Uncertain Decade Webinar two Summary
Legal Geek - 18/06/2020

We are now halfway through our Webinar series with Mark Cohen and Richard Susskind!

The next Webinar  (Thurs 25th June 3.00PM UK time) will cover: “UK vs US” and “Skills and education for legal professionals in the 2020s” Signup free


ICYMI here are some of the key points from the last webinar

Mark Cohen’s top five comments:

  • What business are we in? That is the question the legal profession should ask. For a very long time legal delivery was solely legal expertise; lawyers and law firms had cornered the market on that. Now, the delivery of legal services involves the intersection of legal, business, and technological expertise. Lawyers are no longer its sole providers. The profession is being subsumed by an industry of which lawyers are a part, not the whole. This parallels the transition of medical practice to the delivery of healthcare services.

  • Lawyers have always been prone to rendering judgements by anatomical parts. ‘My gut tells me this’ or ‘my nose tells me that’. Now, legal consumers expect data-backed counsel. Here is where technology—and data that is material to the issue at hand—is important. Likewise, process is critical. As I said, legal delivery today is about legal, business, and technological expertise. It is increasingly multi-disciplinary and collaborative. Law is not—nor has it ever been—a zero-sum game.

  •  Derek Bok, the former President of Harvard University, remarked years ago that, “There is far too much law for those who can afford it and far too little for those who can’t.” So many SMEs need legal support but it’s too damn expensive. Lawyers have long thought it was their God-given right to decide what is legal work–what requires lawyers and what does not. This expansive view of “legal” no longer fits. The profession must ask: “how can we do better? and how can we optimize our time and training to better serve legal consumers and those in need of legal services. This requires a reimagination of the legal function and a customer-centric mindset.

  •  A lot of people at law firms think of the GC as the client, but it’s the company. The C-suite is increasingly reshaping the contours of the legal function and redefining the expectations of General Counsel and their teams—inside or out. GCs are law’s bellwethers– they are literally and physically in close proximity to the business; they understand its risk tolerance, culture, and the constellation of challenges it faces. Legal is one of several risks in a business decision. Lawyers must understand this and know their client’s business.

  • Can culture change? It is usually a slow process. Culture is how individuals or organisations self-identify—what they value and how they define themselves. Legal culture, so long insular, is being reshaped from without, not within. Customers are driving it, and they will in time transform legal culture. It will be more diverse, innovative, data-driven, customer-centric, efficient, and agile.
  • Key survey comment – The response in the UK and Europe was that law firms were generally client-responsive and ALSPs less so. In the States, the finding was the opposite – ALSPs were generally more helpful, and law firms not so much. It’s counterintuitive because the UK allows alternative business structures and has a liberalized regulatory system.  Perhaps old school ties are more significant in the UK than the States where it’s more pragmatic, result driven, and open to new delivery models.

Richard Susskind’s top seven comments:

  •  I’ve always said there are two ways to solve the ‘more for less’ challenge in the legal sector. 1) the efficiency strategy – by cutting costs and 2) the collaboration strategy – by sharing the costs (clients pooling resources). The efficiency strategy itself consists of two parts: using less expensive people, or using cheaper technology. Whilst the model of using cheaper human labour peaked around 2010, I don’t think we have exhausted the efficiency strategy as we haven’t yet made the most of technology.

  •  To what extent should we listen to clients? That might sound controversial because surely the customer is king; the customer knows best. But there’s a few reasons for questioning this. Legal service is a credence good where the person procuring the service isn’t always sufficiently expert to judge the quality of the service being provided. The very reason in-house counsel go to external firms is because they need help in an area that is beyond them. And for this reason, their views should be taken cautiously because they may not know what they actually need.

  • People don’t want doctors or neurosurgeons, they want health. That is the outcome they are after. As lawyers what we forget is that people don’t really want us; they want the outcomes we bring. I often hear lawyers say, ‘what our clients want it new technology, innovation, AI’. They probably don’t want these things per se. What they tell me they want is lower fees, better customer service, improved management of risk, better ways of showing their value to their businesses. AI and innovation may well be of help but they are not ends in themselves. They are not the outcome. If there are quicker, cheaper, different, less forbidding, lower-cost ways of delivering the outcomes people want, we can expect the market to default to these.

  • The heart and soul of many economies is small businesses. SMEs don’t have dedicated in-house legal resources and yet there is ever-more complex regulation for them to deal with. In most cases they muddle through on a wing and prayer without external help. So, if we feel that the traditional legal model isn’t serving major in-house legal departments, how deficient must it be for SMEs?

  • I think it is important, if ALSPs are to flourish, that advanced jurisdictions liberalise and I’ve been, and remain, quite vocally critical of the US, because it seems to me that the lawyers should survive and thrive because they bring value that others cannot, and not because we regulate others out of the field.

  • In answer to the question what business are in-house lawyers in, I say they are in the risk business. Or to put it graphically, I often say what the clients actually want (and that’s the in-house lawyer as well as the business itself) is a fence at the top of the cliff rather than an ambulance at the bottom.

  • Key survey comment:  Amongst the UK and European GCs, there was a general feeling that law firms had responded quite well during the crisis. What irritated them was ambulance chasing, blatant selling, not enough empathising, and looking opportunistic. But by and large it was felt that they had responded quite well. ALSPs had not responded quite as well. I think this reflects the weaker relationships ALSPs have as compared with the longstanding relationships between many law firms and GCs.

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Guest Q&A and poll results

We were delighted to invite Lisa Hart Shepherd as a guest speaker and MC, we have summarised her findings into this infographic:

Uncertain Decade

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