To boldly go

By | 30th March 2010

What clients want is a fence at the top of the cliff rather than an ambulance at the bottom. 

Richard Susskind’s analogy, accompanied by the appropriate slide, the contents of which I will leave to your imagination, was one of a number of catchy themes he used to describe the changing world of legal services last week at the Commercial Litigators’ Forum. 

What came to mind as he spoke was an image of Starship Enterprise and a reminder of the most celebrated split infinitive in the entire universe.  Whilst the opening credits of Star Trek talk of the ship’s mission “to boldly go where no man has gone before”,  back on earth my mind was on the bold new frontiers facing those engaged in the business of litigation. 

Whether we like it or not, there is a momentum for change in the provision of legal services at present fuelled by a number of drivers: 

  • Clients wanting more for less.
  • The need for dispute avoidance and legal risk management advice.
  • The development of technology and the speed with which it can deliver.
  • Liberalisation: The Legal Services Act brings about a number of changes, or will do so, when it is fully in force and investors are looking at law firms or parts of them to see where they can put their money.
  • After a recession ( and do not let anyone tell you we are out of it yet) why would law firms go back to the pre recession levels of employment of trainees, paralegals and lawyers when there are good people out there prepared and able to work for firms on a contract basis of for a particular project?
  • Third Party Litigation Funding may well see new sorts of people overseeing litigation teams.
  • Online dispute resolution: what price a dispute resolution service on E-Bay?
  • Clients feel a strong attraction to the benefits of ADR and particularly to mediation. After all, not every case is a bet the ranch case and what have you got to lose?
  • The case law on e-disclosure is developing. I have already commented on the case of Goodale v Ministry of Justice and the ESI questionnaire attached as a schedule to the judgment. 

Some might argue that terrible economic conditions have created all sorts of problems but once the economy recovers, everything in the garden will be rosy again. But why should General Counsel or the client go back to the old ways once they have seen that outsourcing to India, for a tenth of the cost of the same service in Europe or the US, delivers a reliable and cost effective service? 

Asked from the floor what his predictions for the next few years would be and if he had £100 million to invest where we would he spend the money, Richard said that he would look seriously at three areas: 

  1. Legal Process Outsourcing.
  2. A temporary agency providing senior, well respected lawyers to law firms on a contract or part time/project by project basis.
  3. A start up consisting of a group of the finest lawyers to operate on the same basic model as Counsel’s chambers with smart premises, low overheads and offering fantastic legal advice where needed at a price which reflects the importance of the work they do. There would be no need to invest in expensive technology but only to participate in the marketplace for such technology, buying in what was needed on a case by case basis.

Why not?