Vision 2020 – the future of legal services

Thursday VQ attended Legal Futures conference “2020 Vision”, that focused on showcasing innovation and debating what the future of legal services will look like.

The conference started out with a presentation from Patricia Greer, Chief of Corporate Affairs at the Law Society. She presented the results of Law Society’s most comprehensive ever study forecasting the legal services sector. This analysis resulted in four possible scenarios of the future legal profession. She stressed that this only is scenarios and no predictions. They cannot predict the future but only be aware of that some changes probably will come. The scenarios presented were based on the two parameters buyer behavior and business enhancement.

On the most developed part of the business enhancement scale, she described the two different scenarios described as the “Wise counsel” and “The Law as an App”. If buyers are shaping the future, the scenario “Law as an App” could be the possible scenario and it is described as a highly dynamic and competitive world in which only the fittest, and quickest to adapt, survive. ´Leading´ buyers play an active role in shaping the service they want and they are supported in this by technical advancements. In this scenario, innovation in the broadest sense has transformed the market. If buyers instead are more “receiving” – I e buyers present very limited stimulus for providers to change – the “Wise Counsel” scenarios is a more plausible scenario. In this scenario legal expertise is highly valued and demand for good quality legal services is strong. Here innovation in the market has tended to be enhancing rather than transformational. The two other scenarios on the low part of the business enhancement scale, was “The Mini Clubmen” and the “Bleak House”.

Here you can find further information about that analysis.

There was a panel discussion about the importance of the brand for delivering legal services. Christina Blacklaws, Director of Co-Operative Legal Services, stressed the importance of a trusted brand. Several panelists seemed worried about the delivery part of the brand and talked about the importance of consistency in the delivery of legal services. Gabe Miller, Managing Attorney of Jacoby & Meyers – America’s largest full-service consumer law firm – concluded that if you want the law firm to be run as a business you should look outside the legal sector and hire people with great experience from running a franchise operations or running process outsourcing organizations. That way you can also build an efficient and consistent legal service provider.

In the session “Innovation nation” Jonathan Whittaker, Senior Partner at SAS Daniels LLP, concluded that you have to bring the legal business into the 21th century and really treat law as a business. It is not a question about fixed fees. It is about delivering services that meet client demands and pricing it accordingly. Naturally time recording is done primarily for internal follow-ups to further develop the pricing structure.

One interesting example of the transformation process was being described by the company “Tees Law”. It was a combined presentation by their former Managing Partner and now Chairman David Redfern and their non-lawyer Chief Executive Officer Paul Stothard.  Tees law was a profitable ordinary law firm that realized that the partnership model is dead and that they ought to prepare for the future. Therefore they initiated a process towards an ABS structure and hired a non-lawyer CEO. The reason for this change can best be described by the following quote by Paul Stothard: “We don’t know for sure what’s going to happen in the legal sector but… we want to be ´best dressed´ when many opportunity arise.” Therefore, they have now changed the corporate structure, the management structure and outsourced/hosted IT etc.

Another interesting example of an ABS is Schillings, which was presented by their Chief Operation Officer Christopher Mills. They have developed a multi-disciplinary business focusing on Risk Consulting, Law and IT Security with the aim to become a reputable defense business.  By developing this as an ABS they can deliver all these services form the same brand and with only one invoice. It would be interesting to see something similar in Sweden, with for example an Information security company enhancing their business model to also provide risk consulting and legal services.

Considering the warnings from PwC earlier this week, that law firms has to radically restructure if they are to survive, the conference proved interesting possibilities of how to approach the future.