Is The Lawyer on Demand Model Working – Should Lawyers Adopt the Model?

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Axiom has been successful with its Lawyer on Demand model, but it may not suit all law firms – here’s why

Is the Axiom ‘new law’ Lawyer on Demand business model working? It would appear so as the lawyer secondee business model has garnered additional acceptance in a legal world that has seen additional, more flexible lawyer resourcing embraced by corporates and others.

The ‘Lawyer on Demand’ (LOD) model has altered the way many corporates see how to use legal services effectively in an increasingly competitive and flexible law marketplace.

Axiom used the model in London in 2007 and soon began picking up large corporate clients that attracted the attention of Big Law. Axiom grabbed clients like Coca Cola and Samsung in the UK and firms like Berwin Leighton Paisner and Eversheds began adopting the model in 2011, according to a report in The Lawyer, which examined the Axiom LOD success.

The Law Business Entrepreneur

Axiom founder Mark Harris was a University of Texas School of Law graduate who came up with the idea for a legal services company that shed many of the fixed cost overheads that went with traditional law firms, using a partner-less, flat structure. The idea originated while working with Big Law firm Davis, Polk & Wardwell.

It took some time to gain traction as the business model moved away from a purely tech-centric approach to a more ‘high contact’ method that provided greater confidence from in-house counsel who were largely risk-averse and cautious about working with a technology-heavy support service.

That pivot helped Axiom to grow and develop its business relationships with the bigger corporates and to attract higher revenues and profits.

Does the LOD Model Work For Everyone?

While many firms are looking at the LOD business model it may not suit everyone, as was pointed out by Harvard Law School professor John Coates in an article on Harvard Law Journal:

He made three points why Lawyer on Demand as a business model may not be best, writing:

  • Axiom may simply be answering an unmet market need. “A lot of people view them as a competitor,” he says. “A better way of thinking about it is that they’re just a different kind of organizational participant in the legal services market, and they’re often not really taking dollars away from law firms. They’re just delivering a different kind of legal service most law firms wouldn’t be able to offer at all.”
  • There’s still room to grow, particularly at the high end. Axiom’s ability to create teams of technology experts, project managers, and lawyers focused on specific, often one-time occurrences, such as company spinoffs, Coates says, distinguishes it from both law firms and in-house legal departments. Over time, such teams develop experience and efficiency in specific legal areas that neither a firm nor general counsel can match—nor would want to, since there’s little business case for hiring for a one-time occurrence. “On the margin there are certainly going to be some matters that law firms would have been happy to take, so I’m not going to claim there’s no competition,” he demurs. “But I think it’s less than it might appear, and more of a market expansion.”
  • One thing Axiom may have to worry about? Its staffing model—which largely depends on discontented, experienced lawyers leaving big law. “In that way, they’re parasitic on law firms,” Coates notes. “Law firms are spending more time than they ever have trying to solve the challenges of work-life balance with their lawyers,” he says. If they do, Axiom’s once-clear value proposition may lose some of its luster.

Big Law Follows

The Axiom success has seen a lot of movement from Big Law players who have moved into the area with success.

Pinsent Masons launched Vario in 2013 and later Allen & Overy partner Ben Williams developed Peerpoint in 2014, the principals of which are now with Elevate, another ‘new law’ LOD style outfit.

The growth of the businesses has seen continued growth in the area as the COVID pandemic has lead to a sea-change in the legal marketplace and firms like Gunnercooke, Setfords and Keystone have grown as a result of the changes.

Axiom’s own research found that 48 per cent of lawyers are looking to change jobs or at least quit their current jobs, as the ‘big resignation’ continues. Axiom are intent on exploiting that process with over 70 per cent of those the business polled saying they would look at switching to such a model.

The Lawyer on Demand model is no side-hustle for lawyers, but rather a major opportunity for many to reconsider their career options and opportunities in a changed legal marketplace.

>> Law Career Opportunities on LawJob1.com

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