What if Google launched a law firm?

Posted by Nigel Wallis, partner at Legal Futures Associate O’Connors LLP

Your new competitor?

Your new competitor?

“You have to learn the rules of the game and then play better than anyone else.” Albert Einstein

A few months ago Google added car insurance to its ‘Google Compare’ suite of products, products which Google says are designed to help people make confident and more informed financial decisions. Did those in the insurance industry see this coming? Probably. Can they do much about it? Probably not. Are they worried by it? I should say so.

So I pose this question. What if Google decided to launch a full range consumer legal services business in the UK tomorrow? Presumably the venture would be an alternative business structure owned by Google. It would only need to employ one lawyer as all the legal work it attracts could be outsourced to other law firms. And I can’t imagine there would be a shortage of law firms willing to pay for panel slots or leads, subject to any referral fee ban issues of course.

It would have little difficulty generating enquiries. After all, consumers tend to look for free advice before they resort to paying for anything. Between its search engine and its video platform, YouTube, the interface is already in place and it has tons of data about its audience. The chances are Google knows more about us than our best friends and certainly more than any current law firm.

Those who refuse to play ball with Google would no doubt withdraw advertising spend but it would be a brave firm that picks a fight with the world’s leading search engine. A famous crime novelist was once asked where she thought was the perfect place to hide a body. Her answer: “On page 2 of Google.”

And what if Google teamed up with IBM to deliver initial legal advice backed by IBM’s artificial intelligence engine, Watson? A service delivered by ever-fresh-faced avatars in any chosen language at any time of the day or night and completely free. Many would scoff at the idea but a few consumers I know would find the proposition quite alluring.

There’s an old adage that says a good leader should work out what a competitor could do to wipe out his or her business and then do it before the competitor does. After all, ‘excuse me, but where have all our clients gone?’ is not the most comfortable question to be fielding at a team meeting.

So how would you lead your law firm in responding to such a threat? Leave a comment below and there are a few bottles put aside for the most inventive ones. I found this excellent wine merchant on Google.

Kyla Moran from IBM Watson will be speaking at next month’s Legal Futures innovation conference, From ABS to AI. Click here for full details.

    Readers Comments

  • Kevin Greer says:

    In my view, for the foreseeable future, there will continue to be room for a human hand in the provision of legal advice. The tricky part is working out where and to what extent this human hand will remain in the future. Google coming into the legal market would in all likelihood mean, for those wishing to engage, the existing law firm model going out the window to be replaced with something like “unbundled” services.

    So I would not regard Google as a threat – the potential rewards mean it should be regarded as an amazing opportunity. However, given the risk of brand damage I would expect Google to impose strict client care processes that are effectively deployed, measured and followed by appropriately trained, qualified and supervised advisers. I would also expect Google to demand a fully digital 24/7/365 service. All of which is a big ask for most legal service providers in the market today.

  • Gary Yantin says:

    I agree with Kevin that since some of law is a people business, there will always be a need for face to face service, so a purely online provider would probably sell products as opposed to services.

    Also Google make a shedload of money out of law already via law firms advertising. So selling law would need to net them more money than they currently receive from search for “law”

    Generally Google are an information provider as opposed to a seller of services.

    So, even if the threat is not real, law firms need to react to consumers by highlighting their skills, quality and expertise. Don’t focus solely on price. Talk about service, responsiveness, empathise and do the things that a search engine can’t do. Give a damn about your client. Demonstrate that you care and that they are important,

    Anyway, don’t Google already part own a law firm competitor via their investment in Rocket Lawyer?

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