In Britain legal services can be sold by a supermarket.
In Chicago clients can nominate the fee they want to pay – they decide after the job is done.
In India thousands of lawyers deliver legal services to law firms throughout the globe in response to those firms’ requirements for outsourcing.
Lawyers have changed the way they do business and who does the work:
• The standard of service is increasing.
• The legal requirements are getting more complex.
• The client interaction more varied and the demand for bona fide value is loud and clear.
That means lawyers must be flexible in how they deliver their services.
These changes are happening at different levels. The most obvious and the longest standing is how we communicate with clients. E-mail, texts and mobile phones are the prevalent means of communication but it is not unusual to have direct access via your computer to a lawyer’s files on your transactions.
Faxes are preserved only for formal notices. And a letter in the post is almost an oddity. It is usually either from an elderly client or an invitation.
We work off scanned copies of documents, file everything electronically, destroy originals and send people back their deeds.
But there are other, fundamental changes that challenge how lawyers and their clients interact – that impact on what types of premises lawyers will have and what their working environments are like. As the practice of law becomes less regulated people who are not lawyers are being given the opportunity to provide legal services. This is especially the case in Britain where things have opened up hugely. There, “Alternative Business Structures” have been introduced. The UK Justice Minister Jonathon Djanogly said:
"ABSs introduce more competition in the market place, delivering competitive pricing, higher standards of product and more choice for the consumer".
Lawyers are being challenged to rethink their approach to delivering services.
In New Zealand people other than lawyers can provide legal services too. Conveyancing practitioners can manage a sale or a purchase and while they and lawyers struggle to find a way to work effectively together the public has opportunity to choose whether they want their house transaction handled by a lawyer or not.
Outsourcing, commoditisation and new ways of billing are all being used.
It’s a new and varied legal world. The trick is how to capture the significant benefit that comes from a long term over-arching relationship with a lawyer while also reaping the benefits of the new-fangled way of commoditising and streamlining transactions. Long term relationships lead to a greater understanding of what is important for a particular client, a wisdom that is imbued in every decision. It’s not to be undervalued but lawyers would be foolish to think that this is enough. It must be coupled with an acceptance of the radical changes in delivery of our service.