Without the detail in the original article, these were:
The rising influence and number of specialist ‘boutique’ law firms;
Rapid increase in the development and marketing of fixed-fee legal solutions and products;
The continuation of the unrelenting march of Legal Tech - along with its continued misunderstanding and misapplication.
These predictions do indeed stand up, to some degree at least, to hindsight scrutiny but I can’t shake this nagging feeling that I missed something big…
Jest aside, it is obvious the pandemic has and will continue to dramatically and irreversibly change the way legal services are delivered.
In part I of this article I’ve chosen to review each of my predictions in turn;
Rise of the Boutiques
Being critical, I would argue that it was only my first prediction (Rise of the Boutiques) which was proven to be slightly misaligned with reality. By this I mean that the opening of new, small, nimble and specialist law firms, understandably, didn’t occur at the rate I thought but I would contend that the power, success and influence of those already in existence has, on the whole, improved significantly. I lay such success at the door of changing client demands, who, operating under the increased burden of the pandemic, saw an even greater need for cost-control and value from their lawyers which went well beyond static legal advice - a value which the ‘new breed’ of African boutiques was more than happy to provide.
This being said, the bigger firms certainly didn’t sit around licking their wounds. The unstoppable rise of Asafo & Co is a case-in-point, as well as Dentons and DLA Piper’s continued expansions. The South African giants, such as ENSAfrica, Bowmans and CDH, seem to have pursued an understandably, restrained approach - with each entering 2021 without looking too bruised. It was, however, good to see the flexibility of an alliance model working well for Webber Wentzel with their Ethiopian ‘tie-up’ with Tadesse Kiros Law Office back in July.
New and Fixed-Free Products
This trend was certainly already making waves, particularly in South Africa by the end of 2019. Two stand-out raconteurs would be Schoeman Law Inc, with their novel tech-enabled and fixed-fee solutions such as Contract4Biz, and ‘creative legal agency’ Legalese, who have been eating up chunks of the SA Music and Start-Up industry’s legal spend for some time now.
Rather than the less-than-ideal conditions of last year inspiring seismic innovation from law firms, they took a more measured approach in what they flexed and tweaked so as to avoid being called out as unsympathetic and unresponsive to the impact Covid was having on clients.
To my mind, 2020 was not so much the year that customer-demand finally caused the collapse of a majority billable-hour approach, but more a stay-of-execution for such an approach. Most firms acted laudably in their offering of flexible payment terms and increased value-added training, for example. But, their invoices were still duly sent with a fair few time-stamped line-item rows!
To anyone who was on a ZOOM call in 2020, well done! You used ‘Legal Tech’...Now, quickly update your LinkedIn to ensure that your network can endorse you as an ‘innovator’, legal tech ninja or tech-savvy-dyno-law-hacker’!
Joking aside, I do want to congratulate our community who, on the whole, moved a relative decade in the space of 12 months when it comes to the necessary attitudes and actions required of a modern lawyer in relation to technology.
Quite before we all start patting our backs, a word of warning. As at all times, changing attitudes and actions in relation to technology can have unintended and unwanted consequences. My advice is to take stock of what has worked, and what hasn’t, via new approaches (such as remote working) or new technology (such as hosting online events or a new CRM system) before pressing ahead with bold, expensive or company-wide initiatives or purchases. It certainly won’t be the case for all, but I would wager that the progress made by many organisations last year will serve them well for the next 12 months without trying to ‘reinvent the wheel’ again.
I’d love to have your thoughts, comments or angry rebuttals so please do find me on LinkedIn or email email@example.com.
Keep your eyes peeled for part II of this article where I’ll once again open myself up to crashing and burning with some predictions for this year!
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