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Many Legal firms won't know what's hit them

I’ve spent today at the Legal Futures Innovation Conference, in my capacity as an owner of a law firm who isn’t a practising solicitor – something that wouldn’t have been possible only a few years ago.

Several speakers today have commented on the remarkably slow pace of change in the legal world, and the

reluctance of many solicitors to consider new ways of working, different business structures, and the use of technology. But things are changing.

John Whittle of legal service provider Lexis Nexis highlighted the research his firm had done involving both lawyers and their clients. He focused on the big disconnect between the things that lawyers consider important to their clients (such as clear fee statements) and what the clients themselves say that they value (efficient service, regular updates).

When asked what value for money they delivered, 76% of lawyers believed their service was ‘Very Good’ or ‘Good’, but when asked the same question only 22% of clients gave them the same rating.

This matters because, as we saw demonstrated in later sessions, there are plenty of people out there trying to disrupt the legal market and deliver what lawyers can’t – immediacy, 24/7 response, simplicity – for little or no cost.

Indeed, one of the most interesting speakers of the day, Joshua Browder, is an internet whizzkid prodigy who openly pledged to put lots of lawyers out of work by delivering the same services that they offer for free. He has plenty of financial backing from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who are very comfortable with a ‘no revenue’ business – at least for the foreseeable future.

Meet Billy Bot

We also heard about a Trainee Barrister’s Clerk who was actually a robot. No, I didn’t know what a Barrister’s Clerk does either, but whatever it is ‘Billy Bot’ does it more efficiently. This Trainee can take enquiries, issue quotations, send instructions, arrange meetings and a host of other routine tasks. Billy can even make the coffee – there’s a coffee machine that is programmable and will accept Billy’s instructions. So who needs a Receptionist?

Of course these robots, clever as they are, are a long way from being able to hold in depth conversations with real people about complex legal issues, or to reassure Mrs Miggins when she arrives at your office having just lost her husband. 

But that won’t stop the computer geeks from trying.

Reaching new markets

There is a huge cohort of people who have never used legal services, but might need good advice about their rights. Tony Rupa of UnionLine explained how his trade union has established a new legal service for members, helping them with issues such as employment, housing, renting, and divorce. Many of these people would not get advice at all if it wasn’t for these services, and it is likely to be these same people that the geeks will target first.

There is a huge market waiting to be opened up, and whilst many lawyers fear the rise of the robots, forward looking firms are realising that they are likely to produce more work for everyone as the legal market expands.

But the legal client of the future won’t be prepared to deal with an old-style firm that closes for lunch, where the solicitor can’t be reached except through tiers of gatepeople, where the costs are out of proportion to the work involved, and where there is no perception of value. 

Change is coming

It’s apparent, though, that following the deregulation of the legal world just a few years ago, the pace of change is set to accelerate rapidly. Several speakers mentioned that, in their own firms, it is the young lawyers who are coming up with the innovations and ideas for change.

It’s been our experience at Chesterton House that young, qualified professionals in all disciplines – whether it’s law, finance or accountancy – want to be associated with a progressive firm that embraces the future, and we have been busy creating a culture that encourages them. 

Those traditional practices who don’t understand this will become increasingly irrelevant and unable to compete. It’s probable that many won’t understand what’s hit them as they find their enquiries falling, their costs rising, and their recruitment attempts frustrating as candidates elect to work with firms with a more optimistic future.

At Chesterton House we will continue to work very hard to deliver what our clients want, not what we think they want. For progressive firms who embrace the new reality, the future is bright indeed.

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