Why innovation in law really matters

@LawAhead

What exactly do we mean by innovation when we talk about the legal industry and the profession?

Author: Alejandro Touriño, Co-director of the Master in Legal Tech. Managing Partner at ECIJA and recognized Most Innovative Lawyer by the Financial Times.

Innovation in law is no longer a trend or mere hype, but a tangible and urgent need. Law firms and corporate counsels are at a crossroads, with changes to the legal landscape in the last few decades preventing them from carrying on business as usual. Lawyers have a choice: ride this wave, or risk missing out on the chance to play in the big league of tomorrow’s law industry.

Across Europe, significant changes in the civil and commercial sphere are forcing law firms and in-house counsel to transform and adapt to this new ecosystem. Large and prominent law firms are still at the top of the pyramid. However, some relatively new firms and legal tech companies are taking on an increasingly prominent role in the market.

For both incumbents and new agents, innovation matters.

If lawyers across the board are to remain relevant in this emerging landscape, they must have a firm understanding of why innovation in law matters—an understanding that goes far beyond an appreciation of the hype. Below are some of the most pertinent reasons for the recent shift in the legal industry.

 

Legal work of the past no longer cuts it

Whether we’re talking about clients of a law firm or the internal clients of an enterprise, neither will continue to accept work on the same basis as they did ten years ago. It is not only a question of billable hours, but efficiency. No client is interested in wading through the fog of fees, coming out the other side with a hefty bill and a headache. Nowadays, dozens of legal providers offer the same expertise and quality of work, but those that will survive are able to provide certainty of fees to their clients.

Take commodity work, for instance. No one wants to pay for info that can be found after a quick browse on the Internet. Two options remain: play the game or make room for the new agents taking a slice of the pie.

It’s not just a question of money, either. Clients want a “yes” or “no” answer. Tell them “no,” and they’ll be shopping around for a new firm that can find a legal way to get them the result they desire. In this sense, lawyers are now identified as those members of a business that “take care of the legal work,” and they must find a positive path through any obstacle impeding a business’ growth.

Young lawyers have completely different goals

Clients are vital, but talent is of the essence in the legal sector. The next generation of lawyers are the ones who will help us ride the digital tsunami. No other generation in history is so close to technology. As digital natives, they are best placed to help firms adapt, evolve, and stay relevant now and in the future.

To attract young talent, firms and organizations must appreciate the driving factors and goals of these upcoming lawyers. Young lawyers look for flexibility, intellectual challenges, and big cases. The Z generation and even millennials want immediate results. They do not accept traditional hierarchies and do not want to work in an old-fashioned environment. This makes sense. Young lawyers are fully digitalized in their personal environment, and are used to putting in the effort and seeing immediate results. So why should they travel back to the past when entering the workplace?

The legal industry has to appreciate the objectives and desires of the next generation of lawyers if they are to take advantage of its many talents.

By adopting legal technology and incorporating the latest organizational techniques, firms and in-house counsel can exhibit their passion for the law while modernizing their internal processes and external offerings.

 

Technology has transformed internal processes

Lawyers used to identify themselves as artisans or craftsmen. Those who still think this way, will be pushed out of the legal market. Law is no longer an art—it’s a science.

While there is still a lex artis behind the legal profession, this is being significantly impacted—if not entirely upended—by technology. In order to remain efficient and accurate, law firms and general counsel must adopt new technologies and management techniques. In fact, much of the traditional legal work reserved for lawyers or paralegals can now be done by legal tech. Process automation and bots are on the table for every law firm or corporate counsel. We no longer need more lawyers to take on greater volumes of work, but legal tech that can help us become more cost efficient and accurate, allowing us to eliminate human failures from fatigue or lack of attention.

Passion is key in law. But we should not confuse said passion with inefficiency. By adopting legal technology and incorporating the latest organizational techniques, firms and in-house counsel can exhibit their passion for the law while modernizing their internal processes and external offerings.

 

New agents are taking a piece of the pie

The legal market is no longer the exclusive domain of lawyers. New law firms combine both legal and technical staff to better understand clients’ needs and offer the most appropriate solution.

That’s not all. There are now thousands of startups that are hiring lawyers and engineers alike, who work side by side in securing new clients and delivering legal work. In addition, marketplaces themselves are taking part of the pie. In exchange for a commission fee, these companies permit clients to look for the right lawyer at the right time. Accelerators and incubators at companies and law firms are also gestating startups, which will become relevant agents in the ecosystem.

Lawyers used to identify themselves as artisans or craftsmen. Those who still think this way, will be pushed out of the legal market. Law is no longer an art—it’s a science.

A new landscape brings new opportunities

Let’s not forget that the industry is full of opportunities. Although the legal market is extremely mature, we have seen how the most disruptive law firms and general counsel operate and deploy new products and services every year. No matter the location or the area of law, the legal industry is eager for new content and innovation.

The classic lawyer mindset, which emphasizes the art over the task, is not completely compatible with that vision. However, the idea of adopting cross-disciplinary teams and working collaboratively to design and develop new products—and bring them to the market—has taken root in the profession.

For the reasons outlined above, innovation in law is crucial. Legal counsels at big corporations that want to be taken seriously by their internal clients accept the need to become business-oriented, digital, and focused on providing added value to the corporation. However, while many are well on their way, there is still much work to be done.

 

Alejandro Touriño is Co-director of the Master in Legal Tech at IE Law School, Managing Partner at ECIJA and recognized Most Innovative Lawyer by the Financial Times.  Under his leadership, the Firm has been acknowledged as best TMT (Technology, Media and Telecommunications) law firm both at national and European level for several consecutive years. He has more than ten years experience in IT law, intellectual property, innovation and entrepreneurship law. He has been acknowledged by Chambers & Partners and Legal 500 as outstanding lawyer in intellectual and industrial property and new technologies.  Alejandro is panelist before the World Intellectual Property Organization and President of the IT section of the Madrid Bar Association. 

Note: The views expressed by the author of this paper are completely personal and do not represent the position of any affiliated institution.