A thought or two on what’s starting to happen in the marketplace – by David Kinnear

Legal innovation is upon us. And it’s not going away. This has serious, permanent implications for the legal sector and those working in it.

A year or so ago I spoke with a senior partner of a major law firm about their strategy on legal technology adoption – the response was interesting and very telling: “We don’t want to the first but, I can tell you, we won’t be third.” More recently, I fell into conversation with two General Counsel of major corporations. Whereas 12-18 months ago, they noted, people were talking about legal tech, it was only now (recently in the last 6-12 months) that they’re starting to really see it and experience it – and they’re most definitely paying attention to what it means.

Legal innovation may not have mattered so much a year or two ago – it was easily brushed off – but now it does. And now there is no ignoring it.

The legal industry “quickening” is unfolding in a manner remarkably similar to how each of the HRO and BPO chapters unfolded – around the premise that with technology and labor arbitrage we could deliver services “better, faster and cheaper”. For those who were involved in these momentous “lift and shift” periods of change, no-one forgets the day that one of the Big Four announced its entry into the HRO / HR services market.

Like a sonic boom, the entry of the Big Four was heard around the industry and it was, in reality, the starting pistol for an arms race built around scale and technology – then played out in Boardrooms and on golf courses all over the marketplace. This time it’s the legal sector.

In the last week two big “consulting” players have spoken to their plans for the legal space – and one can only expect that others will add their voices also. With a not-unexpected focus on Legal Operations (Legal Ops) these larger players have technology, financial and relationship capital far beyond the typical resources found within the legal sphere.

Innovation takes many forms and too often it’s confused with simply being yet another shiny “app”. Sometimes it’s having the scale and technical leverage to deploy solutions for industries that others cannot by reason of being simply too small. Financial services is full of such examples – the outsourcing or alternative sourcing of support services that fall outside the “defensible core”.

Sometimes innovation is simply being able to offer an industry-wide solution to common weaknesses or non-core activities. 

On any view, now is a good time for organizations in the legal sector to think long and hard about where and how they fit into the new world that is emerging. Make no mistake there is an irreversible wave of change coming – and it has begun.

Now it’s not a question of being first, second or third – you just don’t want to be last. When the music stops, just be sure there’s a chair – and you’re sitting in it.