are repetitive and time-consuming? What scope is there for automating these processes? Are you still drafting documents the old fashioned way? 
  2. Would your practice survive with an inverted pyramid structure or if large-scale discovery or due diligence work disappeared due to automation?
  3. How are you adapting your in-house training of junior lawyers to respond to the changing landscape? What if legal research were automated away? 
  4. What can you offer over the current ‘new law’ business models? Can you justify charging a premium above the substantially lower cost of a contract lawyer/flexible resourcing solution? Is your firm’s marketing littered with old law clichés?
  5. Do you know how your bills are being used? Would you survive in a legal services marketplace with complete price transparency?

After overcoming ingrained scepticism about technology, lawyers are fascinated by the promise and opportunities of legal technology. But the overwhelming majority never have that epiphany.

You can make a change. Devote an hour per week of completely uninterrupted time to thinking about our list. Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and other business leaders swear by it. Explaining that opportunity cost in a law firm won’t be easy. But what’s the long-term cost of doing nothing?

If you’re looking for some inspiration while reading, you might like:

You can read our short reviews of these books here.