Disruption. According to some, the law is already experiencing it. According to others it is on the horizon. However, we’re not so sure, and for two major reasons. First, is the change currently undergoing the law really a disruption? Secondly, should we even want it to be?
We would agree that change, for the right reasons, is good. And legal service delivery could do with some change. However, research shows that when lawyers are doing their jobs, clients are happy. Satisfaction with legal advice is high. It is the manner in which this advice is delivered which causes problems. We would argue that lawyers and legal tech companies shouldn’t be trying to disrupt legal, because that is precisely the bit clients like. Instead, we should be evolving legal service delivery.
Why we shouldn’t be looking to disrupt legal services
Let’s not beat about the bush. Lawyers are (with a few rogue exceptions) great at being lawyers. When polled by the SRA, 83% of the general public reported being satisfied with the performance of their solicitor. If only the legal profession was judged only by their ability to offer good legal advice. This is not the case, unfortunately. They are also judged on how that advice is delivered (and billed for). It is this area where much of the legal profession proves to be less satisfactory from the client perspective.
So far, nothing too controversial. So why, then, do commentators or lawyers insist on saying the legal profession must be disrupted? Disruption brings uncertainty to mind. It implies that things must be changed or mixed about. In fact, that is exactly what the legal profession needs to avoid. Clients want dependability and transparency and reliability. They want to know how much something is going to cost before it happens. They want better integration of services. And this is exactly where legal tech fits in.
The best legal tech is looking to improve and support the way lawyers work. This could be in reducing the time spent on due diligence. It could also be in helping build data driven fee quotes. It could even be the facilitation of online court filings. These solutions are incrementally improving the way lawyers can go about doing their jobs. And because it is incremental change, the legal profession can continue to help its clients avoid risk. If we seek to disrupt the industry, we also inevitably strip lawyers of their function. As advisers who balance many options, and investigate many ideas before ultimately offering advice or services.
Iteration is sustainable innovation
Lawyers are risk averse. Again, we don’t think this is controversial to say. The role of the law firm is to evaluate risk and insulate the client against it where possible. It is a vital role to play. However, lawyers themselves are more than willing to embrace technology. In this way, we can ensure the evolution of the legal profession. Lawyers embrace solutions which can help them improve the way they work. The firms thoroughly test and evaluate them to prevent offloading risk to their clients. This model provides sustainable innovation.
One of the most successful development methods for new products is Agile. Agile involves carefully scoping work, before dividing it into sprints. The idea behind the method is to remain mobile. When problems occur teams respond to them quickly. Changes are proposed and tested. When these changes are successful, they become part of the new product immediately. The process is one of small, reviewed changes. It is also one of the reasons why companies like Facebook and Amazon have been so successful. This is what we should be seeking to do in the legal industry. Lets not be disruptors, potentially introducing uncertainty or making things worse. Lets be agile, and incrementally improve things.