In the past 50 years, the way services are delivered at law firms has barely changed. If you need legal advice, you meet with a lawyer who reviews your issue, conducts some investigation and bills you for an hourly rate that most likely does some damage to your bank account. Despite the tools that have made work efficient, scalable, and more convenient in other industries – retail, travel, telecom, you name it – the legal industry has yet to be disrupted by an innovation that has brought simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability. Simply worded, disruption refers to the process by which an industry dominated by high costs and complex services is transformed by an innovation that makes work more efficient. Will a disruption occur and when can we expect it?
Innovation vs. Disruption:
There is no doubt that the pervasiveness of innovation in the legal industry has quickened. Thanks to technology, which has been the catalyst for disruption, there are an array of legal software products and service providers available. Legal service companies and consultancy firms have emerged to take over standardized legal work. At legal tech conferences, artificial intelligence has become a hot topic for the way it could even replace lawyers. In contrast, the retail legal market is in the middle of an “access to justice crisis” where there are more than enough potential clients who want and need legal services, but simply cannot afford them. This part of the sector would seem the likely place for disruption to occur because there is a huge unmet client need and the technology exists to connect legal providers with clients.
The Reason Why Legal Disruption Hasn’t Occurred Yet:
The reason why a widespread legal disruption hasn’t occurred yet are due to different factors in corporate legal departments and law firms. In corporate legal departments, lawyers still generally have control over buying decisions. Although they do face pressure to reduce their legal spend by taking on more work in-house or putting more pressure on outside providers to give them a discount, all they have to do is adjust their current approach, not necessarily think of a new one. Though legal departments operate more efficiently than law firms they often have similar structures and both deliver services that come with a hefty price tag. In other words, the line between corporate legal departments and law firms is blurred. There are several reasons why disruption hasn’t happened yet, such as regulatory constraints, lack of scalable alternatives, and the fact that no company has invested in the technology that is capable of disrupting the industry.
The Likely Focus of Legal Disruption:
It seems likely that disruption would occur in the retail segment of the legal market, because there is a huge untapped market of buyers in need of legal services but most cannot obtain them simply because they are not affordable. This is the perfect environment for disruption to occur because it is fragmented, less conservative, and there is a huge untapped market in need of resources that can deliver legal products but at rates that are much lower than what lawyers provide. However, the technology does exist to create a market that connects clients (buyers) with lawyers (sellers), which eliminates the infrastructure that drives up costs and fees. If there were to be a disruption, predictably it would spread across the globe as long as similar conditions exist in other markets.
Client demand for simplicity, convenience, accessibility and affordability will be the catalyst for legal disruption, just as it has been in other industries. Disruption will occur in the form of legal technology, providing client access to a wide range of providers who will operate in a model that enables them to reduce the costs of their services by a large amount.