A Tipping Point: Across Four Pillars
Part 1- The Market
I’ve been talking to lawyers and change makers around the world who do wonderful things in different capacities. I wanted to share my thoughts on what is happening with the current crisis, what I feel is worth considering in these circumstances and how it carves a path to the #futureoflaw.
When I started my journey (circa 2017) building FutureLab.Legal, I essentially broke down the Legal Industry into four pillars:
The Market. This includes all Legal Service Providers - I don’t really like to use the nomenclature “Alternative Legal Service Providers” so consider them included in this definition. Essentially, it’s all those involved in providing legal services to others - from a sole practitioner all the way to the largest firm or in-house team.
The Institutions. This includes Universities and other more agile educational businesses that provide the education and thinking that builds the capacity of lawyers and qualifies them for the Market.
The Regulators. This includes all Law societies, Governments and other organisations such as Courts that are responsible for how a lawyer can qualify and conduct themselves within a jurisdiction.
LegalTech. It’s pretty self explanatory, but essentially any technology (usually Software-as-a-Service) that is designed to specifically support the unique processes and workflows that exist in the Legal Industry. Some of these technologies may overlap with other niches such as Govtech, Regtech, Fintech etc. This is because the Law concurrently overlaps with many aspects of Civil Society and so this characteristic is reflected in the application of technology to the Law.
These were the four distinct areas of the Legal Industry that practically affect the way in which the Law and delivery of Legal Services operate. There are other interpretations of how the Legal Industry globally can be split into smaller sub-sections but my focus has always been how I can break down the whole into smaller elements with a view to instigating change and generating solutions.
So against the current crisis I thought it would be useful to share what I see happening across these four pillars and its implications moving forward.
It goes without saying that for those leading Legal Practices and managing partnership firms, the on-the-ground affects of COVID-19 is most felt in the Communications and Remote Work capacities of the business. For a many areas of Legal Practice, our work will see an uptake as:
Force Majeure caveats/clauses are activated and contended,
Other Businesses go into Administration,
Broader contractual arrangements are adjusted or renegotiated,
Government Stimulus and Tax Breaks require advice or restructuring,
Development projects, Payroll and other administrative elements core to most Businesses require new advice.
In-house Counsel are asked to make key strategic decisions for the direction of the Company that employs them.
As there is no shortage of need for legal advice and work, the challenge that COVID-19 presents is really more about how the Firm or Legal Practice has set its own systems up (or Business Contingency Plans) to continue working remotely but also serve existing clients and attract new ones.
The Market: COVID Implications
As I had written only last week, this situation provides an unprecedented change-event in the Transformation of Law continuum. However the specific impacts depend on the realities on the ground and most importantly, the awareness of the leaders of the business.
In the worst of cases Legal Practices only use email/phone as a digital form of communication. While sustainable, the nuances of having to now conduct your entire business away from the office means limited to no access to terminals at work and potentially essential software you are used to managing files with (e.g. your Legal Practice Management System), particularly if its not cloud based.
The bulk of responses (perhaps in the mid-tier legal firms) have been a swift turn to one of the larger platforms that provide basic communication capabilities like Zoom, Google’s Hangouts Meet, Microsoft Teams, Slack etc. This shift allows continuity but some deficiencies in behaviour and governance/policy become apparent as people adjust to new tools and workflows. Of course, this is with the assumption that everything accessed at work can - for the most part - be accessed at home.
The contingent of lawyers who either have the benefit and therefore difficult task of managing global teams (i.e. the top-tier firms) have long had to wrestle with centralised and decentralised systems of governance, communications and workflows within and across their brand. Their broader global strategies may serve their constituent branches up until a certain point, but if these systems have not reached ubiquity on the ground level or a flexible framework across all departments globally (including putting time and money into educating and training branch leaders to think and act this way) the challenges will be the same. To be clear, in this scenario I don’t advocate for ubiquity of systems across a top-tier firm as we all have different styles of working. I am merely pointing out the range of responses to the event depending on levels of awareness at the level of leadership about their systems.
Some Legal Practices who would define themselves as “NewLaw” have built their presence and systems with the internet in mind and have worked to attract talent (junior and senior) with “different” approaches to the traditional legal pathway. Some of that effort has gone to building an online presence (not just websites, think customer portals and video conferencing to on-board clients as the default), some of it has gone to deploying different business models (fixed fees, subscriptions, transparent project based legal matter management, flexible working etc.) So, not only are there systems better equipped to respond to the current situation from a communications point of view, they also have a competent workforce who will naturally adapt to the new work style and behaviours. Some may actually see little change in the day to day, beyond switching their open plan co-working space to a small home office. One of the challenges with this type of setup is how the organisation maintains its workforce beyond a certain size.
Some Tough Questions
In this environment, it is fascinating to consider what a typical partnership firm offers. Essentially they invite partners to join under a common brand. In exchange for your work and bringing in clients, you get an office, some equipment and tools, an administrative team and (hopefully) a share in profit/equity - ultimately a level stability.
So, What if the brand no longer represents or is incapable of supporting current market conditions?
What happens when ultimately the brand doesn’t align with you?
What then become the benefits of the brand?
These questions are just as important for the Leaders and Managing Partners:
Are you and your team set up for the #futureoflaw now that an element of this future (namely Communications) has been forced through our current circumstances?
Change is a constant - but only to those who recognise and respond accordingly. COVID-19 has only brought this principle to the top of the priority list.
Next week I’ll explore the implications and considerations for The Regulators (🤓).
As always, the future of law is in our hands.
This 4-part Series has originally been published at #FutureofLaw Newsletter
About the Author
Quddus Pourshafie has paved his own way in the Legal Industry after recognizing the traditional pathways were failing to align with the future practice of law. Since his admission, he has dedicated to solving the Legal Industry’s biggest problem: transitioning into a future of law brought about by technological disruption.
Known for his ability to think laterally and connect the dots, Quddus has positioned himself to bridge the various protagonists in the legal industry to bring about the necessary transformation, making it his mission to assist those who are ready to tread that path. Quddus also believes it is the first time in recent history where young graduates can change their value proposition in the market as a digital native.
Lending from his creative DNA as a musician and various entrepreneurial ventures, Quddus continues to grow Futurelab.legal and its projects with partners around the world to accompany Firms, Universities, LegalTech companies and Regulators of the Legal Profession and prepare them for the Future of Law.