Looking Ahead… Welcome (Back) to the New Legal Executive Institute

Topics: Corporate Legal, Law Firms, Legal Innovation

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We are delighted to roll out our new Legal Executive Institute web site. Its fresh look and improved functionality reflect the spirit with which we approach our mission.

LEI reached its six-month milestone in April, a good time to take stock and look ahead, both as to LEI and to the world of legal service that we serve.

Legal Executive Institute

Our first six months have been productive and rewarding. We provided expert insight, analysis, and discussion on a broad array of issues with which leaders in legal service contend. Our blog posts and videos on the website, our live events, and our publications have dealt with the overall paradigm shift that is underway in law and each of the elements that are shaping the shift. Response to our efforts has been very encouraging.

We will continue on this track and deliver even more value going forward. The new website is organized by topic, making it easier to access information. Prospectively, we will follow an editorial calendar, with new blog posts on one of the four topics each day of the week: Data & Metrics, Law Practice Management, Legal Technology and The Legal Marketplace. We have added new experts from across the legal ecosystem to our panel of regular bloggers, and will continue posts from other observers, as well. We will produce more videos in the next phase, to provide a greater connection to the personalities of the people who are influencing our times. And, in coming months we will unveil new plans, such as adding a newsfeed from Reuters Business and Law, which will supplementing our analysis and expert insight, with reports on significant developments.

Evolution of Legal Service

There is a nearly universal consensus among those involved in legal service that we are in a time of unprecedented change. There is also broad consensus that the change is driven by financial pressure from the clients and opportunities for improvement that technology and process design make possible. No one knows, of course, how, when, or in what sequence it will play out.

Developments in the last six months do not fit any particular pattern. We are proceeding, as expected, in an uneven and episodic way. For several reasons, as I have written, the leading players in law—the clients and the law firms—have not driven systemic change as quickly as some predicted; most of the action continues to focus on fees. Progress on legal service is being made, but slowly and unevenly.

We did see continued progress in legal technology. Important advances are being made, for example, in contract automation and other work which systematizes the creation of legal documents, drawing on institutional knowledge and experience, and developments in machine learning. Advances are also being made in data analytics as the legal services participants grow to understand better the value that is embedded in large sets of external and enterprise data.

Substantial resources continue to be deployed in new businesses responding to the market’s appetite for more efficient legal service. Entrepreneurs and investors are focused on the legal services market and new businesses are working diligently at research and development and at getting traction in the market. While the market share of the new entrants remains small, it is expanding steadily and the overall significance of the group in growing.

So, what lies ahead? More of the same. Each of the parties will proceed on its own course. Market forces will be at work. A path will be readily apparent with the benefit of hindsight, but it will not be discernable any time soon.

Professionalism in Law Practice

One of the genuine highlights of the past six months, in my view, was quite traditional. As I wrote in my blog post last week three renowned leaders—Ben Heineman, Bill Lee and David Wilkins—issued a call for a renewed emphasis on professionalism in law. Recognizing that we are in a time of profound change, the authors warn that our efforts to cope with the drivers of change are causing us not to give adequate attention to some of the responsibilities that define the role of a lawyer. They call upon all those who care about legal service to do their part to make sure that professionalism flourishes as we change the way we deliver legal service.

The early response to this call to action has been positive. The reaction is consistent with notions shared by most observers that, at the end of the day, quality, character, and relationships will be the most important factors in legal service.

Indeed the focus on professionalism helps us all keep the imperative for change in perspective. The market simply wants lawyers to do their work in a more modern way. It still wants lawyers to be principled and dedicated servants of the law and the interests of our society. Nothing about professionalism is inconsistent with change, technology, or efficiency. Professionalism will get away from us only if we let it.