Professor Richard Susskind’s “more for less model” is an accurate account of the legal industry in the current climate. Businesses around the globe are faced with increasing regulatory scrutiny as political, economic and, unfortunately, health matters take a toll on everyday lives. This pressure falls upon the shoulders of the legal profession as a whole. One example is general counsels and in-house teams, who, at the same time, are having to also face demands for lower expenditure on external services from private practices. Clients in many areas of law are demanding more for less, and it is this demand that law firms are racing to the fore to deliver on.
Legal technology has undoubtedly emerged as the answer. This has not been realised without turbulence; with several firms stumbling somewhat through darkness to reach this epiphany, in some cases motivated by the startling growth of alternative business providers and fears of becoming irrelevant in the wake of the ‘fourth revolution’. Most law firms now appear to have arrived at the realisation that legal technology is the solution, rather than a weapon of new and unfamiliar business models, to the problems they face in legal service delivery.
Recent years have seen a variety of responses. Some firms have focused on collaborating with start-ups and technology businesses to create software for law firms. New products on the market include client portal software, legal client management software and conveyancing software. A host of larger firms have worked with Barclays Eagle Labs, for example, and hosted the creation of a range of tools. Other firms, such as Linklaters and Allen & Overy, have adopted an in-house approach. Both players have contributed to the legal technology output in numerous ways, alongside offering their clients tools ranging from AI-powered document reviews to debt-raising structures through blockchain ledgers. However, most firms need off-the-shelf solutions which can be implemented quickly.
The common thread to all of these solutions is that they aim to deliver what firms believe clients want: technology. Technology will drive efficiencies, cut costs, and will provide more predictable pricing. Surely this is what clients want? Perhaps, but this is to conflate the method with the desired outcome. As noted by Mark Cohen, clients want lower fees. Technology may be the means of offering this, but it is not necessarily the outcome that they want delivered to their door.
It is this confusion between the method and the outcome that has obstructed law firms from having the more constructive introspection that is so desperately needed in the legal sector. Many firms are becoming preoccupied with new technologies when basic communication channels remain outmoded. Technology should be used not only to offer clients new, sparkling technology which impresses them from a service perspective, but instead to improve outdated methods that law firms cling onto internally. Before the advent of the internet, lawyers communicated with their clients in person, over the phone, and by mail. The 20th century gave the sector advancements such as the fax machine and, by the late-1990s, email; a birth-child of the internet. Since then, technological advancements have moved at an incredible pace. Telephones have given way to mobiles, email has given way to instant messaging, and the internet has moved into the sky through cloud-based softwares.
These later developments are familiar to most law firms. Yet, in reality, this is an area where the more conservative stereotype of law rings true. A survey has recently found that law firms are incrementally incorporating new communication tools, such as instant messaging and cloud-based vehicles, but not transforming their communication channels entirely (Case Status, 2018). This is despite 83% of clients preferring online contact through new technologies to speaking with lawyers directly (The Law Society Gazette, 2019). The issue with the current approach by law firms is that the adoption of an increasing number of communication tools is only likely to increase costs, regardless of their technological prowess, and fail to deliver the outcome that clients are seeking in the first place.
Even the firms which have pioneered technological change in the sector, many of which have produced impressive outputs, risk dodging the important, simple needs of clients in this way. What is needed in law firms is the fusion of communication methods into a single channel. This would enable firms to continue giving a targeted service whilst providing a more efficient way of communicating with clients and colleagues, and hence meet client demands for more predictable fees.
This is what The Link App is designed for. The platform, which is a client communication software accessible from a desktop, laptop or as an application on any handheld device, offers a streamlined platform from which law firms can trace cases and matters all in one place. Whilst this may sound like a predictable step forwards, The Link App differs as at its heart is the thing that clients value most: communication. It facilitates transparent, real-time instant messaging with clients and colleagues through functions which are directly related to each matter; bypassing the complexities of sorting an email inbox or linking telephone dictations to case files.
Most importantly, it avoids the need for alternating between an array of new (and unfamiliar) softwares which serve apparently different purposes, but in reality, only complicate communication channels further. Using client portal software, The Link App also allows for milestone setting on each case or transaction entered into the platform, which saves the need for ‘chasing’ or ‘updates’ which would otherwise run up client bills, and in turn frees up more time for higher value work. By solving communication hurdles in this way, The Link App naturally offers a more cost effective means of service for clients.
Overall, the demands for lower fees are important; but may have been largely misinterpreted by law firms. At the centre of this trend is communication and simplicity. Only upon realising this, can a more fruitful discussion be had on how law firms can adapt and evolve in the ever-changing landscape that they operate in.