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Holiday Wish List For The Legal Industry

Updated: Aug 15, 2020

The Stones intoned, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” That’s certainly true for the legal industry. Here’s my holiday wish list for its key stakeholders.

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1. Law Schools

  • Align with the marketplace

  • Cut cost

  • Prepare students for the profession/industry as it is, not as it was. This requires practice skills and broader business of law exposure including: customer service, business and data analytics basics, digital principles, project management, application of tech to legal delivery, and “people skills,” among others beyond the present curriculum.

  • Become learning centers for life.

  • Reevaluate faculty hiring criteria to include practice/ business/tech expertise and practical experience.

  • Integrate with the University’s other professional programs.

  • Embrace differentiation and stop pretending all law schools prepare grads for identical career paths.

  • Recognize that doctrinal knowledge alone will not cut it for grads in the marketplace.

  • Learn from leading law schools internationally (IE, Bucerius, National University of Singapore, etc.).

  • Capture the potential of online learning.

  • Expose students to marketplace dynamics and trends.

  • Law operates at the intersection of legal, business, and technological expertise. It should be taught that way.

  • Instill intellectual agility and problem solving, not mistake paralysis and risk aversion (why something cannot work rather than how it could).

2. Regulators

  • Regulate the legal industry to foster the best possible outcomes for customers/clients.

  • Reregulate to reconcile legal practice and the delivery of legal services. That will encourage new delivery paradigms, holistic, scalable, multidisciplinary solutions, investment, and accessible, affordable, competent, ethical legal services delivery for all. It will also put an end to anachronistic regulatory constraints that necessitate a “two-model workaround” of practice and business of delivering legal services.

  • Recognize the current regulatory scheme may insulate lawyers from competition but fails to protect the public. Most individuals and businesses cannot afford legal services because of current regulations.

  • Read North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, 574 U.S. ­­__ (2015).

  • Also read The Clementi Report (UK).

  • The ABA should acknowledge that law is no longer solely about lawyers and that law firms are not the sole delivery model. They should embrace all legal professionals and work to advance legal delivery for the benefit of customers/clients and society rather than cow-tow to dues paying lawyer members.

3. Legal Service Providers

  • This is the age of the customer—act accordingly.

  • Data is the new oil—use it and recognize this is how business makes decisions.

  • The legal industry is unprepared to represent digital companies. This is a challenge and an opportunity.

  • Law has shifted from practice to skill. Deliver legal services accordingly.

  • Models, customer alignment, net promoter score, technology, process, capital and competence matter more than provider category (e.g. law firm vs. law company)

  • Invest in your workforce/upskill.

  • Legal practice is governed by precedent; legal delivery is not.

  • Technology is not a panacea; it is an enabler. Tech, like data, is not monolithic—some is more material than others. Both have an enormous potential to improve the bases of decision making and the democratization of legal service delivery.

  • Competency is dynamic; diplomas are static. We are living in a competency-based world that is fluid and requires intellectual agility. Don’t be a slave to traditional hiring criteria.

  • Culture is critical and often overlooked and/or underestimated. Foster a culture that compensates its workforce fairly and invests in its ongoing professional development and personal well-being. That will produce better results for customers/clients.

  • Diversity—in the broadest sense of the term—is core to problem solving in the digital age. “It takes a village”—and a collaborative, adaptive one.

  • Law is not a zero sum industry—learn to collaborate.

  • Differentiation is an imperative. All providers should ask: “What are we now? What should we be? And how do we bridge the gap?

  • Innovation is not a buzzword. It is a cultural commitment to be open to doing things differently for the benefit of customers/clients. It involves change management, investment in people, processes, and technology, buy-in throughout the organization, and adapting to new ways of doing things calculated to produce impactful results for customers. It is tough yards.

  • Recognize that with all the awards, self-proclaimed “legal visionaries,” “innovators,” “disruptors,” and “legal gurus,” law’s report card should be much better than it is. Focus on measurable improvement from the legal consumer perspective, not hype.

  • Excellence in legal practice does not necessarily equate to excellence in delivering legal services.

  • Deliver services that satisfy customers, not billing quotas.

  • View legal delivery through the customer lens, not what your organization sells.

4. Corporate Legal Departments

  • You are on the front line of industry change. One key to survival is to ask: “Who is doing what and who should be doing it?

  • Taking more work in-house (“insourcing”) may be better than the traditional alternative of sourcing it to law firms. There are other options now—consider them. This is a footnote to the survival question raised above.

  • Are you prepared to represent clients/customers that have or will soon embark on a digital journey? This is another survival question.

  • The legal function and legal delivery are undergoing a paradigm shift. You are in the vanguard of this transformation in part because you interact with the C-Suite that is driving it. That is a challenge and an opportunity. Dare to reimagine your function and how your team—internal and external—delivers its services. Go digital. If you don’t, you will be marginalized or replaced.

  • Recognize the importance not only of practice excellence but also of delivery capability—they are not the same thing.

  • Have at least one team member under 30 on your senior management team and give them a meaningful voice.

  • ….Same for elevating legal professionals other than those with law degrees.

  • Continue to be an enterprise defender but also become an impactful business partner. This is the new paradigm.

  • Align the legal function with the enterprise. Law is no longer an island.

  • Consider how capital can be applied to the legal function.

5. Entrepreneurs/Investors/New Providers

  • Carpe diem. Law is an enormous, fragmented, anachronistic, data-starved, industry with a guild hangover. There is tremendous opportunity to do good and to do well by tapping into the unrepresented/under-served retail legal segment and by investment in customer-aligned, data and process driven, multidisciplinary, diverse, inter-generational models that reimagine the legal function and create enterprise impact for corporate customers/clients.

  • Stop lumping all non-traditional law firm partnerships (a.k.a.“Alternative Legal Service Providers”) providers into one category. It’s meaningless. Far more significant is whether they are enterprise or single-point providers; they are customer-centric; and their model, leadership, infrastructure, and access to capital, has consistently delivered measurable, impactful consumer results at scale.

6. All

  • Acknowledge that the legal profession can and must do better. It must serve a far broader segment of the population; democratize access to and delivery of basic legal services; provide better customer service; rehabilitate its wretched public image; address the rampant health and social problems afflicting far too many lawyers; improve education and training; and set a far better example on diversity, equal opportunity, gender pay parity, etc.

  • Acknowledge and respond to law’s looming skills crisis.

  • The profession must accept that it is part of an industry. Law is much more than lawyers—just as the healthcare industry is more than physicians.

  • Rather than resist change, recognize that it’s inevitable. There are challenges to be sure, but there are also opportunities for those that are prepared. Examples: automation will eliminate many legal jobs, but it will also create new ones; agile workforces will eliminate some full-time positions but also will afford many disenfranchised, valuable legal professionals an opportunity to apply their skills; and legal professionals have many more career paths now than in the past.

  • Jettison outdated terms like:

o Non-lawyer

o Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSP’s)

o Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO) as an omnibus term for all providers that are not law firms

o Alternative fee arrangements to describe anything other than the billable hour

  • Understand and apply:

o Customer-centricity

o Digital transformation

o Data analytics

o Upskilling

o Collaboration

7. Conclusion

Granted, this is a long, ambitious wish list. It might take some time. As the Stones said, “But if you try sometime you find you get what you need.”

Happy Holidays and a healthy, safe, and peaceful New Year.


About Mark A. Cohen

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