Speaking at the Janders Dean Legal Horizons Conference recently, Melissa Sinopoli spoke about how firms can capture market opportunities during a time of immense change.
Ms Sinopoli has a BigLaw hat and a NewLaw hat, being both the commercial practice group leader at MacDonnells Law and the CEO and founder of LawyerQuote.
“What we have seen in law, and what we consider as innovative now, has usually existed in other industries for years or decades, and it’s only now that we're seeing the disruption that has occurred in other industries,” she said.
“Moving forward, the disruption that we see will not be solely from within the industry, but will continue to come from outside.”
Ms Sinopoli said NewLaw models are responding to changes in the way clients find legal services, and also how they value them.
“Most clients we see have now usually researched their problem online, for better or worse, before they get to you. And whether you like it or not, they have Googled you as well, whether they admit it or not,” she said.
“As we've seen with other industries, people want access 24 hours a day, seven days a week now; they don't want to wait for a letter in the post or for a lawyer to call them back in two days.”
An important element of this shift is the client demand for cost certainty.
“People are increasingly viewing the commodotised-type legal work as a product, rather than a service, and that really does affect the value that they're willing to pay for the expertise element,” she said.
“There’s also a greater emphasis on certainty around fees, and price pressures have continued to mount in the last few years as well.”
According to Ms Sinopoli, this spells trouble for BigLaw.
“The issue for BigLaw is that traditional law firms are increasingly less suited to compete in a market that's characterised by buyer power, substitute services, cost pressures and digitisation,” she said.
NewLaw, on the other hand is able to respond to these new client demands by being agile, customer-facing, lean and tech-heavy, and embracing alternative employment models.
If BigLaw firms want to stay relevant and competitive, Ms Sinopoli said they must innovate internally and structure their staff differently.
“Innovating internally is all about doing what we want to do moving forward, but doing it better, quicker and in a more cost-effective way, and this really does come down to looking at systems and processes,” she said.
“The next one is looking at how we're structuring staff and considering whether, depending on the firm, you move away from having a permanent full-time workforce, to allow you to be more flexible in the work that you pursue.”
Ms Sinopoli emphasised that this is only going to become more important, as we are soon going to have a generation of clients come through who have never known anything but a world with NewLaw options.
“So for traditional law firms I think the opportunity is in innovating, developing the technology and doing it now, so that they're well placed when changes do come and they aren't left behind.”