The VSCL’s May panel focused on disruption to the legal industry and how the legal landscape is changing. This panel was run by the VSCL’s Chelsea Davine who acted as moderator for panellists Leah Paff from the Lemonade Traders, Sacha Mcmonagle-Ihasz of Ineffable and Tessa Ramanlal of HSF and ANIKA Legal who each shared their views on legal disruption.
Legal Disruption Versus Innovation
The panellists kicked off their conversation by explaining their views on the differences between innovation and disruption. Innovation was put forward as the concept of finding new or improved ways of doing business whereas disruption was differentiated from innovation in often being about industry wide change and innovation that significantly affects existing markets and/or creates new markets, with AirBNB and Uber discussed as prime examples.
The panellists then moved on to tackle the question of whether lawyers are currently customer focused and the consensus was that the majority of them are not. From research that was conducted with start-ups about lawyers, the panellists shared customer feedback that lawyers often made them feel stupid or acted in a condescending way which motivated them to stop engaging with a lawyer.
The panellists also discussed contrasting views on how disruption is currently creeping into the legal industry. Whilst the panellists questioned whether large law firms have truly felt the downsides to disruption, smaller law practices such as those that have traditionally practiced in areas like conveyancing have certainly started to feel the impacts from conveyancing technology replacing the need for man power. There was also consensus amongst the panel about the huge opportunities that exist for legal services to change for the better in the future. One example that was suggested by Sacha involved machine learning being used by lawyers to automate improvements made to contracts based on data analytics which demonstrated the value/usefulness (or lack thereof) of any particular contractual clause negotiated into a contract. Despite such potential for automation, Leah was keen to emphasise her view that there will always be a need for human intervention to help bring two parties together to build an agreement or resolve conflict.
Changing Skill Sets
Another area highlighted by the panel was the changing skillset required for the lawyer of the future. This skillset includes important traits such as resilience, empathy, an acceptance of failure and an ability to connect and cultivate strong and positive relationship with people.
Empathy ranked across the board as the most important skillset, especially when working with start-ups and small businesses who expect their lawyer to listen to them and understand their unique needs, including how cost conscious they need to be in legal spend in order to survive. In order for lawyers to move away from being risk/change averse and more willing to innovate, a culture of accepting and embracing failures was also discussed as critical to making legal innovation happen. The panellists contrasted traditional law firm culture, which is often thought to impose an expectation for lawyers to “always be right” in the advice they issue, to start-up culture which accepts repeated failure as part of the sacrifice required before there can be success in any initiative.
Finally, all panellists talked about the importance of strong communication skills in lawyers with a particular emphasis being placed on the need for lawyers to deliver greater transparency throughout the legal process, whether it be in terms of providing clients with better information on the legal resources they can access or the fees likely to be involved in obtaining legal advice.
Power to the Lawyer or Power to the People?
Overall, technology has the potential to disrupt the traditional legal practice because technology helps empower people to access legal tools, knowledge and services without necessarily needing to go to a lawyer to access such services. The question now becomes, how much legal information should be available on an open source basis to the public so that individuals can self-help in obtaining the legal advice they seek ? On one hand, open sourcing access to legal information empowers the client but, on the other hand, it potentially jeopardises the entire legal industry’s ability to make money from the legal advice/information products and IP which they have created.