Legal innovation has more often than not been focused within a single silo. Not that I am saying that is a bad thing, but it has often resulted in somewhat disjointed effectiveness. Think about it this way; your system is as effective as its constraint, so siloed improvements may not provide the holistic results often sought. Legal Operations (Legal Ops) brings many of these innovations together to create effectiveness across the legal ecosystem. Your people, your processes, your technology, your data, your sourcing and your strategy are all interdependent in ensuring effective legal services delivery to law firms and in-house functions alike. Operations, as a discipline, is not new, it’s just new to law. Law has been insular. Efficiency was not paramount. Lawyers dictated what was legal work, to be done by lawyers. I am not so sure this holds true anymore?
We have been lucky enough to interview one of the rockstars of legal innovation and a pioneer of new models of legal delivery, Mark A Cohen, on how Africa can benefit from Legal Ops.
Cohen highlights that Legal Ops—what he describes as “a constellation of functions related to the business of law rather than the practice of law” is now a staple in the legal industry. That’s because “law is no longer solely about legal expertise; it is the intersection of law, business, and technology. Those disciplines are all required to deliver efficient, cost-effective, and impactful legal services.”
“Lawyers must replace the mindset that the more hours they bill, the more successful they will be,” says Cohen. Lawyers should think how they best leverage their differentiated expertise and training to function more efficiently, be more responsive to their clients, and deliver more impactful services.
Cohen highlights that legal services have become disaggregated; many legal services can be broken down into different tasks, and not all these functions need to be done by lawyers. Many “legal” services can now be performed by machines.
Lawyers must look at the unity between the profession and business. Cohen indicates that “lawyers must work to the top of their training and license, and leave the rest to other allied legal professionals and paraprofessionals”. He notes that “who does what?” is a customer-driven process that is transforming the legal function and the way legal services are delivered.
What is important, and I have highlighted this numerous times, is that the bargaining power in legal services is shifting away from the “law firm” towards the client. Cohen echoes this view, when he says, “Clients are driving change in the absence of lawyers doing so proactively.”
Cohen stresses that Legal Ops must be integrated with Legal Practice. The collaboration must be embedded with the actual practice of law as they leverage off one another. Legal Ops is not just about cost or technology. Cohen’s insights require a reimagining of the integrated process, how services are delivered and how scale can be achieved. “This requires the entire profession to reimagine how it functions, what other skills and resources are required to drive increased value to clients,” says Cohen.
Data is one of the things Cohen stresses as vital for African legal functions. Data shows us how to prioritize our time and efforts and can be used to demonstrate our value. “Start from the client’s perspective and ask, “What can I do to rearrange the way I deliver services that will drive value to clients?” says Cohen.
For African lawyers, Cohen suggests looking at things through the prism of the client. He sees a shift in power from lawyers to consumers of legal services. He says, “This creates challenges and opportunities for lawyers. The profession must focus on better addressing the needs of clients and those in need of legal services. Models and tools exist to do this—use them.”
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