I recently sat on a panel debate in Manchester, with the debate entitled – ATE insurers and sub-£250k claims. Whilst the title of the debate was probably written ahead of the government’s consultation paper to introducing fixed recoverable costs in lower-value clinical negligence claims, where £25,000 rather than £250,000 is being recommended, it nevertheless raised an interesting point on how after-the-event insurers can make premiums proportionate to damages, especially for cases worth less than £25,000.
You’ve heard about ransomware – a hacker infiltrates your IT systems, locking them down until you pay a ransom. Some studies now estimate that over 50% of businesses have experienced this type of attack in the last year, and it’s particularly prevalent within the legal sector. Previously, firms could protect themselves by having a solid disaster recovery plan in place to ensure they can get back up and running in the event of a disruption. However, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – the new EU-wide regime which comes in effect on 25 May 2018, irrespective of Brexit – means that this approach alone is no longer adequate and security measures must be strengthened to prevent attacks.
The legal and property industries have, arguably, been slower than most to take up technology and embrace big data in the digital age. But the reality is that, for many years, they didn’t have to. Compare the traditional conveyancer or estate agent with some of their high street neighbours, such as retailers, banks or building societies; the internet forced many of them to start shifting their business online over a decade ago. Meanwhile, professional property and legal services were largely insulated from the online revolution. But now we are seeing digital and data-driven competition heat up, with technology an essential tool of productivity.
A newly published survey by the Law Society Junior Lawyer’s Division has found that extreme stress affects a quarter of young lawyers. This highlights a worrying trend that we have been tracking for some time: young solicitors unable to cope and lacking proper support from their employers. Burnout, other health issues and increased negligence risk are the obvious by-products of extreme stress. However, the trend in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal suggests that professional ethics may also be a casualty of the ‘sink or swim’ approach to professional development.
How to convert more leads into clients is a question every law firm would like to know the answer to. Every business, in fact, would benefit from understanding the secret of turning an interested party into a fee-paying client. It doesn’t matter how many potential clients a firm may have, if the individuals working for the firm are not skilled in transforming them into clients, they could be losing these opportunities and therefore not delivering the return on investment on the firm’s marketing spend.
New entrants, increased client expectation and continuing fee pressure have shifted the battle ground of legal services to the client experience. In this rapidly evolving landscape, firms are realising they will live or die based on the customer experience and technology will play a key role in defining that. While the importance of technology is increasingly recognised in the legal sector, few firms are using technology to define intellectual property and value in the way other service companies are. Think about Amazon, Airbnb, Uber, LinkedIn – they all position themselves as a tech business first. Retail, hotel rooms, taxis and recruitment are just by-products of their platforms. It begs the question: when will we start to see law firms think in a similar way?
We need to move away from using technology to try and recreate the thought-process of a lawyer. The idea is not to build a lawyer’s brain, although we may well want to approximate some of its features. Rather, the potential tech offers is in designing a system that arrives at a similar, if not a more accurate or informed outcome as a lawyer might, by building on the strengths that computers have that humans do not, namely: the ability to simultaneously process large amounts of data, to calculate probabilities more accurately, and to identify patterns and relationships that exist across a large evidence base.
We all know that nothing in life is certain. As the actor, director and philosopher Clint Eastwood once said: “If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.” He also said he’d tried being reasonable and didn’t like it. They should teach this kind of philosophy in law school. One thing in life is reasonably certain though. If you’re a law firm worth your salt, at some point you will be approached by another entity (most probably a work introducer) with a whizzy idea to ‘partner’ with you to ‘help you accelerate your growth’. In commercial speak this means, ‘we’d like to keep feeding you work but we’d also like to share in your profits’. The arrangement may be pitched to you as a joint venture – a win-win no less.
The skills shortage in our businesses is the biggest threat to our industry when looking at cybercrime. Cybercriminals are not just after money but are looking for sensitive information too, so the legal services sector is an obvious target. In the last year we have had reports of around £7m of client money being lost to such crime. This is not an IT issue and it should not be left to the IT teams to sort out. It is a high-level responsibility and a board-level issue that must be taken seriously. We suspect that we will look back on 2016 and ask why we didn’t respond quicker.
When it comes to business, there’s no point in having a plan A unless you’ve got a plan B. While plan A might be the route to profits, plan B is the means of surviving, whatever challenges you come up against. Every business is at risk of potential natural or man-made disasters. Despite our wishful thinking, sometimes the dreaded ‘what if’ scenarios become a harsh reality. While we all hope for the best, it’s essential to prepare for the worst. Then there are minor interruptions which, with adequate forethought, can be circumnavigated completely. So, what’s your plan to recover from disaster and get back on track to plan A? And, what’s your plan for continuing running your business during lesser disturbances?