Firms are stepping beyond the dogma of traditional legal service delivery, lawyers are carving out new flexible career opportunities and clients are getting cost certainty and transparency. But how is NewLaw affecting the rest of the industry? And what can firms do to remain competitive in a volatile legal market?
The Australian legal industry is now a buyer’s market, and clients wield significant power to dictate how they want their legal services delivered and for how much. This has driven a wave of innovation as firms venture outside the proverbial square of bricks, mortar and billable hours. A secondary push has come from senior lawyers looking for flexible solutions.
John Tuck of Corrs Chambers Westgarth, which launched the legal resourcing business Orbit, says: “More lawyers want to balance their personal and career goals and many are looking for new ways of working. They want to work at the top of their field but they also want more opportunity to pursue other interests.”
Where we were seeing only a few small-scale attempts at alternative legal models a few years ago, the market is now flooded with NewLaw players experimenting with different models, blending technology with process-driven solutions and alternative pricing strategies to the point where it is causing notable market disruption.
Mid to large firms are finding it difficult to match competitors who provide the same high-quality services at a lower price. Therefore, many are proactively launching rival business offerings incorporating lawyer placement services, virtual firm models, online document retailing and dispersed firm models where lawyers in effect work as a collection of sole practitioners. What’s more, anecdotal evidence suggests that such hybrids are delivering what they promise.
“The demand for flexibility works both ways,” says Richard Punt, CEO of Peerpoint. “Our clients are looking for flexible solutions to engage high-calibre legal talent, and senior lawyers are increasingly looking for diversity and flexibility in the terms of their engagement.”
Similarly, Tuck says: “Increasingly, our clients want access to high-calibre lawyers who can work with their teams on a flexible basis. Orbit lawyers will have the capacity to resource critical and day-to-day projects and provide flexibility to businesses in managing their legal teams and their costs.”
How can firms remain competitive amid the NewLaw revolution?
While clients will almost always be fixed on the bottom line, the key to a successful firm of the future is flexibility and variety. Whether you are jumping on the NewLaw bandwagon or not, here are a few tips to succeed in future-proofing your firm.
1. Listen to your clients and your lawyers
Change must come from the right motivation, and that is giving your clients what they want and keeping your talented practitioners happy (don’t assume you know what matters most to your employees). Then get creative working around those priority parameters. Designing a NewLaw firm is not about shaping a novel yet rigid framework around your client and lawyer needs. It’s about creating a fluid and flexible model that will continue to bow and flex with these needs as they change.
2. Invest in the right resources
Anchor your flexible model with a comprehensive and reliable legal knowledge product. Many models involve lawyers working off-site at a client’s office, a remote location or the lawyer’s own office in a dispersed situation. Access to thorough, up-to-date, practical legal resources is fundamental to the level of quality they can produce and the efficiency with which they can do it.
Consider investing in a legal know-how solution, which can provide relevant content in the most practical format to enable practitioners to comprehend the applicable law and apply it to the task at hand, be that advising, drafting or transacting.
3. Be authentic
Whatever model or strategy your firm chooses to adopt, it must translate into a fundamental change to your business, not simply a facade. There is enough choice now that clients will go elsewhere if they realise you are dishing up the same thing with a different name.
The NewLaw revolution will progress at a steady pace over coming years, and traditional firms will need to make adjustments to remain price-competitive. However, firms that view it as an opportunity to innovate will thrive in the changing market.