America’s de facto national game and favourite pastime! Despite the sensationalization of video games across the United States of America and a shift of youth going gaga over football, the game of baseball still hasn’t ceased to lose its charm.
For people to get a backdrop of the story I am going to put forth, baseball is a bat-and-ball game played between two opposing teams who take turns batting and fielding. Pretty much, a more internationalised version of gilli danda.
The Major League Baseball (MLB) is a professional baseball organization and the oldest of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. There are baseball scouts in the game that are trained talent evaluators who travel exclusively to watch baseball players. They determine whether the players’ skills and talents represent what is needed by the organization the scout is representing.
A few years back, in 2017, there was a massive firing of these scouts by one of the top baseball team, Houston Astros. See here.
Though the team officials denied the firing linked to a reduction in their scouting staff, the baseball fandom blames it to the rise of Statcast, a high-speed, high-accuracy, automated tool developed to analyze player movements and athletic abilities in Major League Baseball (MLB).
A tool which can automate tasks scouts have performed with eyes, stopwatches, and radar guns for so long.
Is technology threatening to disrupt this labour market like it has done with so many others this century?
Is there a chance the size of the scouting workforce is reduced?
The changes in the system configuration, processes undertaken, strategy implementation has been going through a massive transition in all the fields where growth is to be achieved.
You have to raise your bar and then you shall raise your bill!
The legal services industry is no different. Quoting from a report by Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute and the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession (CSLP) at the Georgetown University Law Center which calls the legal services industry’s approach towards changing their game plan as “consensually neglecting”:
“Ignoring strong indicators that their old approaches—to managing legal work processes, pricing, leverage, staffing, project management, technology and client relationships—are no longer working.
Legal service industry chooses to double down on their current strategies rather than risking the change that would be required to respond effectively to evolving market conditions.”
What is becoming increasingly clear is that the market in which law firms are required to operate today may in reality be quite different from the one that most law firm partners have fixed in their minds. So far, the realignment of competition across the legal industry has been limited, but the direction of movement is clear and the pace of change is accelerating.
Here are 7 undeniable changes that have begun to shift the dynamics of the legal profession for once and all, and the proven methods of building law practices have been left in the dust:
#1 Universal Access to Legal Knowledge
It is sometimes said that law is the oldest profession, even older than prostitution. Advocating powers that can tilt the balance on behalf of others, in its rudimentary form, is definitely an ancient practice.
In England, where the origin of the legal profession has been documented, lawyers came into existence as specialised courtiers who intervened before the monarch on behalf of various subjects who came with requests for justice.
Eventually, the court was separated from the King’s court, and lawyers formed guilds of the profession with intricate rules and traditions.
Initial rationality of hiring a lawyer was simple – someone who knows the ways of the court and has the trust of the King will advocate effectively for the person in need.
However, over time, law became more and more complicated, and codified through thick statute books, and volumes of precedences.
I doubt it was not without design, because this made the law a very lucrative profession. Only those who knew how to look up this exclusive knowledge and could interpret these complicated rules, and most importantly had access to the resources where one could find these rules and the rules of how to interpret them, could be an effective advocate.
Basically, the secret of the lawyers riches is hidden in information asymmetry. The clients could rarely tell if the lawyer is taking the right approach or not, or whether enough effort was being put into his work.
Just like most people do not understand what a brain surgeon is doing, or how a certain medicine is expected to cure him, clients knew nothing about what the lawyers did for them after taking the fees.
Naturally, a lawyer could charge a hefty sum even for a conversation.
Legal profession had thrived based on information asymmetry since time immemorial.
And the internet has permanently changed that.
In 1995, you had to pay through your nose to buy all the SCC or AIR volumes dating back to 50 years, and keep buying new weekly digests of Supreme Court cases and High court cases to keep up with legal developments. This was a costly affair, and much more costly than even the cost of a chamber and support staff for that matter.
A client could not imagine buying such resources to understand his own matter, and he did not possess the knowledge to understand what was written in those fat books.
In 2020, any high school student can look up a case law precedent for free on Google, thanks to websites like Indian Kanoon, for no cost at all!
You can look up any statute, free of cost and read blogs that explain how those laws actually work. You can even find a lot of practical insights or hands on guides for free or a small charge.
The information asymmetry is gone to a great extent.
How does that impact the legal profession? It means that lawyers now need to work harder. The basic information can no longer be traded for money, so a higher degree of knowledge or expertise is necessary. Such as, how a judge may react to a certain line of argument, which is known only to those lawyers who frequently appears before that judge.
Similarly, while the basic knowledge is available on the internet, there is a deep level of knowledge that only few top lawyers manage to master, thanks to their vast study of different subjects and tens of thousands of cases.
Someday there may be AI driven programs which may offer that level of insights, but until then, there is information asymmetry at that level which translates into hefty cheques for these lawyers.
