A Look Back
Two years ago we noted here that “the law futures blogotweetosphere has come down with disruption fatigue.” Since then, most of the talk has been grounded in the specific challenges encountered while climbing the long hill—what can we do, are we doing, should we think about doing to improve the delivery of legal services?
The Legal Services Corporation issued a comprehensive agenda for applying technology to meet the needs of the underserved. The American Bar Association organized a Commission on the Future of Legal Services. Axiom, Elevate, Novus, Pangea3 and others in the New Law pantheon of not-your-grandfather’s legal services providers grew bigger. (Is NextLaw next?) Pro Bono Net went mobile-only to guide young immigrants through DACA. LegalZoom kept zooming, and Avvo answered six million questions about the law.
The Canadian Bar Association saw the future, and accepted it. The North Carolina bar did not. The Supreme Court took aim at guild behavior among self-regulating dentists. Consumers Union and other organizations wrote politely to bar regulators noting that they self-regulate just like the dentists (who want to keep the teeth-whitening business in their hands).
Some firms got lean’d and Six Sigma’d. Many did not. Some firms remodeled service delivery radically and effectively without chanting any of the magic words and acronyms. Dentons launched NextLaw Labs. Neota Logic powered more new things, such as ComplianceHR and Foley Global Risk Solutions.
We are inspired to this look back (not walk back) by Larry Bridgesmith, who has just given us a terrific refresher course on disruptive innovation and where to look for it in the law. In the midst of the mist, it’s useful to have a look again at Professor Christensen’s quite rigorous theory. (As Christensen has written, it’s a theory, not a law of nature, but it predicts outcomes with impressive success.)
Bridgesmith traverses the analysis:
- A “job” being done well, but that has become complex, difficult to access, and expensive.
- As result, the market is not well- or fully served.
- Disruptors employ an enabling technology.
- Resources can be owned by others.
- A disrupting solution is simpler, more convenient, and cheaper.
- Current providers ignore or dismiss the challenge and, when threatened seriously, seek regulatory protection.
He then asks us to test the current state against each of those points. No surprises, just pungent reminders—the industry is indeed ripe for disruption, and the growing (and growing number of) upstarts track each of Christensen’s lines. We note two particularly:
Complex, expensive and difficult to access? General counsel rebelled seven years ago, and haven’t stopped. One benchmark: the Association of Corporate Counsel last month launched a new section for legal operations professionals, the folks—many of them not lawyers (but not non-lawyers)—who help general counsel bring creative and business-minded practices to the management of law departments.
Ignoring the challenges? Quoting Bridgesmith: “As the 2015 Altman Weil Law Firms in Transition survey reveals, law firm leaders from firms of every size understand that the glory days of economic growth in legal service delivery will never return. However, they admit they are doing nothing about it and have no idea what to do.”
Although Bridgesmith is patient with us lawyers, he concludes with a warning blast of the horn:
“Some economic forces are too great to be ignored, dismissed or regulated. An industry ripe for disruption will be disrupted. Tsunamis cannot be stopped. The only thread that ultimately saves the industry is the thread of disruption. All others have broken.”
Here at Neota Logic, we’re carrying on with spinning the Kevlar thread of disruption. We call it software. As Marc Andreessen says, “Software is eating the world.”