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Ok.  Enough worrying and navel gazing.  What does this report say about areas for opportunity?  What questions should we be asking ourselves if we actually want to move this forward? 

 

 

 

 

The report looks at six areas in its discussion of the challenge and opportunities firms will face over the coming years:

  •  Technology Disruption, Diffusion, Management & Embrace
  • Trends driving client strategies and operational activities
  • Security & Complexity
  • Competitive intensity
  • New business models
  • Organisation reframing

Technology Disruption, Diffusion, Management & Embrace 

In short, how are you going to keep up to date with advances in technology and how are you going to (regularly) explore the potential opportunities and benefits of emerging IT developments, as well as the associated investment needed.

  • Advances in IT and AI could bring about dramatic changes in the way cases are conducted and information is analyzed and presented back to clients. Everything from the management of client relationships to courtroom practices are expected to change because of advances in technology. Even legal firm infrastructure as basic as the office library and file room may become outmoded, and legal “real estate,” as one interviewee suggested, reduced to a foyer and a meeting room.
  • The growing reliance on IT, and the sheer volumes of data involved, are creating strategic information management and security challenges. Client security requirements, the automation of regulation and compliance, data protection and data privacy are expected to become major issues for the boardroom as well as the CIO, particularly when working across and between different national and state jurisdictions.
  • There is a growing sense that we are experiencing a shift in mindset from viewing IT as a useful back office tool to embracing its potential as
    a critical enabler of future opportunity.
  • A prolonged and significant increase in IT budgets will be required for many firms to face up to the emerging challenges and opportunities. Attitudes will need to change from viewing IT as a cost to
    the business to seeing it as a strategic investment to secure customer loyalty, drive innovation and create the future. Firms will have to get used to a faster pace of change in technology and shorter time windows in which to achieve a return on investment.
  • Technology is also expected to change how the law manifests itself in society. Analysts such as futurist Marcel Bullinga argue that we will see a shift from the traditional model of the written law enforced by individuals to an environment where rules and laws will be incorporated into and enforced by expert systems and chips embedded in the cars, appliances, doors and buildings that make up our physical world.

Trends driving client strategies and operational activities 

How are you going to respond to an increased client focus on value, through your use of IT, to streamline processes and cut operational costs?  And how are you going to measure and share this with clients to differentiate from other firms?

  • For many in the legal sector, the downturn brought the first break in an almost uninterrupted 20-year growth phase. Survey respondents reported that customers demanding more for less (68.4%) will be a permanent backdrop.
  • The need for regular progress and performance reporting to clients is expected to increase
    in importance and could be a short-term differentiator. Understanding key billable metrics will become more important in meeting clients’ expectations about budget management and improving transparency and trust. Firms will need to focus on ensuring all staff understand the cost drivers on each matter. Potential clients are increasingly expected to demand free access to performance data and analytical comparisons as part of the law firm selection process.

Security & complexity 

While IT is now accepted as a central and critical enabler of modern business, it has introduced key issues that some are struggling to address.  Reports suggest that firms are already losing business due to client concerns over system and data security.  What will you do to ensure you’re the best at using IT, in this respect, and what opportunities might emerge out of rising security concerns and the growing regulatory and environmental complexity of many client sectors?

Competitive intensity

If the world is moving faster you may need to be set up in such a way as to move quicker yourselves.  How frequently do you review your overall business strategy to ensure it remains relevant and is taking full advantage of the efficiency and innovation opportunities afforded by IT?  What data can you provide to show how you’re performance in servicing client requirements and the ways this has improved over time?