Universal access to knowledge of law also helps the lawyers because now that people are more aware of law, they more frequently resort to legal solutions. As law ceases to be something that is mystifying and scary, more work for lawyers will be generated, although only those lawyers who are able to take care of clients and earn their trust would benefit from the same.
#2 Remote Lawyers
The simplification of technological interfaces and their increasing reach throughout the world has made it possible for lawyers to undertake remote legal work. Remote work is also encouraged by the difference in quality of life in different places and huge difference in wage levels. Given these reasons, many clients and legal employers are finding themselves willing to hire remote employees. For instance, 50% of LawSikho’s workforce work from remote locations such as Dehradun, Patiala, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Bhubaneshwar etc.
Remote work as the future of the workplace is probably the most talked about aspect of working in the past decade. Companies, especially in the west, recruit millennials by saying “Come work in our offices for 10 months, but for two months, work from wherever you want.” How does it help? It gives the employees a break from the monotony of their 9-5 schedules at the same workplace.
Remote work is the dream of every millennial. Working online, without being restricted to one place. You can travel the world, and spend a few hours each day working on your laptop, maybe from a tropical beach while you sip margaritas.
Also, there are talent pools outside big cities that employers can tap into through remote work. Many employees in big cities are spending 2-3 hours a day in commuting, and they can be far more productive if they work from home.
There was an article we wrote at LawSikho about doing remote work as a lawyer a few months back. Go through the article to find links to various websites of finding remote work as lawyers.
We also did a story about a lawyer running a USD 425,000 litigation practice in the USA while traveling around the world.
Today, there are cloud based law firms that entirely work with remote lawyers and do not have offices!
However, more than law firms, there are new age legal startups which are more open to remote work.
Productivity tracking softwares, collaboration platforms and advanced online video conference tools have made remote legal work seamless and risk free. While most of the legal industry is yet to embrace remote work, those who are embracing it are having a massive advantage over others! And we can bet our *** that it is going to emerge as a major trend in the coming decade.
Trappings do not create a great law firm. Getting a fancy chamber will not grow your practice much. You don’t need to drive a BMW to raise your rates. Efficiency and better utilization of resources, and access to talent at better rates thanks to remote work, on the other hand, can be a game changer for small and medium firms that are willing to experiment with remote work and take is as a serious strategy that gives them competitive advantage.
#3 Online training and Micro-learning
Microlearning involves bite-sized training resources that are quick, convenient, and specific topic-centered. Learning law, for lawyers as well as the general public is hard because its densely written. Very few have it in themselves to read a fat book to learn legal concepts. But what happens when the law is broken down into small conceptual capsules that take no longer than a minute or 30 seconds to learn and comprehend?
Microlearning will change how fast lawyers update themselves with new legal developments and online training of legal skills will ensure that employees are able to bridge skill gaps and expand their repertoire of knowledge and skills on the go.
One major area of problem for law firms and in-house legal teams is that while some team members possess cutting edge knowledge, disseminating the same amongst the larger organization is not so easy. Microlearning and online training will change that.
#4 Online Reputation Aggregation and Social Media
The time when the lawyers brand value used to be dependent solely on word of mouth is long gone! Online reputation in the form of reviews, search engine rankings, rating and publication rankings have become very important for lawyers as well as law firms. Especially in India where there’s a blanket ban on advertisements, law firms and lawyers have turned to online reputation management and social media to gain organic visibility.
Ranking of lawyers and law practices by international publications like Chamber and Partners, Legal 500, Asia Law, RSG etc are increasingly being taken very seriously as quality and success indicators. Many foreign lawyers and in-house counsels do rely on these rankings while many others are sceptical about these rankings as well. Indeed, there are some rankings and awards out there which are pretty much up for sell.
However, it is far more difficult to game ratings and reviews on websites like Google, Linkedin, Facebook and LawRato. Unsophisticated individual clients and SME owners are increasingly relying on these quality indicators to find their lawyers.
It is certain that these online reputation management systems and rating and review platforms are shifting the power dynamics between clients and lawyers. They are empowering clients to leave a feedback trail about their experience with a lawyer or law firm, and that means lawyers will have to invest more in client satisfaction.
And that is exactly why, we predict that such platforms are here to stay and clients will increasingly come to rely on them.
#5 Digital Dispute Resolution Platforms
The stagnancy and the time involved in the conventional dispute resolution paved its way for alternative dispute resolutions like arbitration and mediation gaining momentum. However, even these fell victim to customary tardiness and lethargy of the legal profession in India. Also, most of them have turned out to be extremely expensive. However, maximum agreements these days have an arbitration clause present.
Online dispute resolution appears to have an answer to solve this quandary. Efficient online dispute resolution could dispose off cases at a faster clip and cut through procedural gaps that cause delay.
With 4.56 million pending cases in the High Courts, newer platforms for digital dispute resolution are slowly gaining attention. They aim at amalgamating technology with the alternative dispute resolution process. Under the online dispute resolution (ODR), a party approaches the platform and with the mutual meetings of the minds of both parties, an arbitrator is appointed and the time so decided is communicated via WhatsApp or SMS.
