Disrupting traditions and pushing innovations in legal services delivery

March 03, 2021

The “future of work” has become part of everyday business lexicon, but what does that really mean for law firms and the delivery of legal services?

The ecosystem of legal service providers continues to grow and, thanks to the big shake-up that was 2020, it’s also becoming more diversified and innovative. This continuous evolution was the central theme of this year’s virtual Sandpiper Partners conference on the Disruption and Innovation in the Delivery of Legal Services.

Our CEO Clare Hart joined a panel of international law firm leaders, Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs), and other industry experts to discuss a range of pressing topics, from new business models and metrics to disruptions in talent and real estate.

Here are the key takeaways from the event:

Disaggregation vs collaboration

Disaggregation is a business model that divides work into core activities that can be completed using alternative solutions. In the legal industry, these solutions are provided mostly by ALSPs that help optimize certain processes and deliver a “high quality, low cost” outcome. More law firms are outsourcing certain jobs to ALSPs that are more expensive and time-consuming to do in-house.

“It’s in disaggregation where we’re saving money,” said one panelist. “I want the work to be done by the right person in the right place, at the right time, and at the right price point. This provides opportunities across the spectrum.”

Another panelist had a different view: “Disaggregation is great, but what we really need is collaboration.”

Is disaggregation better than collaboration? If you want to move nimbly from point A to point B, you need both. Disaggregation can only work if all the moving parts are coordinated and aligned, and if you’re bringing together service providers with different capabilities, you’re going to need consistent collaboration internally and externally.

Metrics to measure

“You can’t deliver a legal solution without getting different players into the game,” one panelist said. “Problems today are far more complex, and no one service provider has a magic wand that they can wave.”

With so many players in the game, what metrics should companies track when choosing a service provider and measuring their performance?

Fundamental business metrics include a service provider’s compliance with SLAs, their financial health, and their cybersecurity capability and maturity. Organizations are also now looking at diversity metrics more rigorously.

Service providers are also defining their own metrics for success, from financial growth to resource utilization. One panelist categorized their metrics into three buckets: Innovation, which mostly refers to organizations that provide a technology solution and how clients are adopting the technology; thought leadership, or practical and tactical insights that clients can leverage; and multidisciplinary reach, or the range of services clients are using.

However, some metrics are harder to quantify, such as proactive relationship management. As our CEO Clare Hart said, “Partnership success factors revolve around understanding the client culture and their business objectives, and being able to respond quickly. As an outsourcing provider, we have to be able to help our clients scale when they need to and pull back when they don’t need us.”

Growing trend of activity-based working

For a long time, law firms have been tied to their real estate, multiple floors with partner offices and desk spaces for support staff. That’s all changed.

“Law firms are now more open to a mobile real estate strategy,” one panelist said. “How does this translate to reducing square footage to better equip the needs of the workforce?”

One workplace strategy trend gaining round is activity-based working (ABW). In our research The Future of Work, we define it as a system of office configurations based around the idea that certain types of workspaces are more suitable for certain tasks. It’s focused on productivity, connectivity, and collaboration.

Moving forward, we can expect both lawyers and support staff to have some degree of remote work flexibility. According to a recent legal survey we conducted, 25% of law firm leaders were looking at a three days remote/two days in-office working arrangement, while 22% were considering two days remote/three days in-office option.

The age of the client

There is a paradigm shift in the buy/sell dynamic. Before, law firms and other legal service providers had almost unbreakable relationships with clients. Nowadays, clients can do “comparative shopping” and research an organization’s reputation at the click of a button. With people putting much stock in reviews and feedback, there may come a time when law firms will be measured not on profit per partner but on client feedback and ratings, such as net promoter scores.

The legal industry is still behind when it comes to technology, data analytics, and digital transformation, but it’s getting there. Who will be the winner in this increasingly complex and continuously evolving ecosystem? The answer is clear: Only the most adaptive and innovative players. Make sure your firm is one of them.

To learn more about the evolution of the workplace in the legal sector, download The Future of Work, an in-depth report conducted by UnWork and commissioned by Williams Lea.

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