If Law Firms Aren’t Innovating in Service Delivery is Anyone in the Legal Industry Doing It?

Yes — but you need to know where to look for the innovation.

And it’s early days.

My last post cited the numbers in two recent empirical studies to show that law firms are not innovating (with exceptions distinctly in the minority).

But that doesn’t mean that there is zero innovation in the legal industry.

The best treatment of this issue that I’ve seen came from Mark A. Cohen in an article he wrote for Forbes last year: “‘Legal Innovation’ Is Not An Oxymoron — It’s Farther Along Than You Think”:

“Legal innovation has lagged compared with other industries. Law’s Uber has yet to pull up to the curb. But that does not mean that the breadth, scope, and pace of legal delivery innovation has not picked up in recent years. Consider, for example, that in-house corporate departments and legal service providers (read: legal providers that do not ‘engage in the practice of law’ but deliver ‘legal services’) now account for nearly half of total legal spend. The rapid growth of these new supply sources—and their tech and process savvy delivery capability and corporate structures that are better aligned with client standard operating procedure—is a paradigmatic shift away from the long-dominant law firm partnership model. So while no dominant provider has emerged to replace traditional law firms, it’s clear that the search for new delivery models is well underway and yielding an ever-expanding array of client options.”

Among the “legal providers that do not ‘engage in the practice of law’ but deliver ‘legal services'” Cohen cites Axiom as an example of real innovation in the legal industry.

Axiom describes itself as “a global alternative legal services provider”. Lawyers are among its 2000+ employees — but so are specialists in technology and business process management. Axiom’s work includes high-volume, high-consequence tasks otherwise performed by law firms or in-house attorneys — deploying attorneys, technology and business processes to enhance accuracy and reduce cost in a way that the average large law firm or in-house department is not structured to provide. And Axiom’s work includes seconding to corporate law departments highly skilled lawyers whose work corresponds to that of in-house attorneys — but they are not permanent headcount to the client company.

Cohen mentions UnitedLex as well.

And there are other “alternative legal service providers”. Georgetown Law School / Thompson Reuters report on these available for download here.

So … alternative legal services providers are a growing sub-sector in the legal industry — and (not incidentally) they are venues where traditional legal talent is being combined with technology and business process management to provide genuine improvement in legal services delivery.

Finally, Mark Cohen predicts adoption of new methods for service delivery that will “disrupt” the legal industry:

“The pace of innovation in legal delivery will continue to accelerate during the next few years. And while many envision disruption in binary terms–law firm vs. service provider; AI vs. lawyer; insource vs. outsource—it will be more nuanced than that ….

” … The disruptive legal delivery model will be one that provides a scalable array of solution tools—human and technological; legal and business; embedded and agile– that produce efficient, cost-effective, and risk-appropriate resolutions to client challenges. That’s precisely what top lawyers have historically delivered, and it will be the winning formula going forward — minus the incumbent partnership structure.”