  • Faster and shorter business cycles (56.6%) are expected to further intensify competition and the pressure to act quickly. This includes accelerating the launch of new products and services and driving the extraction of business value from new activities in an ever-shortening timeframe.
  • The changing landscape coupled with the growing role of the procurement function led many interviewees to suggest that legal service provision would become more of a buyers’ market with IT helping clients to compare, monitor and manage law firms in a more rigorous performance-orientated manner.
  • To win opportunity in rapidly evolving new markets, legal enterprises will increasingly need to demonstrate competence in knowledge acquisition, sense- making, creativity, and extracting insight from ubiquitous and unstructured data. The value of what lawyers bring to the table is also expected to come under increasing scrutiny in the face of fundamental changes taking place elsewhere in society. Many argue that a fundamental shift is required in law firm strategies to focus increasingly in providing proactive services that pre-empt and prevent problems as well as dealing with them when they arise.
  • The idea of customers rating their providers is becoming increasingly common, encompassing everything from medical practitioners to consumer products, banks and insurance companies. Such services are now in regular use in the consumer law field through sites such as www.legallybetter.com and www.icomparesolicitors.co.uk. There is growing potential for such offerings to extend to commercial law firms and individual lawyers. This service will be particularly attractive to start-ups and smaller clients.

New business models

What efforts are in place to start developing technology tools that enable the firm to simulate and evaluate alternative possible billing approaches and respond quickly in the face of client demand or competitor actions. 

Alternative billing approaches, contingency fees, fixed price contracts and shared risk arrangements have already appeared on the legal landscape.  A slight majority of respondents expect the emergence of new business models (53.8%) to become common for both law firms and their clients.  As clients adopt commercial approaches that contain more risk, they are expected to ask professional service partners to share some of that burden.

Organisation reframing 

It’s not just the way you do things that’s changing but also the types of organisations doing them.  How do you track and review the new structural models that are being used in legal and a range of other professional service sectors?  And how can you learn from them and consider changes to your own future design?

  • Firm boundaries are expected to become more flexible, and a wide variety of different delivery partnerships from joint ventures to informal arrangements could emerge. There is an expectation that organizational and business structures may increasingly differentiate between back office, commodity law and value-added legal services. Change will be seen both in terms of geographic location of functions and the split between in-house and outsourced activity. While some may choose to establish on- or off-shore operations centres or subsidiary companies to provide a range of these services, others may opt to sell off the activity to generate revenue and then rent back the services. At the same time, there is an expected growth in virtual law firms with technology as the glue that enables a diverse group of professionals to deliver client requirements on an “as required” basis.
  • Business focus will continue with the professionalization of functions such as marketing, IT, HR and finance. The recruitment of external non-legal CEO’s may continue, particularly if firms change their ownership structure and external shareholders request such changes. Internally, organizational design priorities will include driving efficiency, speed and responsiveness through multi-disciplinary teams, collaboration and seamless working. Flexibility will be a priority, with the emphasis on letting staff work from home, on the move or wherever they can be most effective.
  • People expect the future Growth of businesses working in alliances, networks and collaborative ecosystems (39.2%). As firms automate, outsource and collaborate, the net effect is expected to be a reduction in overall headcount, with some suggesting that this will result in Flattening organizational structures (25.2%).

In the next article (to be published on Thursday 17th July) we’ll conclude by looking at future predictions for the next decade – what will impact on the industry, what will it look like and what part will IT play in this.

 

Footnote: About the report, what it aims to achieve and how they did it

The Legal Technology Future Horizons foresight research study (ED: more words in the title = more credible study) was commissioned by the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) and undertaken by Fast Future Research between January 2013 and March 2014.  Their collective aim was to explore how advances in IT could impact on the legal profession over the next decade.  They spent a lot of time talking to law firms (and the people in them) both in meetings and through two surveys.  The first survey looked at the ways firms were using IT within the business.  This received 499 responses. 72% of the respondents were from the legal sector and included lawyers as well as professional staff from finance, HR, IT and other support functions. Responses were received from 29 countries, with the two largest groups coming from North America (78%) and Europe (15%), followed by Australasia, Asia and the Middle East.  The other survey looked at establishing a timeline for emerging technology.  They received 223 responses, 61% of which came from the legal industry.  Responses were received from 22 countries, predominantly from North America (76%) and Europe (14%). Additional responses were received from Australasia, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

 

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