Charles Needham* The Practice of law is increasingly doing away with the notion that ‘lawyers’ in the conventional sense are the ones to provide the advice businesses and people require.
The need for lawyers is diminishing, with the onset of technology and ‘new-model legal providers’, who are now handling business and personal issues in a wider manner than the ‘pure law’ model that currently dominates the legal landscape.
The need for lawyers was the subject of a recent opinion piece in the New York Times from sociologist Rebecca Sandefur, (pictured) who wrote “Everyone Needs Legal Help. That Doesn’t Mean Everyone Needs a Lawyer.”
The whole issue of ‘access to justice’ and the unmet need for legal services is not a crisis, as asserted, but rather requires what Sandefur says is a “new understanding of the problem”.
Her contention is that the ‘solution’ to the issue is for lawyers to work with others to receive the ‘just resolutions’ to legal issues. She argues that lawyers have simply perpetuated the issue as to what amounts to ‘legal’ by creating their own ecosystem of rules, regulations, terminology and economic models that simply reinforces their position.
The result, she argues, is an unequal and exclusionary justice system that leaves legal issues unresolved but leaves the distinct impression that only lawyers can solve the problem.
Because the problem is unresolved justice issues, there is a wider range of options. Solutions to the access-to-justice crisis require a new understanding of the problem. It must guide a quest for just resolutions shaped by lawyers working with problem-solvers in other disciplines and with other members of the American public whom the justice system is meant to serve.
Enter . . Technology
The answer, as it appears so often to be, is technologically-driven ‘legal’ solutions.
An increasing number of law-tech applications are making their presence felt in the legal markeplace.
The widespread adoption of AI to provide more sophisticated, or indeed any legal advice has been slow. A recent interview in CIOReview with Reed Smith partner David Cohen saw him indicated that AI services are limited at this point in terms of what they can provide, quite apart from the fact that non-lawyers are prohibited from providing legal services.
But the continuing intrusion of ‘lawyer-lite’ automated services also continues to impact upon the work lawyers previously did.
New Questions to be Asked
Although the relationship between law firms and technology has been somewhat varied, there is now a situation where business leaders and others now asking more relevant questions about the actual work that lawyers should be doing.
New questions are being asked as to what tasks lawyers should actually be performing, a process that has lead to a move from the traditional law firm model to the new, tech-driven models that are continuing to intrude upon the legal marketplace.
Writing in Forbes, CEO of Legal Mosaic Mark Cohen wrote that the continuing disaggregation of legal work has created a growing number of the tech-driven legal solution providers, using a new, scalable business model that no longer simply relies upon “lawyers” handling “legal” work, but rather those handling business challenges that also incorporate legal elements.
In other words, there is a more holistic approach, driven by business and social need, but enabled by technology, to handle what might normally simply be regarded as a ‘legal issue’.
This has produced migration of work from law firms to “alternative legal service providers” (ALSP’s), in-house legal departments, and other law-firm alternatives. These providers deploy lawyers differently than partnership-model law firms do. Firms solve legal problems. The new providers solve business challenges that raise legal issues. They rely on technology, process and process management, capital, and scalable, efficient, transparent, multidisciplinary teams to leverage legal expertise and to use it only when it is required.
The evolving relationship between the law and the client is somthing that no longer expects (or resents) endless billing by the hour.
Rather, there is increasing focus upon the integration of available resources in a manner that is cost-effective and measurable.
There are well known examples of law tech providers like Legal Zoom, which has provided well regarded success to millions and has, according to Mark Cohen, done away with the need for the ‘binary lawyer’.
“Lawyers no longer dictate the terms of engagement; clients have choice, price predictability, and easy access to legal services that do not necessarily involve full-blown lawyer engagement.”
Another example is the ‘Hello Divorce’ service which has been achieving a strong uptake and dispensing with the routine attorney-involvement.
What is increasingly occurring is a new approach to the way in which legal services are being bought and sold.
“They are increasingly focused on required expertise, breadth and depth of talent, track record, technological compatibility/security, and an ability to scale. They expect providers to use data and other predictive tools not only to manage risk but also to be proactive in detecting it early and to diffuse it,” says Mark Cohen.
The lawyer-involvement is a less involved focus, replaced by technology-driven, service-orientated, cost-effective measurable results.
*Charles Needham is a technology and business consultant who has worked with law firms on implementing technology solutions