Danger & Opportunity – Digital Disruption in the Legal Profession

President Kennedy said in a 1959 speech “In the Chinese language, the word ‘crises’ is composed of two characters, one representing ‘danger’ and the other, ‘opportunity’”.  The disruptive impact of innovative technology in the legal industry presents a danger for lower level associates and support staff in traditional law firm business models. If this spells “crises” in the legal job market, where will lawyers find “opportunity”?

The largest and most powerful firms will be the first to acquire game changing artificial intelligence. When they do, they will be looking for smaller office space because the three bottom floors will soon be vacant. Young lawyers and associates with massive student debt in an already oversupplied market should start looking for opportunities amidst the danger of digital.

In my last Article, Video Killed the Radio Star – Artificial Intelligence and the Law Profession, https://1sourcelaw.com/video-killed-the-radio-star-artificial-intelligence-and-the-law-profession/ I discussed the likely impact of Artificial Intelligence on the law profession. AI is an “innovative technology” that will cause severe “digital disruption” in the legal field.

An example of digital disruption is the affect of digital press on the print media. Online news gutted the printed paper. The survivors in the industry were the innovators who adapted through “digital transformation.” 

In Perth, Western Australia (WA), the print media company WA Business News was fast to realize that it had to find digital opportunities or die the same digital death of its competitors. They changed their name to Business News and became a digital information vendor and news outlet hybrid. While everyone else was trying to compete with free information on the internet, Business News developed its own computer programs to package, sell, and deliver valuable business statistics and hard to obtain information. Business News was one of world’s first print newspapers to successfully accomplish “digital transformation.”

Digital disrupters like AI will cause jobs to vanish. I predict this will become most prevalent in “BigLaw” firms as attorney’s and staff are able to accomplish more in less time. Digital innovation, however, while eliminating traditional legal jobs, is opening a world of unforeseen opportunities in “NewLaw,” also spelled “New Law.”

NewLaw providers are characterized by their willingness to innovate. With technology enabling remote work capabilities, NewLaw often involves delivery of lean legal services from virtual law offices. With the number of lawyers outpacing the demand for expensive legal services the client-consumer is increasingly positioned to demand alternatives to the costly brick and mortar law firm. NewLaw business models are challenging traditional BigLaw firms for a market share.

Another characteristic of NewLaw is the emphasis on better attorney-client communication and legal services more closely tailored to meet the client’s needs. The number one bar complaint is attorneys’ failure to communication. With increased competition among law offices today’s clients can, and should, demand better customer service.

Another type of NewLaw involves lawyer secondments, a practice quickly growing in popularity as companies discover the advantages of working with a lawyer in-house. Virtual law firms offering seconded attorneys are enjoying a great deal of success in the U.K., Australia, Singapore, and Germany and are just starting to give BigLaw a run for its money in the U.S. InSource Law, a NewLaw firm in Reno, is the first to focus on lawyer secondments to Nevada.

Flexibility is another hallmark of NewLaw. Lawyers are finding a better work-life-balance in NewLaw as they avoid the long work hours associated with BigLaw careers. https://1sourcelaw.com/career-satisfaction-secondment-vs-big-law/

There are now networks and associations of highly capable freelance or offsite attorneys popping up across America. Many of these legal mavericks are using cutting edge IT and innovation to generate a high-quality work product from virtual offices with at a lesser cost.

Although disruptive technologies present a danger for those entering the legal profession, digital transformation carries new opportunities for lawyers willing to innovate. Lawyers must courageously pioneer new ways of delivering value to clients in the highly regulated legal profession.

Bar associations would best serve the profession and public by closely examining and amending professional rules that unnecessarily impede the profession’s ability to successfully make the digital transformation and develop sustainable practice models. Some of these professional rules, and reasons for change, will be discussed in future articles.

For young lawyers, if disruptive technology represents danger, digital transformation must represent opportunity.


Kevin Walsh

Lead Attorney & Owner

1Source Law LLC

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