Key overview of the trends shaping the legal profession

The legal industry is becoming unbound from its limitations, opening up to business demands and creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs, according to David Galbenski and David Barringer in their book Unbound: How Entrepreneurship is Dramatically Transforming Legal Services Today. Creative thinking and the design of new models will lead to better, faster and cheaper delivery of services.

There are seven trends which are, according to the authors, currently changing the delivery of legal services:

  • Demands for better, faster and cheaper services are forcing law firms to behave less like a profession and more like a business.
  • Globalization is expanding the ways of providing legal services.
  • Legal tasks are becoming unbundled.
  • Law firms are under pressure to consolidate globally or become niche players.
  • Clients have more access to legal information and a greater tendency to self-help, forcing law firms to be more transparent.
  • The demographic composition of the legal workforce is changing.
  • Legal education will have to change to prepare for the new ways legal services will be provided.

The book contains some very interesting reflections on each of these trends, interspersed with interviews with various law firm leaders, legal entrepreneurs, and in-house counsel for large clients of law firms. The in-house legal teams of major corporations are increasingly under pressure to submit to the same sorts of metrics as apply to the rest of the business, and in particular they are being asked to prove that legal services are being delivered in a cost-efficient manner. They in turn are exerting pressure on external law firms to structure their offerings in more cost-efficient ways. Some tasks can often be outsourced either locally or to India to achieve cost savings without compromising quality. Law firms need to come up with new billing methods which better reflect value to clients than billable hours.

I found the authors’ observations to be both astute and enlightening. However, I suspect that the changes they are predicting will take longer than they expect. Law firms are run by people who have worked their way to the top by competing and winning, and such people tend not to be very open to suggestions that they could improve their business by doing things differently. Law firm marketing is still largely about being the most vigorous forcer of offerings down a reluctant client’s throat, and not about seriously seeking ways of adding maximum value to a client’s business.

I strongly recommend this inexpensive and insightful book to anyone who provides legal services and who is interested in knowing what the future of the profession might hold.


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