The ascendancy of the business of law

By Mark A. Cohen Spring 2018

The ascendancy of the business of law

 

Law is no longer exclusively about lawyers.

 

Technology, the global financial crisis, and globalization have created a new buy/sell dynamic that has disrupted industries from ride hailing to hospitality – even getting a date. These powerful forces are having an impact on law, too.

Consumers have a new set of expectations for legal delivery that has spawned a migration of work from law firms to corporate legal departments as well as a new breed of well-capitalized law companies, whose DNA is business-based but laced with legal industry knowledge.

Law, now a trillion-dollar global industry, is being re-engineered by business and tech professionals as well as entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, the parameters of legal practice – what, when, and to what degree a lawyer is required – are narrowing, as the industry is increasingly supported by technological and business expertise.

More than legal brain power

Technology is a constant collaborator with lawyers, other professionals, and paraprofessionals. A growing number of tasks once performed by labor-intensive “brute force” are now delivered as products. Using technology, corporate legal departments and law companies are enhancing buyer access to providers and services. They’re also compressing delivery and resolution cycles, mitigating risk with data analytics, reducing cost, and providing holistic, inter-disciplinary solutions to increasingly complex business challenges.

Business acumen is bringing about the “corporatization” of legal delivery structure and instilling process and project management as standard operating procedure for legal providers. Clients are measuring legal services by business standards that demand constant improvement. Lawyers no longer control both sides of the buy/sell of legal services as procurement and other “non-lawyers” engage in legal buying.

This is creating a new market dynamic for talent in the legal industry in a number of ways.

The traditional law firm partnership model sold one thing: legal expertise. But as more “legal” tasks are automated, turned into products, and performed by resources other than lawyers – human or machine – the model is being turned on its head.

Law’s transformation from a labor-intensive industry where lawyers performed all legal work has yielded to a disaggregated market where other professionals, paraprofessionals and machines now perform many tasks once classified as ‘legal’. Meanwhile, a new breed of corporate legal providers – some corporate departments and law companies – integrate the business of law with “practice,” providing consumers with the “right” resource with an appropriate level of expertise for the task, greater efficiency, cost control, transparency, access, customer satisfaction, collaboration, flexibility, risk mitigation, and alignment of value between consumer and provider.

Many career options

As a result, new career paths are emerging in the legal field, many of which do not require licensure as a lawyer.

Lawyers with differentiated skills remain in high demand, but fewer will engage in “practice careers” and many will take on hybrid roles leveraging legal knowledge on the delivery side. That means that all lawyers must have a working knowledge of operational competencies and practice skills.

Most large in-house legal departments have “legal operations” teams that support “practice” lawyers. Departments must decide whether to “build, buy, or lease” that expertise. Many rely on a burgeoning group of law companies to provide integrated consulting, technology, and business support to their core practice capability (in-house, outsourced to firms, or hybrid). UnitedLex and Elevate, for example, have created “enterprise partnerships” with corporate departments to handle their non-practice work.

Further underpinning much of this is a legal culture slowly changing from a white male dominated, homogeneous, lawyer-centric, clubby guild to a diverse, interdisciplinary, consumer-oriented, entrepreneurial one that is inclusive and open to constant improvement for the good of consumers and those in need of access to legal services.

What’s more, we are seeing the emergence of a global legal community focused on deploying technology to solve law’s “wicked problems” that include improving access to justice, defending the rule of law, and promoting diversity within and outside the law.

Machines will not replace lawyers. That’s because technology will also drive the creation of new legal positions that we cannot presently classify or even contemplate.

No doubt, fewer lawyers will practise law in the traditional sense. But they will leverage their legal training – augmented by a suite of technological, business, and personal skills – to forge successful legal careers. The result will be more efficient delivery of legal services to existing consumers and access for millions in need of it.

Mark A. Cohen is CEO of Legal Mosaic, and the Chair, Board of Advisers and Chief Strategy Officer at Elevate. He is a Distinguished Fellow at Northwestern Law School and will be a keynote speaker at the upcoming 2018 CCCA National Conference & ICW Summit in Toronto on April 29-May 1.

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