Legal profession reflections back and ahead

JD Supra has made a year in review report for 2010 summarising the thoughts reflecting back on 2010 and ahead for 2011 by a number of well-reputable legal professionals. The report is well worth reading in full and consists of a diverse collection of insights and observations to the following two questions: 1. What surprised you in 2010? and 2. What should lawyers expect to see in the new years?

A major focus of the insights and observations is the word ‘change’ and its impact on the legal market. As, for example Tim Baran, puts it “The past year continued the trend of law firms and other legal organization adapting to change. No small development since the profession is notoriously averse to change.”

Also Jordan Furlong has made a similar observation: “What surprised me most in 2010 was the speed with which change in the legal marketplace accelerated. Coming into the year, lawyers knew or should have known that the days of their near-exclusive access to the marketplace were ending – and in fairness, a number of lawyers and firms responded admirably in 2010, from adopting AFAs and managing processes to renewing their focus on their key clients and client markets. But the competition came on stronger than anticipated, from legal process outsourcing companies to contract and temporary attorneys to the year’s biggest surprise, Thomson Reuters’ acquisition of LPO Pangea3.” This acquisition is also referred to by Donna Seyle as this year’s largest surprise. “It shows that this upending of the law firm structure is really driving the legal services industry to think out-of-the-box, and the implications will be far-reaching as Thomson Reuters implements their concepts by integrating Pangea into their family of offerings.”

Another theme of the report is social media, and how it has now started to be embraced by the legal profession. But observations were also made on how little law firms still make strategic use of social media, or as Gina Rubel pointed out “I still find it surprising how many law firms in the US are either 1. blocking social media or 2. do not have social media policies in place.” Daniel Schwartz adds that “what also surprised me (but shouldn’t have) is how attorneys who don’t even use social media suddenly became ‘experts’ too.”

For the year ahead there seems to be a large focus on the need for law firms to streamline and further professionalise the business, to further make use of outsourcing, technology like document automation and to find new innovative approaches to maintain the work on the new market terms.

Lance Godard makes the following observation for the future. “The wild card is legal process outsourcing (and insourcing). If it takes hold, and recent activity would certainly indicate that it is well on its way to doing that, it will give clients a real option for legal services. That additional option will likely translate into a noticeable shift away from using traditional firms for routine legal work, which will in turn force those firms to find innovative ways to keep that work on the new terms (as dictated by the clients) or get out of the routine work business completely.”

Jordan Furlong predicts that “in 2011, lawyers should expect to see the arrival of some truly gigantic players in the marketplace. Moreover, more global law firms will look to broaden their reach, either through transatlantic mergers like SNR Denton or via strategies like Norton Rose’s moves into Australia, Canada and South Africa. On top of that, the Alternative Business Structure provisions of the UK’s groundbreaking Legal Services Act will come into force in October 2011, and while relatively few law firms will take advantage of those provisions to float shares or encourage direct investment, it isn’t law firms we should be looking at. Watch for global service providers outside the legal sphere – anything from department stores or investment banks to accounting firms or insurance companies or even Google or Amazon – to assess the fragmented, overpriced, under-served nature of the legal marketplace and use these new provisions to acquire an LPO.”

Jim Calloway also makes a similar observation for the future “Continued pressure from corporate clients to have lower, more predictable attorney fees. Lawyers figuring out that to survive and prosper they have to be more efficient. I cannot say that it will happen, but what should happen is a significant reassessment of how law firms produce documents and how technology can streamline and speed up document creation while ensuring great client work product.”

Thus, as a conclusion of all these insight and observations there seems to be a clear need for streamlining of process, further use of technology and focus on efficiency and quality assurance for the legal market for the year ahead. Predicably the legal profession development in 2011 will involve LPO, the purchase of services, knowledge and standard documents from external providers and automation of routine on non-bespoke parts of the services. As for the social media theme, it remains to be seen what it means and how the law firms will be participating onwards. Will 2011 be the year when social media was made part of the legal market business focus or will it still be used on an ad-hoc basis without any clear management strategic intent?