NEW YORK — The pace of change in the legal industry — a constant, but some say a too-slow factor in the changing ecosystem of legal service delivery — may begin to accelerate over the next year, according to a panel of several legal industry experts.
The panel, which gave its annual report on the state of the legal profession and business of law, opened this week’s Law Firm Leaders Forum, sponsored by Thomson Reuters’ Legal Executive Institute.
While acknowledging the danger that is posed by the industry’s tepid approach to adopting needed change in how legal services are delivered, Ralph Baxter, Chairman of the Legal Executive Institute, said there are several new developments that occurred within the last year to accelerate the pace of change.
Indeed, much of this change is being driven by more aggressive client demands and a tightly competitive market, Baxter explained. “Clients expect value that reflects a reasonable measurement of what they pay compared to the services they are provided,” he noted. “And in many cases those clients are not getting that value, and that is what — more than anything — is driving change.”
And while change may have become a constant in the legal marketplace, there are three new factors Baxter outlined that may increase the pace of change:
Elevation of groups like CLOC
The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) is just gaining traction as a go-to organization that can help legal entities optimized their service delivery models. CLOC has worked to establish standard measurements and metrics for law firms and corporate legal departments to get a better sense of the value of the services they are charging for… and paying for. And by embracing and striving to simplify such complex (and costly) legal tasks as patent listing, client dashboards and legal project management, CLOC and other groups like it are allowing smaller and midsize law firms and legal departments to scale-up their efforts at less cost.
Ambitious Regional Law Firms Are Challenging the AmLaw 100
Related to the first factor, smaller and midsize regional law firms are now employing tools, like those offered by CLOC, to hone and heighten their abilities in ways that were not previously available to them in the past.
“Is there an opportunity for shared resources?” asked panelist Jami Wintz McKeon, Firm Chair of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, adding that some law firms may begin to see the wisdom of creating a “shared engine” with other firms or legal industry players to deal with high-cost legal issues such as cybersecurity protection and the use of artificial intelligence and other cutting edge technologies.
The Recent ABA Report on the Future of the Industry is Still Being Digested
The American Bar Association’s (ABA’s) Commission on the Future of Legal Services issued a clarion call for change in the legal industry in August when it published its Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States at the ABA annual meeting in San Francisco.
The report gave the industry a lot to chew on, Baxter said, and in many ways, the profession is still digesting the report’s findings. “One thing for sure, is that the report clearly outlined some of the major challenges that holds the legal industry back from being all that it can be.”
He explained that the report’s questioning of i) the primary financial model of how law firms operate as businesses, ii) the industry’s need to focus better on technology to improve delivery, and iii) whether non-lawyers can and should have a role in the delivery of legal service are all critical conversations for legal professionals to be having — not only at the law firm and legal department level, but within state courthouses where some of the power to change these rules resides.
Aric Press, a partner at Bernero & Press and long-time editor-in-chief of The American Lawyer magazine, called our current environment, “The Year of the Restless Client”, saying that too many clients feel there is a gap between the legal services they pay for and the quality of the services they get. “In having their law firms answer their most basic needs, clients simply want their law firms to lead them through a difficult market and try to solve the legal problems the client is facing and is likely to face,” Press explained.
“That’s why in a time of uncertainty and hype-competition in the legal industry, to know and to stay close to your clients is clearly more important than ever.”