Originally published for Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute on October 29, 2014
This is my first substantive blog. Not just for Thomson Reuters’ Legal Executive Institute, but ever.
I spent the last 40 years in the delivery of legal service. First as a lawyer, then as a practice group leader, then as chairman of a large law firm. During that time I did my share of changing how the law works and how that service is delivered.
In the next chapter of my professional life, I intend to continue to be a catalyst for change. A catalyst for improving the way legal service is delivered and for making careers in legal service more rewarding. My blogs on LEI are intended to generate thought and debate which will further these overarching objectives.
I want to begin by expressing my optimism about the future. This is a wonderful time to be engaged in legal service.
There are many reasons for this outlook.
First, law has never been more important. It is a more significant part of business and our personal lives than ever before. Increased regulation, the dramatic increase in the amount of, and access to, data, and other factors create an unparalleled need for legal service. This means the demand for legal service going forward will be very robust. It also means that everyone involved in legal service can feel the pride of meeting an important socio-economic need.
Second, we can deliver legal service today far better than ever before. We can do it faster, more effectively, and more reliably than in the past. Technology and computer science, as well as the twin disciplines of process design and process management enable us to do things in ways previously unimaginable. In addition, we are at an early stage of implementing these new tools and methods; and as we progress, we can measure the quality we achieve, diagnose how to do better, and pursue further improvement as we go.
Third, we can deliver legal service less expensively. The improvements referenced above increase efficiency, driving down the cost of providing service. Work can be done in less time, with fewer and less expensive resources; and even knowledge can be leveraged more effectively. Complex matters can be disaggregated into discrete elements, and completed with optimal resources. The cost of almost any legal engagement can be—and has been—materially reduced.
In turn, the fees charged to clients can be reduced. Lawyers and other legal service providers will be able to charge less, while still making an adequate income to support their practices and businesses. This will mean that businesses’ need for less expensive legal service can be met. It will also mean that access to justice for all individuals can become more of a reality.
In fact, the improved efficiencies might even enable legal service providers to increase their incomes while charging less for their services. If they are effective enough in improving delivery, and apply sensible business practices, they may reduce their costs more than they lower their fees, producing a true financial win/win for clients and lawyers.
Finally, legal service will offer more diverse and more rewarding careers than ever before—and there will be more of them. The most mundane, mind-numbing work will be done by the technology. Humans will be liberated to use their intellects and judgment. Lawyers will become the Clarence Darrows they aspired to be when they chose to go to law school in the first place. In addition, there will be new careers; some at the intersection of technology and law that focus keenly on how to unleash 21st Century possibilities to deliver legal service; others in new fields that emerge as legal service delivery evolves.
All in all, a bright new world lies ahead. Better legal service, at lower fees, delivered by law firms and other providers who earn competitive returns while providing rewarding careers for all who want them.
I firmly believe this is where legal service is headed. Getting there will, of course, require legal service providers to take the necessary steps to convert from traditional practices to new tools and methods. No one knows exactly how, when, or in what sequence those steps will be taken. I will explore those questions and others in future blog postings.