Professor John Flood, Director of the Law Futures Centre at Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia, is the keynote speaker for the Future of Law Summit to be held in Auckland on 22 November. He publishes blog posts; Random Academic Thoughts (RATs) covering a range of issues including the future of law firms on his website johnflood.com.
Ahead of the November summit we asked John three questions. Those, and his answers, are below.
1) You mentioned ‘the uberisation’ of the legal sector in a recent blog. What do you mean by this?
Law firms like many professional service firms are static organisations built around long-standing traditional concepts–employers, employees, support staff, finance, HR, etc. And perhaps most expensive of all, the real estate to house them. This is often located in the most expensive part of a city. There is an inbuilt incentive to maximise returns first to cover costs and then generate profit. It’s not bad in itself but it could be bad for clients. Uber owns no cars but it runs a taxi service, so a law firm could be run in a similar fashion using elements of the gig economy.
Networked lawyers delivering just in time services dispersed through cities+countries, use of technology to provide workflows and information to clients (self-help), outsourced back office functions. The result is cheaper, more effective services for clients and potentially more sustainable profits for lawyers/professionals.
2) What do you see as the largest strategic threats to legal firms at the moment?
With the deregulation of legal services occurring around the world leading to multi-disciplinary practices and the like, lawyers’ monopolies will come under increasing threat from other professional service providers such as accountants and management consultants who are expert at managing multi-disciplinary teams. Small businesses should be able to say “I have a problem. Please fix it.” That problem may well contain several different kinds of problems: contractual, HR, risk management, insurance. Are lawyers ready to adapt to and work in a multi-dimensional environment? They must become more attuned and knowledgeable about clients’ business. It won’t be enough to know only the law.
3) How do law firms need to adapt to succeed in this environment?
I have to use these words–they will need to be agile and flexible and, most of all, responsive to clients’ needs and perceived needs. How many lawyers carry out “legal audits” for their clients? How many lawyers and law firms interrogate the enormous amounts of data stored in clients’ documents and archives so they can go to clients and say “On our analysis we believe there are a number of risks, etc, and we can help you prevent them or mitigate them.” I suspect very few do this but many more will have to learn to do so.