Picking up on my theme of blank sheets of paper (see previous post) the phrase has been used by Professor Richard Susskind in his afterword to a recent report on General Counsels (GCs). The context for this reference is the evolution of the relationship between large law firms and GCs with one of the four main strategies that GCs could (and should) be embracing being to start with a blank sheet of paper and undertaking a comprehensive legal needs analysis for the business.
Of course many of the big in-house teams have been doing this already, as have many of the large legal firms. I recall a conference two years ago where the head of IT at one of the large City practices discussed the process her firm had recently undertaken of breaking down the value chain and apportioning off work accordingly; apparently the value chain was broken down into ten distinct stages, and the process was pretty searching and difficult. Professor Susskind refers to this process as “legal process analysis” leading to multi-sourcing, where the legal requirements of an individual matter or a whole business are analysed to determine the most efficient way of sourcing each element of it. One of the driving factors for this type of process is of course the development in the ways in which ‘legal’ input is provided, from the use of paralegals, offshoring, outsourcing, automation and so on.
One possible outcome of this type of approach is that lawyers become more like ‘project managers’ and therefore need to develop new skills. Lawyers could be spending more of their time co-ordinating the legal process as a whole for the client whilst not taking an active part in all the areas of advice. As with the argument that not all lawyers are good business people, I wonder how lawyers may cope with such a role.
On the subject of automation, every time I read another press release (or Legal Futures update) on yet another development in the online legal document/automation market, I always think of the Practical Law Company (PLC) and how quiet it seems to be. Whilst I appreciate that PLC is offering a completely different service (it is a subscription-based service offered to law firms) automated documentation and similar ideas have been available from PLC for a good few years. When in practice I always had the impression that PLC was taking over the legal world, hence my surprise at its silence now. With all these new automated document services cropping up, using completely different and competitive pricing structures, I wonder what effect there might be on PLC’s business model.