Competition. Disaggregation. Legal engineering. Offshoring. Onshoring. Automation. Blockchain. Artificial intelligence. If you believe half of what the visionaries tell us, the legal profession is spiralling into a vortex from which it will be unable to escape. The values, attitudes, business models, and pricing of lawyers are from a bygone age, and won’t survive for another generation. We’re all doomed!
IP Draughts would like to offer an alternative vision, in which genuinely traditional lawyering (as distinct from the variety that has grown up over the last 30 years) thrives and is welcomed as a reliable anchor in an anarchic world.
If you want to find out about a subject, what do you do first? You Google it, perhaps on the mobile device on which you are likely to be reading this article.
Maybe you find an answer to your question. But how reliable is the source of the information? And does it answer your exact question, with all the nuances of your situation, or is it more general? In the case of answers to legal questions, is it even based on the law that applies in the place you are located? How do you filter the noise of an unregulated internet?
For some tasks, automation may smooth the way. You may have the right mindset for filling in online forms, without the mediation of a professional adviser. But many of us do not have that mindset, and the attention to detail that legal issues often require. Or we may be too busy to spend the time to become a self-taught expert.
Amid the chaos of the internet, where everyone has an opinion and is able to express it, and there are plenty of sharks trying to make a fast buck out of the gullible, how do you find information and assistance that you can rely on?
Some people will just go for the cheapest, quickest source of information, and hope for the best. In some societies, consumer protection laws may provide a safety net, but more often the individual takes the hit.
In this unregulated world, using a solicitor provides important protection for the client. Not everyone values this protection, and if you don’t, good luck to you. But if you do, then there is genuine protection in a legal profession that:
- has high standards of professionalism
- is trained to put the client’s interests first
- is insured against the possibility of giving negligent advice
- has mechanisms to sanction and, in extreme cases, expel members of the profession who don’t meet the required standards, and uses those mechanisms regularly
Combine these institutional protections with building up a trusting relationship with your favoured lawyer or law firm, and you have a recipe for success.
As for pricing, a few generations ago the English legal profession had tariffs for particular tasks, but abandoned these in response to client pressures and moved to a more transparent system based on hourly rates. If enough pressure comes in the opposite direction, we may move again to more of a tariff-based approach, just as private medical treatment includes standard charges for particular tasks, and a time-and-materials approach for others.
But don’t be deluded into thinking that this is going to mean that all legal tasks will be performed within a client’s budget. It is difficult to predict the progress of many legal matters, not least because the time spent often depends on factors outside the lawyer’s control, such as the behaviour of other parties. If the client wants their lawyers to take this risk, they should expect significantly higher charges to offset the risk, and not all firms will have the scale to take on this risk.
In practice, though clients claim to be price-sensitive, many clearly are not, or they would not “play safe” by instructing firms who (in effect) charge a premium for their brand name. Nobody got fired for choosing IBM, it is said. Getting value from their lawyers requires the client to do some hard work and really understand what they are buying.