There is much insecurity in the legal community. The status quo has benefited big law firms big time, but now these top-down institutions are being disrupted and the future delivery of legal services is likely to look radically different from the past.
With legions of lawyers striking out on their own, empowered by social media tools that circumvent traditional ways in which clients and lawyers find each other, Internet-based tools are revolutionizing how legal services get delivered. As these trends accelerate, lawyers who bury their heads in their briefs will be left behind.
What does the future delivery of legal services look like? Here are some of the key trends to watch:
1. Big Law Is Crumbling.
Just as technology such as Uber has transformed other industries, the Uber model could be a harbinger of the future of delivery of legal services. In many ways, the "Uber-ization" of legal services is already beginning to happen. As Jayne Reardon wrote , “the public, used to mobile-delivered services, now wants legal services delivered in ways other than face-to-face bill-by-the-hour,” such as via mobile apps. I have conceived of a product where a client posts an opportunity, lawyers privately bid on it and the client chooses. A system enabling attorneys to bid easily and efficiently while not getting burned by hidden facts on the client side will be key. Legal work is rarely a straight line. There are detours, bumps, roadblocks and other hazards that can impact the time and expertise required to get the client from point A to point B. It's also important to keep track of other attorneys' reputations. That means knowing the good attorneys from the not-so-good ones.
I launched my own legal practice founded on principles of flat-fee billing, subscription-plan billing and on-demand counsel through an on-call plan. Though these concepts were revolutionary at the time, they're now ubiquitous in law. History will repeat itself as we evolve to a more efficient services delivery model with an egalitarian pricing structure.
2. Lawyers Are Becoming Freelance.
Also transforming the delivery of legal services is the fact that many lawyers are becoming independent contractors. In recent years we've seen the solo/freelance segment grow to what now represents the largest portion of the market, dwarfing the in-house corporate and law firm segments. More and more clients are willing to hire independent lawyers as their loyalty to law firm brands ebb. Conventional goals such as titles or partnership tracks aren't as important to this new breed of lawyers. Cultural norms are shifting in part because of the ease of working remotely. Hanging one's hat between wood-paneled walls in a glass skyscraper doesn't mean so much in a world where work can be done from anywhere at any time. Also, cultural norms are evolving as fathers play an increasingly active role in parenting and as lawyers, no matter the gender, seek more balance in their lives so that there's more time for family.
3. Rise of the Virtual Law Practice.
Along with the crumbling of big law and the rise of freelance lawyers, we have also seen the rise of the virtual law practice. Technology liberates lawyers to work remotely more often, a trend which is embraced by today’s lawyers, especially millennial lawyers, who prefer to collaborate online versus in person. When lawyers can have their calendars on the phones, their meetings via Skype or WebEx, and their documents sent via email for e-signing, the virtual law practice has become a reality.
Look for this trend to continue with the advent of legal services you can order via apps, a solution which will work for certain types of consumer legal needs. For instance, a colleague in legal tech founded a company called WeVorce , which is designed to allow people to obtain quick, painless divorces, mostly using the WeVorce technology platform to do it.
The virtual law firm will continue to evolve, benefitting lawyers who are able to work when they want, where they want and how much they want, as well as clients, who obtain less expensive and easier access to lawyers and legal services.
4. Social Selling and a Strong Online Presence Are Integral.
Handing out a bunch of business cards at an event will have little impact in our interconnected world. I believe what's required is a " social selling " approach. This means mastering the art of authentic engagement with prospective clients via social media. At its core are principles of authenticity, relationship building and professionalism.
In today’s interconnected world, every lawyer should create a promotional website. It should anticipate what your client base looks for when engaging counsel and contain everything relevant to your practice area. Don't forget basic contact information, a map to the office and perhaps a promotional video. You don't want a client being left to fill in gaps because that leads to doubt. Provide as much information as you're comfortable with so that clients can better understand what you are delivering and why you are the right choice for them.
It's only natural that a consumer browsing for a lawyer will also want to check how they're rated. Unfortunately, current online rating systems are woefully flawed. A 5-star rating based on two reviews on Yelp is simply not informative enough to be valuable to the thoughtful client. Such rankings border on being offensive to both lawyer and client. They fail to take into account the nuances that make up a professional’s reputation like whether the lawyer is punctual, reliable and discreet. There should also be criteria that reflect the type of practice. In choosing trial lawyers, for instance, the client should know how many cases they've tried and won. Are they respected by their peers?
Social media is another must. When used responsibly and with class, social media and blogging are valuable avenues to attract business. They enable you to get your name out in front of colleagues and potential clients with a range that's exponential. Such tools should be at the top of your game plan. Social media is a great equalizer. It amplifies your message and allows you to have the kind of reach that most lawyers ordinarily could not afford. Not taking advantage of social media is a lost opportunity.
While a strong online presence is a necessity, for the first encounter, however, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting. It humanizes you and makes for a stronger relationship. After all, law is a relationship business. Subsequently, phone conferencing and especially video calls are great facilitators.
5. Technology and Transparency Are The Keys to the Future of Delivering Legal Services.
The keys to delivering legal services are easy-to-use technology and transparency. A lawyer creating and delivering work should use the latest technology in a format that is easy to use and easy for clients to understand. Documents should be written in plain English—not legalese—wherever possible. Instructions must be to the point. Don't bury the lead to make discomforting information more palatable since it can confuse rather than help the client.
Second, services must be delivered transparently. Millennials in particular are not impressed by corporate hierarchy in general, and certainly not by professionals shrouding themselves in the inner workings of the law. A legal priesthood may have intimidated earlier generations, but millennials are more likely to interpret such a style as affected and pompous. Professionals are not valued as they once were, so get over it. Whether in a position of leadership or dealing with coworkers, lawyers must be good communicators and clear about pricing. They need to explain how much time it takes to do the work, what goes into it and how it is produced. Being upfront with the client forges stronger bonds and builds trust.
The Bottom Line
Given we live in a time when the merits of robot lawyers are being debated, it is clear that the delivery of legal services is evolving quickly. Attorneys who embrace changes such as the “Uber-ization” of law, the increase in freelancing and working remotely, the rise of the virtual law practice, and the growing importance of social media and social selling will look forward to having prosperous futures.