The parties then hold arbitration via a video call. The ODR is able to settle the cases in less than 30 days with values upto 20 lakh.
Resolving disputes via ODR has been pretty prevalent in the EU, US, China and Brazil for years now. ODR is now gradually evolving in India as well with Vikas Mahendra, a partner at Keystone Partners, confounding the Centre for Online Dispute Resolution (CODR), which has begun administering cases online.
#6 Third-party Funding and Crowdfunding
Litigation is notoriously expensive, as we all know. A simple case for a business in an intellectual property lawsuit or recovering money from parties does not only take a lot of time but can cost an unpredictably large sum for the parties involved. In some cases like class action suits it is very difficult to put together resources necessary to launch an effective legal attack. This is where third-party funding proves useful.
In India, it is non-existent at the moment, but it definitely has a big potential and we believe that this is the decade when we would see it flourish.
In the TPF arrangement, also called litigation funding, a specialist investor will finance the case in return for a proportion of the compensation achieved if the case is won.
The Supreme Court in Bar Council of India v. AK Balaji (2015), has stated that “There appears to be no restriction on third parties (non-lawyers) funding the litigation and getting repaid after the outcome of the litigation.”
The next problem that arises in the TPF is finding the investor willing to pledge a huge amount of finance as well as undertaking the gigantic task of due diligence and risk assessment involved.
The market’s problem is a lawyer’s solution, ain’t it? TPF means more opportunities for lawyers to freelance for carrying forth the requisite due diligence involved, as well as create the financial models that would be used in future for financing litigation of thousands of different kinds.
Lawyers can specialise in TPF and can bridge the gap between the clients and the investors, which can help you to rapidly grow your litigation practice if you can help clients to secure finance for litigation.
There are already a handful of fledgling startups which are working for this and charge an upfront 20-25% fees for finding investors for the funds!
Investors are attracted to litigation funding, and many lawyers would be investing and working as fund managers in the future, given the average ROI of 150-200 percent in TPF business! Pretty insane, isn’t it?
Crowdfunding of public legal causes is a worldwide trend. The litigation that delayed Brexit by making it mandatory to pass Brexit plans through the UK parliament was result of a crowdfunding campaign. It is likely that many public interest litigation in India in the future will be funded through crowdfunding.
#7 DIY Law
We all know that do-it-yourself or DIY has become big business because millennials love DIY. For example, DIY home improvement market is forecasted to be 680 billion USD by 2025. That’s just 5 years from now.
What about DIY law? Is this possible? Is that a trend anywhere in the world? Would you not like to know?
It has been a trend in the US for quite a while, and while it has created a new way of pursuing legal recourse, it has not destroyed the legal industry as some may speculate or fear. There are several DIY legal service providers that have done really well, starting with LegalZoom, which is a listed company. RocketLawyer is a DIY document preparation platform that is funded by Google. FindLegalForms and LawDepot are also doing extremely well, and have really good reviews online.
I came across the potential of DIY law for the first time from one of our ClikLawyer clients. He called us for some advice from Aurangabad in Maharashtra. Then he asked if we can draft his consumer complaint, which he would then argue on his own.
That was interesting. We were not going to provide any services in Aurangabad. However, here the client was interested in arguing his own matter but just wanted some guidance and drafting support so he could make his own case.
We did it, and the person got the relief he wanted. It worked out fairly cheap for him.
It is not as common for people to handle their own litigation themselves, though it often makes sense given how much lawyers charge and how little the average person trusts lawyers in India.
However, a bigger market for DIY is in documentation – such as contracts and legal notices. I have an entrepreneur friend who drafts his own legal notices and settles his own disputes but calls me up beforehand to get some legal knowledge or to just confirm that he is on the right track. Sometimes he wants me to check out what he drafted too.
Now I know a lot of you are getting worried and anxious, thinking that this is bad for lawyers.
I do not think so. It is not bad for lawyers at all. It is great.
Most Indians do not ever hire any lawyers in their life. They do not engage with the legal system even when they have a problem. If DIY makes legal resources available to them, then it’s amazing, because the size of the pie increases at that point.
And DIY doesn’t mean lawyers have no role to play. DIY litigants and clients will still need legal help. They will buy templates, pay for advanced research, use DIY tools built by lawyers, and pay for advice to get their ideas validated.
So ride the horse in the direction it’s going, and don’t try to look the other way, because that’s the recipe for getting trampled. You are probably in its way, anyway!
In the coming decade, giving how Indians love to save money, DIY law will be a lucrative market consisting of small business owners, disgruntled employees and consumers, and individuals who want justice but find legal services too expensive.
Pricing is a real problem in access to law and DIY law is going to solve it. And that is why I expect it to be a major trend in the coming decade.
What are the trends you are noticing?
What do you think are some other changes in the working of the legal profession that have started revolutionizing how the legal services are dealt with?
Let us know by commenting below.
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