Law firms need to become “fluid” and drop traditional resistance to opening themselves to outside talent, with an employed layer of project managers hiring freelance lawyers on a project-by-project basis, according to lawtech specialists.
Abandoning a tendency to keep expertise within “hard boundaries” in the way firms are organised, they will have to “engage in collaborative ecosystems and replace their entrenched walls with flexible membranes that can absorb and extract talent and resources more seamlessly”, they said.
This would enable firms in future to be competitive and attractive to demanding corporate clients,
Copenhagen-based Niels Martin Brøchner, chief executive of contract software company Contractbook, and legal tech consultant Anders Spile said that while some clients would always prefer traditional law firms, as people both procuring services and providing them increasingly came from the ‘Millennial’ generation, relationships of trust would be build on “openness” and “transparency”.
Explaining their vision of the future, they said: “Work will be project-based and executed in flexible units with permanent legal project managers that hire freelance lawyers to solve specific issues. In this way, the law firm has access to a wider circle of talent and a freer flow of knowledge.”
They claimed that while “visionary” law firms had employed managers to make them more agile and convince clients they were delivering value for money, this did not mean they were embracing real change.
“This development is not a symptom of the internal organisation structure but rather a result of the firm’s lack of connection to its external environment.”
They highlighted new platforms offering the services of freelance lawyers such as Vario, created by law firm Pinsent Masons, and Atrium, as examples of the “gig economy for lawyers” gaining a foothold in the legal marketplace.
Firms based on this model would increasingly be able to compete for “large and complicated cases”.
They also gave as an example the Danish law firm DAHL Advokatfirma, which they said used “project managers and interim teams” of both lawyers and clients to “solve more complicated case matters related to business transitions and [mergers and acquisitions].”
The Danish firm’s profits have grown by 30% in the past year as a result, they reported.
The authors said “fluid firms” should consider building an “expanded ecosystem” of digital providers and developers, universities, lawyers, clients, and lawtech start-ups.
Further, firms could add “seminars, after-work networking sessions, research projects, free office areas, open source development, corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects and so much more”.
They concluded: “A more open structure would enable law firms to understand their clients better — an essential ingredient to regaining the declining trust in the legal industry.”
Speaking to Legal Futures, Mr Brøchner said DAHL’s experience had shown the model actually helped create greater brand loyalty than the traditional law firm model.
He said: “We… believe that engaging in an ecosystem with your client is needed to sustain a relationship with your clients in the future.
“Clients are often more attached to the lawyer than the firm and will often choose to follow the lawyer when he/she changes job.”
He added: “With the project management model, the clients [are] faced with an interim team of various lawyers which improve[s] the firm loyalty instead of the lawyer loyalty.”