A growing amount of legal work could be “de-lawyered” and provided by organisations that offer a wide range of legal and non-legal services, the strategy director of the Legal Services Board (LSB) has suggested.
Crispin Passmore said the future of the legal market could involve consumers “not necessarily minding who provides the service they need – so long as it achieves what they want”.
Writing in a guide to becoming an alternative business structure published by Ark Group, Mr Passmore said what clients want is “problem avoidance and problem resolution – not legal advice”, a distinction he insisted matters.
“In a recent survey of high street firms, sources of competition identified by solicitors differed depending on the area of law but, in most cases, other solicitors were primarily seen as the main competition.
“Yet the reality is that there are many solutions to the problems that clients face other than legal advice – solutions that may well be offered by providers other than traditional law firms… New entrants and innovative law firms are increasingly identifying that if the client need is problem avoidance and resolution, then legal advice may not be the only product or service they should be offering.”
Arguing that family law specialists have recognised that reverting to the law is not always the best solution to a problem – “it is striking how many family breakdowns are resolved with the law as a framework for discussion, mediation, arbitration and settlement rather than more formally in court – Mr Passmore said the skills needed for such alternatives are not monopolised by lawyers.
“In an ABS world this may be a business that combines lawyer and non-lawyer input mixing and matching the right package of services and approaches to a particular client’s needs. But it seems at least conceivable that a growing amount of this work might be ‘de-lawyered’ altogether and delivered outside of our current conceptions of legal services and the bite of legal regulation.”
Further, at a time when over half of individual consumers already use the internet before making contact with a law firm, “ABS can bring access to sources of capital that facilitate investment in scale and IT and the use of existing and powerful brand relationships that move beyond using the internet to attract clients, using IT to fundamentally change delivery channels and ways to design the legal service”.
Mr Passmore said brands play an important role in many services and offer strong foundations for extending existing consumer relationships into legal services.
With LSB research showing that many consumers see solicitors in particular as the answer to certain types of legal problem such as litigation and conveyancing – “serious, high cost and with legal process solutions” – for other types of problem they prefer to seek non-lawyer assistance.
“If this is correct, it is perhaps an issue of branding as much as substance. Can the solicitor or barrister brand work equally well across all of the types of problem avoidance and resolution that consumers of such variety demand?
“It is impossible to answer, but what is more certain is that incumbents in this market will have to adapt to compete… It suggests that we should be ready for consumers not necessarily minding who provides the service they need, or how it is packaged – so long as it achieves what they want.”
It is this, Mr Passmore concluded, that should drive business decisions such as design of services, required expertise and structure, rather than the other way round.