by Julian Uebergang, Managing Director for APAC
Digital Disruption is a term often quoted by legal doomsayers who cite Kodak and Blockbuster case studies and hypothesize that the delivery of legal services in ‘Big Law’ is headed for an apocalypse.
Debate rages about whether the term disruption is relevant to the delivery of legal services. Is it just another buzzword, or is there an opportunity to find a market a differentiator?
If we look at legal services in simple terms, corporate lawyers are in the business of helping clients manage risk. Individuals and business will always need to manage risk. Can we disrupt risk management? Well, if we take Clayton Christensen’s definition of digital disruption:
A disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leaders and alliances.
Can we create a new market that disrupts risk management? Or more realistically, is there an opportunity to focus on VALUE as a means of disrupting legal services?
Does the end justify the means?
It’s worth thinking about how firms help clients manage risk. Traditionally, firms have delivered solutions by charging hourly for delivery. Increasingly, this model is resulting in clients questioning whether they are receiving VALUE. Alternate legal service providers are selling different service delivery models in an attempt to sharpen the VALUE proposition. Fixed pricing, legal process outsourcing (LPO) and online legal market places enable different ways of delivering the same legal service. Savvy law firms recognize this competitive threat and are looking for ways to create their own efficiency to reduce cost, thereby increasing client VALUE. Of course, this isn’t a new phenomenon.
To further complicate, there is an additional challenge for big law – ‘How do you invest in strategic solutions, when it’s difficult to access capital to create these solutions’? We don’t need to recite the many papers of strategic analysis of the traditional law firm partnership business model, to understand the challenges of accessing capital to fund strategic initiatives.
So there is a dilemma. Clients are seeking a greater focus on VALUE, but law firms are not geared to deliver efficient solutions that enable them to satisfy the demand. Further, the focus is on providing VALUE by delivering the same service at a lower cost. This is NOT DISRUPTION.
Technology as an enabler
Cloud based technology platforms are playing an increasing role in enabling firms to deliver solutions to their clients. Companies such as Amazon, Salesforce and Atlassian are creating efficiency by producing technology that is available on a consumption basis and accessible to non-technologists.
WordPress is a cloud based software platform that enables digital shopfronts to be created by businesses that have no prior experience in creating websites. It has significantly lowered the barrier to entry for organisations wanting to sell their goods on-line. Neota Logic is a cloud based technology platform that enables lawyers to create web applications that allows them to deliver their expertise digitally. Think of Neota Logic as WordPress for lawyers. It lowers the barrier for lawyers to create on-line solutions to gather facts, reason on those facts and create advice and/or documentation tailored to the use case.
There are a couple of ways to think about using cloud technology to deliver on-line legal services:
- Internal efficiency. Think of a large transaction with a series of agreements and documents customized to the specific facts of the case. Typically, handcrafting of these documents is laborious, error prone and requires multiple layers of approval to ensure accuracy prior to delivery to the client. In many cases some or all of the time spent in creating these documents is not charged to the client. Why? Because the client does not VALUE the work to produce the documents at the cost incurred.
A web application can assist junior lawyers input all of the facts specific to the transaction, in a structured way. The application can be configured to create logic driven drafts of the required documents based on the facts that were gathered. Drafts can be delivered quickly and accurately to clients, possibly at a fixed price point, which differentiates from the traditional path to production.
- Client driven solutions. Solutions that not only create efficiency for the firm, but also generate efficiency for the client create incremental VALUE. Think automated on-line solutions to take instructions from the client, as opposed to ad-hoc instructions via phone and email. Think integrated solutions with client’s business systems that create efficiency in delivering fundamental legal services, such as the creation of Non-Disclosure Agreements. Not only is this streamlining communications between client and firm, but critically, the law firm is being embedded within its client’s business process. This starts to fulfill the VALUE proposition for clients, which in turn creates future opportunities for the firm.
By adopting cloud hosted platforms, such as Neota Logic, to deliver legal services on-line, the firm lowers the technical and commercial barriers to creating client driven solutions. But the question of true disruption of legal service delivery remains unanswered.
Client Driven Legal Service Design
A quote that is famously attributed to Henry Ford is “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for a better horse.”
Service design is a form of conceptual design that involves the activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between the service provider and its customers.
Cloud technology provides an ability to streamline the delivery of legal services, but true disruption requires looking at an additional component of legal service design – empathy. Traditionally, the delivery of legal services has seen an institution or bunch of ‘experts’ designing irrelevant services because the service model was not based on what the client needed and wanted but on what the law firm needed. In other words, there was a lack of empathy for the pain points of the client because the design was undertaken from the perspective of the firm. This results in firms producing legal solutions that do not help clients streamline the running of their business. In fact, these solutions often hinder clients by adding another operational layer to their consumption of legal services.
Today, the best legal service designers are much like design thinkers; empathizing, inquiring more, testing ideas and always wondering if a proposed service is truly relevant to the client that uses the solution. Firms with alternate business models have risen to challenge traditional big law firms which has resulted in greater emphasis on driving efficiency to create VALUE. This is admirable, but it’s worth remembering that clients define whether a service is valuable. In order to deliver on the VALUE commitment, legal service design should consider the perspective of the client. Designing solutions and iterating with clients can often result in an outcome that creates efficiency for the client, thereby adding VALUE.
Adopting a design thinking approach to legal service delivery, as well as using technology that is readily accessible both technically and commercially, can enable firms to create solutions that maximize client VALUE, resulting in true disruption. Firms that take advantage of this combination will create a competitive advantage as they move into the delivery of legal services in the digital age.
About the Author
Managing Director, APAC
Julian Uebergang is a collaborative, strategic, customer-focused, results-driven senior executive with a strong delivery, operational, and product strategy background. He has extensive experience with technology services, business strategy, and P&L accountability. Julian has had experience managing global customers and suppliers, leading large teams, and has a successful track record in building successful startup businesses.
Julian serves as the Managing Director, Asia Pacific for Neota Logic and is responsible for new and existing client engagements, as well as executing brand and marketing strategies in the region.
Previously, Julian held a digital product strategy role with a startup entity funded by Australia Post. He also has significant eDiscovery experience, having co-founded PinPoint Global in London and ultimately joining Epiq Systems (NASDAQ: EPIQ) through acquisition to lead their international Client Services and Operations division.
Julian has a Bachelor of Computer Science from Monash University and lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and two children.