Innovation within the legal profession, is it really needed?
Step away from a precedent-bound profession
Over the past decade the legal services market has undergone more change than over the past century. The 2007 Legal Services Act saw the introduction of Alternative Business Structures allowing non-lawyers to own and invest in law firms. This is only part of the reason why changes have been thrust upon the profession, innovation and advances in technology have driven providers to offer new ways to practice and alternative methods.
So, let’s explore the alternatives to traditional law firms and what their unique qualities are...
Perhaps the most radical of all was the entry of Axiom - who exist to inject new energy and new thinking into a precedent-bound profession; into the UK legal market in 2007 following their success in the US. Axiom are not a law firm but a legal services provider. At a time when a global recession was hitting companies hard, their ability to offer the same calibre of lawyers at a fraction of the price was very appealing to their clients. Their outsourcing, insourcing and project based assignments provide flexibility, cost certainty and an alternative method for servicing their clients legal needs.
Closer to the traditional law firm model are dispersed law firms which come in a variety of shapes and sizes but unlike alternative legal providers they are regulated law firms. Keystone Law offer a ‘virtual law firm’ setup allowing lawyers to work as consultants operating from their own offices. The business model allows for a personal and client focused service, where companies and individuals benefit from expert legal advice and significant savings.
Next up is Temple Bright, the 2010 founded dispersed law firm operating the ‘chambers model’. They offer their clients flexible fee structures including fixed and capped arrangements.. A slightly different setup to virtual models and as the name suggests, the setup is closer to a barristers chambers. They allow lawyers to work in a similar way to the virtual setup but the lawyers are physically based within their offices.
The final company of significant interest is Carbon Law Partners who are partnered with LexisNexis and Microsoft and are considered to have a game changing offering. A dispersed law firm with a hybrid offering between a virtual and chambers model setup. Arguably the most technologically proficient, the 2014 founded firm may not have been around the longest but they have observed, researched and are committed to creating the conditions for exceptional lawyers and their clients to flourish.
The most noteworthy traditional law firm who is attempting to innovate and change is Berwin Leighton Paisner through their Lawyers on Demand offering. They provide lawyers to their clients in a similar way to Axiom, offering insourcing solutions. However, the reality is that clients predominately use these services to source lawyers who can fulfil fixed term contract work such as maternity leave cover. It has gained traction within the market and several other traditional firms have begun to provide similar services, albeit this is seen as short sighted and not permanent client focused solutions.
Innovation within the legal profession is about driving costs down, maintaining top-tier quality, utilising technology efficiently and above all, heightening the quality of service for clients. The booming trend of alternative legal services may threaten those within the top 200 law firms who can fail to compete with the disbursed law firms offering. Some are attempting to adapt but can they change enough to survive the next five years?
 Axiom, ‘Code of Conduct’ <http://www.axiomlaw.co.uk/Docs/Code%20of%20Conduct.pdf> last accessed 29/06/2014
 Keystone Law, ‘Talk Business’ < http://www.keystonelaw.co.uk/our-firm/news-and-events/2012/04/talk-business-magazine/> last accessed 29/06/2014