The Legal Update

Six months into 2020, the legal profession has taken emergency measures to face a global crisis, has gone through an unexpected digital transformation and is just now assessing the situation to plan for the future. The road we take can either be a unique opportunity to reshuffle the cards and rethink the way we work or to set aside the past few months and get back to the old ways. 

Inspired by the RSA’s A Blueprint for Good Work report, LegalGeek’s The Uncertain Decade and Ari Kaplan’s virtual lunches, we look at future trends and models that will impact the delivery of legal services for years to come. One or more of these forces may be instrumental in shaping sustainable solutions for our current major legal industry issues.

#1 Value-based legal services

Since its earliest days, legal services have had a strong focus on continuous improvement to deliver the highest possible value to the client but that value was often hard to quantify or qualify. Unlike other professions, law has never really adopted peer review systems and the use of metric-linked incentives for legal services providers, except in some areas of B2C legal practice. The billable hour and profit per partner have long been the golden standards of success but that is changing.

In large legal teams, general counsel have passed the procurement baton to chief operating officers responsible for data-driven quality improvement initiatives across all levels of business – including legal. Every aspect of legal services delivery is increasingly subject to quality and cost assessments. Economic rewards (getting invited to a panel) and penalties (falling off a panel) are also becoming more tied to those assessments. Alternative legal services, with remote or flexible legal services models, or legal tech solutions have shifted from being bystanders to trusted partners in a global industry.

Economic consequences have kicked up a notch as the fee-for-service model gives way to value-based services. While success was more often measured by the number of hours billed or clients served, it will shift to a measure in terms of the economic growth and legal goals of clients.

There will continue to be a drive to find more innovative and effective value-based analytics, automation and reporting. To make a sustainable shift to value-based legal services, legal services providers will need to develop deep and substantive understandings of the foundations of client data, legal issues and services delivered. For new entrants to the market, that will mean breaking down the formidable barrier of decades-long law firm-client relationships to access the data.

#2 Tech-driven personalisation

While the delivery of legal services once followed a boutique protocol for every client, law is moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach and in some areas, is heading toward unique, personalised service delivery based on highly individual situations and conditions. 

Companies increasingly require cheaper, faster, more efficient legal services customised for them. Process mapping, machine learning and AI are among the advances that make this possible. Deloitte confirmed this trend, predicting in 2016 that 39% of all legal tasks would be automated by 2030, which is good news as most of these tasks were either repetitive or mind numbing, with humans bringing little value to the process.

As fitness trackers monitor our health, it is not so far-fetched to imagine internal business health trackers measuring the smooth running of contracts, low litigation rates and irregular spikes in the need for legal services. Combined with predictive risk analysis and regulatory tools, data science could help identify future legal needs and the best models of legal service delivery for complex transactions. 

At this point in the legal forest, two paths diverge: do we compete with emerging systems or do we build them? Hopefully, the second path will prevail. That means that new lawyers will need to understand data analytics as well as soft skills such as EQ, collaboration & cultural awareness. Rather than looking at the end of lawyers, new trends would reimagine the legal industry for the digital age with a more customer-centric approach.

#3 Society-driven legal services 

After decades of money-driven growth, the coronavirus crisis shook the very foundations of our consumer society and purpose crept in as a pillar of future growth. This type of model envisages a future of responsible stewardship where all legal professionals, business or practice, should be focused on the best outcome for their private clients as well as for society. 

There is a place in the legal landscape for lawyers who service vastly-underrepresented areas and more opportunities for career paths that will help people. Whether the end goal is access to justice, diversity & inclusion or the climate crisis, there is a tremendous opportunity for future lawyers to create the apps, or to help the creator of the app by giving them use cases, to address a societal need. 

In this empathy-driven model, the legal profession has an opportunity to better serve society and come back to its ethical roots. It will also open up its door to a new generation of non-legally-trained legal professionals. Some of the smartest new legal services are designed by people who are not lawyers. They are in the business of helping people and the difference in emphasis is huge as the rise of these services is completely consumer-driven. 

There are opportunities in adversity. Something as simple as putting more services online, allowing clients to generate forms, a mix of self-help and lawyer review will all improve access to justice and society. Future approaches will need new tools that connect people to potential resource assistance options, provide a means for follow-up and use analytics to determine success.

#4 Customer experience

Lawyers as a profession had a very insular culture outside of a more diverse ecosystem. Now, lawyers are one part of a team, with the client as the final decision-maker in setting and achieving their own goals. This power shift will break down business silos, with a legal industry open to new models and newer ways to doing things. 

As general counsel and legal leaders play a larger role in their own legal services decisions, providers will be increasingly focused on improving the customer experience at all levels. It’s becoming increasingly clear that a satisfied client is also an engaged one and studies have linked client engagement to better outcomes and lower costs.

