The legal industry is almost a decade behind most other industries in terms of technological advancement. As a result, there is an oversupply of attorneys and an undersupply of accessible, affordable legal services--an economic irregularity that exists only when an entire industry refuses to modernise, making the legal industry ripe for 'Uberisation'.
1. Why has the legal industry failed to keep up with the technological gains in other industries?
There are a number of factors contributing to the lack of innovation, but I believe the most prevalent are the profession’s traditional nature and sceptical view of technology, coupled with how heavily regulated it is. Frankly, non-attorney entrepreneurs out there are not comfortable wading into the legal space because of all the regulations, leaving it to attorneys to innovate the industry - something many of them have no interest or incentive to do. So ideas are only coming from a very small fraction of a very small fraction of the population.
2. How has this impacted the legal industry?
The impacts are significant, and are written about in every major periodical on a weekly, if not daily, basis. First, it’s hard to find the right attorney. Second, attorneys are expensive, which has made legal services inaccessible and unaffordable to many. As a result of these issues, you have many non-attorneys trying to handle their own legal needs or surrendering to the use of online legal forms. Which continues to contribute to the public’s unfavourable perception of the legal profession. Honestly, there isn’t a week that goes by that someone doesn’t tell me a lawyer joke. Most of the time, it’s my Dad, but regardless, it’s a false perception that can be corrected.
3. How does the industry correct these issues?
The legal industry has to willingly adopt and embrace new technology that makes legal services more accessible and affordable for everyone. That will require many in the industry to accept change, and possibly, alter the way they have been (successfully) doing business for years. This acceptance needs to come not only from the ranks of attorneys out there, but also, from the decision makers within the various bar associations and regulatory bodies overseeing the profession, which seems to be the tougher sell.
4. What steps are currently being taken to see that those issues are addressed?
For the past few years, there has been a lot of talk within in the industry about addressing these issues, but frankly, not much action. Some progress is being made in the private sector. There are a number of websites out there trying to connect individuals and businesses with legal needs with attorneys interested in satisfying those needs, but those efforts have been highly fragmented. Fortunately, there is a new platform out there — one I’m involved with — called Legal Services Link, which allows individuals and businesses with legal needs to post short summaries of their needs to the platform and then quickly connect with all types of attorneys interested in satisfying their needs — not unlike Uber, Home Advisor, Lending Tree, etc. and other platforms.
5. What obstacles are arising in adopting that type of technology in the industry?
Individuals and businesses with legal needs want the new technology, so they are not the issue. Again, it’s the people involved in the legal industry that are wary of the new technology. As a traditional profession, attorneys - especially older attorneys — are generally sceptical of new technology and how it will be viewed by the regulatory bodies, which, coincidentally, are also sceptical of new technology. Many attorneys also don’t like the idea of openly competing for clients, which they sometimes refer to as the 'commoditisation' of the profession.
6. How are those obstacles going to be addressed?
The obstacles will be addressed out of necessity, and adoption will come from the forward-thinkers in the industry — meaning that younger and more technologically savvy attorneys will adopt the new technology and either force their colleagues to adapt or wait them out. Also, the technology itself has to be right — meaning it has to be credible; it has to comply with all the applicable ethical rules; it has to be easy to use; and most importantly, it has to allow attorneys to differentiate themselves from their colleagues to clients.
7. Where do you see the legal industry in 10 years, technologically?
The legal industry is at least a decade or two behind most other industries when it comes to technological advancement, so I think we’ll see the legal industry making gains and catching up to services already in place in other industries. Obviously, like with Uber, you’ll still have a lot of people hiring attorneys offline, just as you still have people standing on the street flagging cabs, but a large chunk of attorney hiring will be done online and will include other features currently incorporated into platforms in other industries, such as real-time, online and email billing, etc. I think this will also lead to a lot more attorneys — especially those not in the legal industry because they can’t get work or those working jobs they don’t like — opening their own practices and either working exclusively from home or from a 'shared space.' Wherever it’s headed, hopefully we won’t continue to see a flood of articles written about the inaccessibility and unaffordability of legal services — and hopefully, my Dad will stop telling me so many damn lawyer jokes.
Matthew Horn at Legal Services Link