In his recent book, “Tomorrow’s Lawyers An Introduction to Your Future” Professor Susskind continues his predictions from his previous books, that consumers of legal services are forcing providers to change the way they deliver legal services. Susskind identifies three drivers for change in the legal market; the more for less challenge, liberalisation and technology. In the real world, these drivers get blurred and successful solutions for surviving the changing market need to deal with each of them in a combined strategy.
The more for less challenge, as interpreted in relation to large law firms, identifies the pressure being faced by General Counsel to reduce their legal spend. This challenge exists in almost every commercial market currently and shows no signs of abating.
Liberalisation in the UK is exemplified by the Legal Services Act. The Legal Services Act 2007 broke the monopoly of legal services being provided by lawyers and new business structures are slowly emerging. In America, law firms are still required to be owned by lawyers and the main threat to the existing market is the growth of Legal Process Outsourcing. Non-liberalised markets, such as the US, do not yet perceive liberalisation as a direct threat. However, as Susskind points out, when legal service buyers experience a liberalised market elsewhere, they will quickly insist on the modifications introduced as a result of it to be available in other jurisdictions in which they operate.
The third driver for change, according to Susskind, is technology. For BigLaw firms, technology can be an internal or external driver. Technology can often force lower delivery costs of existing services or, more excitingly, new services to the same customer base giving them less reason to look elsewhere for provision of these services.
UK law firms are beginning to respond to these threats. Unbundling of legal services to discover what can be provided at a lower cost base is one example. The solutions differ from firm to firm with a combination of off-shoring, near-shoring and on- shoring depending on the firms and the client’s needs. Another example is collaboration. Clients in the same industry requiring the same service are collaborating to purchase services en bloc from law firms. In return, firms are realising the opportunity to productise their services so that they can be easily replicated and bought by clients in a repetitive way.
In many business sectors, it often appears that the US leads and the UK follows. This has been true in the past in legal services too but the tide may now be turning. The Legal Services Act, coupled with the economic reality and technological advancement has had the effect of forcing UK law firms to consider how clients buy their services and what changes are needed to keep clients buying from them.
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