Soon after returning from my honeymoon, I noticed that Janice Tibbetts of the Canwest News Service had written a very nice article that briefly mentioned Dynamic Legal Forms in the context of how the legal landscape is changing. Her article, which was published on August 17-18, 2010, went everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE: National Post, Montreal Gazette, Vancouver Sun, Ottawa Citizen, The Star Phoenix, and MORE! Thanks go out to Janice for the honourable mention along with Richard Susskind (the brainchild of everything I do). Here’s the article:
Janice Tibbetts, “Legal Landscape Changes Leave Lawyers Feeling the Pinch” (Postmedia News, August 17-18, 2010):
NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. — Lawyers are under a “huge threat” and risk being run out of business unless they come to grips with a new legal order instead of trusting that big profits will bounce back when the economy recovers, says a legal futurist.
“The genie is out of the bottle,” warned Richard Susskind, who said Tuesday that the wide availability of do-it-yourself services and legal documents online, along with a growing trend to hire lawyers in India for a fraction of the cost, will force the profession to offer more for less.
“That is the mindset you have to have,” Mr. Susskind, author of a provocative book called The End of Lawyers?, told the Canadian Bar Association. “What I find as I wander around is that there is no way back.”
Mr. Susskind, an international speaker and professor at Oxford University in the U.K., who has made a bit of a splash in the legal world with his brand of futurism, noted that his audiences tend to be gatherings of senior lawyers who seem more interested in short-term profitability that the wave of the future.
“Leading firms are relying on the market returning,” said Mr. Susskind, who also asserted that the “old way of thinking” is gradually giving way to more openness because the traditional business is under siege.
Clients, in particular, are loathe to pay high hourly rates for routine services that they can source online or find offshore for a fraction of the cost, Susskind said.
The public is not only demanding more, but young lawyers are also questioning whether the business model is broken, whether fixed costs are too high, and whether senior partners care about the long-term sustainability of the profession, he said.
The bar association hired Mr. Susskind as a “special adviser” last year to help modernize the business in Canada, which has been slow to adopt new ways of doing business to compete with novel legal services.
Traditionally, lawyers have billed by the hour and clients pay for the whole package of services, without knowing whether they are getting value for their money.
Mr. Susskind told his audience that firms have no choice but to embrace change as the online business becomes more inventive and sophisticated. Legal documents and how-to manuals can be bought on eBay, “temping” services in the U.K. are beginning to offer lawyers and paralegals at about half the cost of law firms, and there are several online providers of such things as dispute resolution techniques.
In Canada, a novel business called Dynamic Legal Forms offers free legal advice and documents online.
For a start, Mr. Susskind said, law firms should provide more a la carte services rather than full packages. They can also outsource their more routine work, and pass the savings along to customers, while keeping high-end, complex work in-house.
Canadian lawyers have been considering following a growing trend in the United States of “unbundling” services by permitting clients to do some of the work themselves.
Critics, however, contend it could open up lawyers to legal problems of their own by offering advice on issues when they do not have the full picture.
Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, in a weekend news conference at the bar association gathering, suggested that legal fees could be more affordable if lawyers were “more flexible” in billing their clients, perhaps by “unbundling” or charging a flat rate rather than by the hour.
All options that are being considered by a legal task force of lawyers and judges, she said, while cautioning she is not telling lawyers how to run their business.