Lawyers will also be able to align and collaborate with the industry as law merges with data analytics, engineering, or computer science. Where traditional lawyers have been about input and bespoke labor, legal professionals are about output, scaling and legal efficiency. They will be led by a more customer-centric approach, with a heightened effort to solicit and use client feedback and responses. This means not just “asking to ask,” but asking with the intent of making real change. 

Conclusion

These major trends in the delivery and operation of legal services will have big impacts on the clients and legal teams of the future. One thing we can be sure to expect is a continuous evolution toward connecting across the legal system, with clients at the centre.

 

Making Work, Work

At The Attic, we are always interested to talk to people doing interesting things in the legal industry, so we were delighted to have the chance to catch up with Gavin Sheridan, former investigative journalist, now CEO of Vizlegal. Having previously worked in a social media startups, he became interested in law and felt that there were opportunities to use technology to improve things for people working in the law. The result was Vizlegal, a legal search and tracking platform.

Can you tell us about your background and what brought you to legal tech?

I’m Gavin Sheridan, the co-founder and CEO of Vizlegal. My background is in investigative journalism – freedom of information (FOI) and open source intelligence, in particular. I previously worked as Director of Innovation at a social media startup called Storyful that specialised in open source investigations, and which was later acquired by News Corp.

I became interested in law via litigation involving my FOI and Aarhus requests for information to Irish public bodies. I felt that there were opportunities to improve the state of the art when it comes to legal information, litigation, and mobile accessibility and open data.

How would you define the scope of Vizlegal?

Our scope is global but we’ve started with Ireland, the EU and the UK. We think there’s an enormous amount of data out there to acquire and organise.

The intention of Vizlegal is to “empower lawyers by indexing and graphing the relationships of all the world’s legal information.”

So why do lawyers need Vizlegal? What benefit does that bring to a firm or the everyday working life of a lawyer?

Lawyers use us every day for various reasons – but mainly it boils down to two main things: searching for things, and keeping up to date with things.

This can include knowing

  • what stage your case is at,
  • when the other side has filed something, or
  • when a new judgment is issued that contains a certain phrase you are interested in.

For others, it’s being able to quickly look up a court rule or practice direction on your phone. And for others, it’s digging through tribunal or court decisions to find a key one.

What is it about the intersection between law and technology that is interesting to you?

I come from a technical background, so I tend to take an interest in the application of technology to any field. Law is interesting because it has been relatively unaffected thus far by digital transformation.

Do you think it helps to come from a non-legal background?

It certainly gives you a different perspective. As a non-practitioner, I tend to look at things with a fresh pair of eyes, which may give some advantage in identifying inefficient processes that could maybe be improved.

In every industry, including journalism, there are many things done because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”, and law is no different. We think that there are many, many opportunities to make the lives of our customers (practitioners!), both less stressful and more productive.

Access to data is central to access to justice – does that resonate with you?

Yes it does. I’m an FOI advocate, litigator and trainer and have spent a decade in the access to information domain. I believe that without adequate access to legal data or information, access to justice is hindered for everyone.

How is Vizlegal changing the legal space in Ireland and legal outcomes?

We are less focused on legal outcomes than we are on improving the lives of our customers. If we can reduce anxiety, increase productivity, make peoples’ lives easier and happier, then we think that we are achieving our goals. We think that these things lead to second-order benefits in the system overall and that’s a good thing.

How will technology affect the legal landscape?

We are in an information-heavy industry and that information needs to be organised and structured. We think that technology will mean that more lawyers can do more things with less time and more productively. The machines can focus on the mundane tasks, while the humans apply their skills in the areas where human brains are best.

What key skills do you think lawyers need today (particularly in terms of tech)?

Understanding product development and customer empathy is an interesting area – it is a skill that many other industries are focussed on. Also, understanding that data is not scary and that spreadsheets are great! (Journalists are going through the same thing!)

What key skills, particularly tech, should tomorrow’s lawyers be developing?

Continued focus on customer happiness and success is important – and learning new ways to achieve the same goal, but better is also great. I think that the keyword is adaptable.

What’s next for Vizlegal?

We continue to add to our coverage and we continue to add tools to make the life of a practitioner easier: including better court date management, better alerts, better and faster ways to search and improvements in managing lots of these things on mobile devices.

Always the goal is: how can we reduce the number of steps, clicks or taps to achieve the job that is needed to be done by our customers. We will expand into the UK market this year and then, to the rest of the world.

Any last words to add?

We enjoy buying coffee for lawyers so we can listen to their problems – be it using court forms, rules, badly built government websites or anything else. Our door is always open.