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November 13, 2007

A Lawyer in Every Stop & Shop?

In part four of Richard Susskind's series on the Law Firm of the Future he discusses the impact of non-lawyer investors in law firms and the reality the majority of potential clients wants to commoditize the law: (this excerpt is a reaction to a seminar on the subject.)

I discovered that the value of the market for consumer-based legal services in England was thought to be over £10 billion. I learned of market research that reported 60 per cent of citizens would prefer to obtain legal services from common high street brands (supermarkets and banks, for example) than from solicitors in private practice. It was concluded that at least £6 billion worth of consumer-based legal services were up for grabs.

Only a very few of the delegates were lawyers. Most were representatives of these high street behemoths whose remit now seems to know no boundaries. These individuals were not committed to the ways of the past. They were talking about call centres, outsourcing to India, online legal services, the automatic generation of documents, and more.

I thought then, with complete conviction, that the delivery of legal services will be a very different business when financed and managed by non-lawyers."

The new wave of investors and managers will surely find that individual law firms are over-resourced; and, further, that the legal profession itself is over-resourced. They will quickly recognise that, within and beyond law firms, there is enormous duplication of effort and reinvention of the wheel; and, in turn, that there are too many lawyers and too few smart systems.

know that clients of such firms are increasingly dissatisfied with the level of fees that they pay, that they are under pressure themselves to reduce their legal spend and that they are pushing for much greater efficiency. Their attention is focused not only on the discrete high volume work. They are also looking at decomposing high value, big ticket deals and disputes and identifying what parts of these legal matters can be carried out more efficiently.

And with $40 billion currently being spent each year on the top 100 US law firms alone, there is likely to be some scope for a saving or two.

The major firms may feel they are beyond the scope of commoditisation and systematisation and that, on bet-the-ranch deals and disputes the legal fees represent but pocket change in the grand scheme. But this is not the attitude I find amongst the general counsel of some of the world’s largest organisations.

These managers are under pressure to reduce their legal budget. And these clients’ loyalty to conventional firms will be limited if new legal businesses emerge that offer quicker, more convenient, lower cost alternatives to low- and high-value work that seem to be more geared to the interests of clients and are more business-like in their constitution.

Anybody else see the writing on the wall?  Non-lawyer investors looking to turn a profit peddling legal services on a retail level; the consumers wanting the commoditization of legal services..(.'how about a will with your Dunkin' Donuts coffee?')  Is it really that farfetched?  I think not.

So, how does the solo capitalize on this trend?

You can read the first three excerpts here.


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