The nature of change in the legal industry

The legal industry is experiencing a period of flux, thanks to technological advancement, an increasingly informed, tech-savvy client base, new non-traditional market entrants, and more. To better guide you and help you stay ahead of the game, we wanted answers as to what kind of change is truly taking place. How does the legal industry change, and when? Does it evolve organically or does it react and change in response to disruption?

So, during November 2017, in partnership with Meridian West (an industry-leading professional services company), we convened a panel to discuss, debate and explore this very issue.

 Evolution vs disruption

The two teams – chaired by Mark Smith, Market Development Director at LexisNexis – put forward various arguments:

  • Proactivity vs reactivity: Getting “disrupted” is a symptom of a lack of attention to the factors that drive change. Proactive organisations look for factors signalling change and adapt accordingly, whereas reactive organisations, on the other hand, don’t pay attention to signals on their horizons, or simply disregard the signals until it is too late – and as a consequence, get disrupted.
  • Market composition: Could the rise of new market entrants, like online dispute resolution services and high street legal outfits, be considered a truly disruptive event? After all, such outfits will only grow by disrupting the traditional legal model.
  • Technological innovation: Advances in technology can indeed feel disruptive without adequate support and training. But as a partner at a Top 30 UK law firm observed: “A mindset shift is needed – lawyers need to be the architects of smart processes, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel every time.” So, perhaps the best way to adapt to technological innovation is instead to work smarter, start small (if needed), and keep advancing.
  • Other professions: Professions like banking, medicine and teaching have been and continue to be disrupted, but they’ve survived, so why would the legal industry be immune? Or is now the moment to heed the signals that are denoting change, and evolve to accommodate them?
  • Client power and perception: The public perception of lawyers could benefit from a disruptive shock to the system to dislodge the criticisms of “selfishness”. However, clients are already demanding better service, so the model may already be in the process of evolving.

Harnessing your strategic ambitions and moving forwards

Whether the legal industry is experiencing true disruption or evolution, change is coming, and firms need to prepare themselves for the future. The firms that stand the best chance will be those with a clear strategy for innovation – one that involves real action, not mere lip service to ideas. Here are five questions to ask yourselves in order to build up simple processes and create a workable plan.

  1. What are your innovation priorities? Innovation doesn’t need to be transformative to be successful; incremental changes can also deliver efficiencies for law firms and offer enhanced value to clients, without causing financial upheaval in the short term.
  2. Do you have the right strategic innovation capabilities? Innovating involves challenging the status quo, which can be daunting for existing members of the team – maybe new members of staff to pioneer the efforts would help?
  3. Can you support change with appropriate investment? You will need to put your money where your mouth is – without sufficient investment it is difficult to prototype and scale up proven ideas.
  4. What is the impact for your business model, client delivery and talent pipeline? Law firm leaders need to adapt their business model to suit innovation, rather than scale back their innovation ambitions to fit their current business model.
  5. Who do you need to collaborate with to drive success? Consider the possibility of involving clients early on in the development of new service offerings, and identifying the right strategic partnership to take innovations to the market.

It’s important to keep advancing, whether that means making small, incremental changes to your working practices, or opting for a large-scale, firm-wide disruptive shift. Ultimately, however, whatever your approach, getting technology right is vital to ensure that your future is successful and meets both your firm’s needs, and those of your clients.

Paying attention to the industry as a whole and listening to those “signals of change”, especially the weak ones, is important. After all, forewarned is forearmed. But that’s where we come in. LexisNexis has been your partner of choice for the past 200 years, and we will be here to ensure your future into the next 200. We will listen and together we will keep advancing.

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