Disruption has to be one of the biggest buzzwords in business today. It seems every new technology, product or service gets labelled with the disruptor tag and the legal sector is not immune.
The poster child of disruption, ride-sharing service Uber, has become so intrinsically tied to the topic that the process of shaking up an industry and turning it on its head, as Uber did to the taxi industry, is now known as 'Uberisation'.
But a changing business landscape of new competitors offering new services is, in fact, nothing new. It’s been happening since the industrial revolution. So what exactly is disruptive innovation and why is it all of a sudden on the agenda of every senior executive around the world?
For me, disruption refers to the transformative impact a new technology/product or service has on a high-cost, complex industry, resulting in a simpler, more accessible and cost-effective way of operating.
Think about what Uber offers over the taxi industry: many would say a more convenient service, better customer experience and a lower price.
At the heart of it, isn’t every customer looking for great service at a reasonable price?
Technology transforming the traditional law firm
While the technology innovation wheel has taken a while to gain traction in the legal sector, I don’t think there is now a practice in Australia that isn’t looking to leverage technology in some shape or form to improve both internal efficiency and client services.
To stay relevant, law firms are increasingly turning to technology to help their business deliver productivity and efficiency gains. If this can be done creatively, the sector can free up space and time for more valuable work.
The internet, and more recently access to cloud computing technology, have also created entirely new service delivery models. This has opened the sector to new disruptive players who target specific customer segments and services.
As David Kelly highlighted in his recent Lawyers Weekly article, there is no shortage of newcomers to the sector. In the US, a host of start-ups are targeting consumers with cheap access to legal documents and templates online. In the UK, online platform lexoo.co.uk provides quotes to people requiring legal work from pre-screened solicitors. While in Australia, there is quite a bit of activity at the low-cost consumer end of the market with websites like havenlawyers.com.au, lawyersonline.com.au and online-divorce-lawyer.com.au offering services from as low as $35.
These kinds of services are becoming more popular with consumers around the globe as the high cost of legal services and slow turnaround times, continues to contrast with the expectations of speed and efficiency in modern business.
In recent years there has been a global shift in the delivery model for legal services with the rise of Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO) that has seen the internet enable the transfer of the work of lawyers, paralegal and other legal professionals to external vendors located both in Australia (the lawlab model) and overseas. As law firms look to minimise costs and increase flexibility, it’s clear why legal outsourcing is growing in popularity. Of course, there are quality control and ethical repercussions of this strategy to consider, but I’ll save that for another discussion.
Disrupt or be disrupted
Smart technology, innovative software and workflow integration capabilities are all being used by law firms to create more efficient outcomes for clients. Streamlining traditional practices to free up resources has proved to be a cost-effective way to provide clients with a better experience.
Moving away from traditional practices as the preferred methods in the legal profession means that increased pressure is on for legal practitioners to collaborate, listen and align core communication skills with client expectations.
Start-ups are pioneering technologies to empower organisations to successfully engage in collaborative conversation with clients. Helping the disrupted become disruptors.
The importance of leveraging new technologies extends beyond achieving business expansion goals but allows for increased accuracy and transparency for legal practitioners and clients alike.
Cloud-based collaborative platforms such as Rundl are leading the charge with innovative software that caters to the client while revolutionising the way in which the law sector treats information and control. In traditional business practices, information is held and retained – often to gain commercial advantage over competitors. Software such as Rundl aims to be inclusive and operate on the basis of a sharing economy where information silos are shaken up and small players are given access to information like never before.
Transparency in the legal industry is being given a further push through trends such as the treatment and use of big data. The tool TyMetrix LegalView Analytics enables the collection of invoices to the value of over $10 billion dollars on legal spending. The collation of such a vast source of informative data allows law firms to easily benchmark themselves against the industry and ensure they remain accurate and competitive in pricing structures.
With the legal world opening their doors to digitisation, a suite of possibilities can become a reality.
The law industry has always been data-driven but now, with the option of analysing and collecting larger scopes of data than ever before, new and surprisingly positive results can be discovered. This could lead to entirely new insights on cases, questions and issues that have historically remained unanswerable for legal practitioners.
My advice to other legal service providers considering undertaking a technology project like Rundl is that it is a long, and sometimes difficult road. The innovation wheel moves slowly, even when you’re driving. We recognised early on that we were lawyers and not technology experts, so we spent time partnering with the right people who are technology experts and that approach has delivered tangible results.
Many big firms have already embraced change, collaborated and developed new technologies to meet client expectations. It’s these companies that will be propelled into a future of efficiency, cost saving and increased client satisfaction.
Whether you call it disruption or not, in the end, change is inevitable and investing in innovative technology is both a challenging but ultimately necessary and hugely rewarding experience.
Ian Perkins is the managing director of lawlab, a specialist Australian legal services provider.