Technology disrupts every industry it touches, and law is no exception. Yet, lawyers have long been saddled with the reputation of being resistant to change, trapped and suffocated by old business models. Is the legal industry inherently different from those that have embraced technology and rapidly evolved as a result? And what changes lie ahead for legal marketing, technology, and client experience?
Litify spoke with Abhay Jain, startup founder and strategic advisor to Fortune 500 companies, about the future of the legal industry. Jain is a partner at Quire, where he advises innovators, creators, and industry leaders on business model design, corporate development, and access to strategic capital. With a law degree from Duke University, he’s no stranger to the unique challenges and opportunities the legal industry faces.
Litify: The legal industry has a reputation as being a late adopter of technology. Are there factors inherent to the industry that contribute to this?
Jain: Lawyers are taught to be risk averse. All of the legal education system tells you about things that go wrong in contracts, in entrepreneurship, and how to best protect yourself legally and contract around those things that can go wrong. So that leads to an inherent risk adversity, and a startup mentality is about taking risks.
Litify: What are the biggest drivers of change, across industries?
Jain: Obviously technology. Technology is driving consumption behavior, and that applies to attention as well. People are being pulled in a thousand different new directions with their time and their attention. And that’s changing the way media is consumed, purchase decisions are made, and the way we interact with one another as human beings.
Another is access to information. That may not be a new trend, but in the practice of law, for example, if I want to understand legal precedent, there used to be significant closed doors to finding case law. Now, I can Google recent case law, on, say, seatbelt law or seatbelt judgments in the past five years for plaintiffs. You can see all of those results that you previously couldn’t.
The final piece is the rise of the gig economy. People are purchasing less. They’re purchasing homes less, they’re purchasing cars less, and they’re also committing to jobs less. They’d rather work freelance or work remotely, and be able to travel and helicopter in for projects when they know their expertise is needed, and then go to a new location and take on a new project. It’s a very different way of life that’s going to uproot real estate, media consumption, and also the way jobs are done, including in the legal profession.
Litify: Law firms are increasingly using data and analytics to support decision making in both the business and practice of law. But do you think that big data can be too big, in that companies have a problem sorting through the information to use it intelligently?
Jain: We’re seeing companies collect more and more data, which is great, but data means nothing without the insights that you can pull from it. You need to pinpoint what you need, and understand how all the little pieces of data that are disparate and disorganized tie together to create a narrative.
For example, Walmart for the past ten years was collecting raw video footage of all of their aisles, just because they thought the data could become valuable one day. Some smart people came in and put AI-driven facial recognition and retinal identification into some of these videos and were able to map out in each aisle where people’s attention was drawn to and to which products across demographics, and at different times of day. In this massive well of data, if you’re able to go in and take out those sorts of insights, that can be incredibly powerful.
Insights are hard to come by. Analytics and analysis and drawing correlations are relatively easy. The insights of what it actually means and what the company should do as a result of it are what defines a lot of strategic advisory work.
Litify: Law is paralleling the rest of the business world by becoming a buyer’s market for legal services, as opposed to a seller’s market. Thomson Reuters acknowledges in their "2019 Report on the State of the Legal Market" that “clients are in control.” Jeff Bezos cites an “obsessive focus on the customer” as the top reason for Amazon’s success. What are your thoughts on this multi-industry switch to a “buyer’s market”?
Jain: There’s just such a wealth of options out there that it truly is becoming a buyer’s market. Access to information is key. The more you can learn and research and understand about companies online, the more informed potential buyers are.
For lots of traditional players, all they have to compete on is price at this point, especially for lower-value legal engagements, such as filing IP forms. The only true distinction happens at senior levels, where big corporate engagements require the expertise of a partner. But otherwise, everything else is relatively commoditized.
The same thing is happening in the banking industry. Any sufficiently intelligent analyst or associate more or less can value your company and manage a transaction. At that level, it’s hard to distinguish output between Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, or anyone else. The true differentiation beyond fees happens with the partners’ brilliant thinking and broad relationships. Honestly, with most transactions, that level of insight is not even really needed. But, when it is, having those resources at your disposal are absolutely critical.
Litify: How does technology help companies become more client-centric?
Jain: For B2C companies, it helps them understand their audience on a granular level that they weren't able to before. They are able to have direct interactions, either through surveys or social engagement, to see how they’re feeling or faring with content, or with their products or services. Technology also helps companies design products around consumer needs, rather than saying, “this is the service we provide, it is what it is, take it or leave it.”
Litify: If a law firm brought you in to help them evolve and grow, what process would you use to help them innovate?
Jain: The steps would involve answering the following questions: What are the key services they offer and in which services are they the most experienced? What are their margins for cases or clients, large and small? What does their infrastructure look like in terms of the support for these engagements? How are they staffing these engagements? How are they understanding feedback loops around their current clients? And, finally, I would try to understand their sales process — getting and retaining clients should be priority number one. We would want to know how we can fill the top of the funnel more efficiently to reserve partners' time for solving client problems and closing deals.
Additionally, from the market side, we understand that low-value legal engagements like filing copyright forms or filing a trademark are going to increase, but large complex deals are going to decrease. What we can do is systematize a process by which you can take on these relatively low-value engagements but still drive significant margin, and focus on those in addition to the large engagements. Perhaps you’re capturing the future of legal service needs, but at the same time, you have the ability to continue doing what you’re doing with large, unique transactions where partner insight is needed.
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