2018 was a transition year
Every year, we like to play at predicting the future. We are not fortune tellers but looking at what’s coming our way and capturing the Zeitgeist is fundamental for a transformative business like Exigent, especially in an industry like legal, where change has been on the cards for years, without ever materializing in the dramatic way everyone expected. Law firms still exist. Lawyers still overbill their clients, block bill and ignore Service Level Agreements (SLA). Many SLAs stipulate that firms are obliged to investigate working with low cost providers: we all know that in 2018 this is systematically ignored in 100% of the cases. Law schools haven’t changed curriculum substantially in…well, for ever. Adding a technology module is pretty comical.
Last year we predicted the Big Four would steal the show, and they did. They continue to charge without an ounce of humility, and we don’t see why they wouldn’t. While not all lawyers will work for the Big Four by 2026, as Ron Friedmann suggests, it is clear that the accountants are onto something. In 2018 they have proved to be pretty smart about the sectors and markets they want to exploit. For example, they have been taking on immigration work as a pathway into taxation, packaging up their multi-disciplinary services in an attractive way. Much in the same way, the Big Four are offering legal due diligence coupled with the financial, tax and pensions services, offering themselves as the one-stop shop that is so convenient for clients. clients.
And as far as how Big Law has been coping with new entrants and challengers, there are now several hundred Alternative Business Structures in the UK (manifesting themselves in the non-legal ownership of law firms), yet a widespread adoption of this model has not been seen. Big Law has responded in the way we predicted last year: meaningless mergers, small average firms combining to be larger average firms. We called a failure, and there have been plenty.
For full transparency, last year we foresaw consolidation, but not in exactly the right areas. We didn’t see the CVC Capital Partners deal with Unitedlex, which was eyecatching.
As we anticipated, this year has also seen more than a few utterly meaningless articles about large law firms ‘adopting’ technology. This feels a bit like announcing you are marrying your daughter’s best friend. Not a marriage meant to last and the rest of the family (partners) don’t much like it, even if it’s fun to look at for a while. If anything, the way in which traditional law uses concepts like ‘AI’ and ‘Automation’ demonstrates only a partial understanding of how things are shaping up.
2019: All change!
Overall, we think this year will change the industry - but not from within, and oddly not through technology (alone). The global economy is likely in for some significant changes, and the players in this space are illequipped to deal with it. Never have we thought of law firms as nimble, shrewd and business-savvy, and we won’t be proven wrong. In-house teams must also stay alert, as those who understand money-making, especially in tough times, are coming in. Private Equity will change the face of law this year. Technology will hold on, with big names making waves, but data will play the real lead role. But let’s go in order.
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About the Author:
David Holme is Founder and CEO of Exigent Group.
Exigent is a global alternative legal services provider operating at the intersection of law, business, and technology. With a worldwide team of over 400 attorneys, business analysts, developers, and consultants, Exigent is transforming the way legal services are offered by applying analytical thinking, smart use of technology and inventive talent, to deliver answers that impact every aspect of business performance. Exigent’s contract management solutions and business analytical tools help the C-suite, in-house counsels and law firms to reduce risk, improve compliance and drive process and cost efficiencies. International clients trust Exigent’s powerful combination of technology, consulting and legal services in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and South Africa. Cross-cultural and inherently borderless, Exigent has eight offices around the world, with three operating centers in Bangalore, Cape Town, and Perth.