“New Law?”: You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

“New law” is a catchall industry term popularized in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. It is often linked to “legal tech,” “legal ops,” “ALSP’s,” and “legal innovation.” Each is usually considered discretely, not as part of a larger change process. That begs the question: Has new law produced change that is impactful to legal consumers and society-at-large? That is what matters.

Internal Efficiency and Profit Preservation, Not Innovation

The past fifteen years have produced changes in legal delivery. Legal operations has introduced established business processes, technology, and multidisciplinary expertise (“non-lawyers”) to the industry. This is good delivery hygiene but not innovation. Legal ops is internally focused, not client-facing. It is tactical, not strategic. Internal efficiency is a building block for paradigm change that drives customer impact and enhanced experience. That is new law.

Legal technology has proliferated during the past fifteen years. Many formerly “legal” positions and tasks have been automated. “The office” has begun to morph from a place to a platform. “Plug and play” solutions are becoming more common, and artificial intelligence is finding its way into the legal space. So too are an expanding library of on-demand educational (upskilling) tools now a part of the marketplace. Still, the legal function lags business and other professional services in tech utilization, budget, and understanding that tech is an enabler of change, not its designer.

Legal tech has become an end unto itself for many “legal techies.” To be impactful, technology must have a use case that addresses a material challenge. Fit-for-purpose technology investment and design should be part of a larger strategic plan whose end game is to improve customer/end-user experience and outcomes. This is a multidisciplinary team sport that includes legal practitioners, “techies,” process/project managers, data analysts, and other allied legal professionals. New law will not lead with technology; it will be an element of a customer-centric delivery plan reverse-engineered from the end-user perspective.

Law companies (a/k/a “ALSP’s”) have become mainstream, especially in the corporate legal market segment. They have steadily gained market share, secured investment capital to scale, and recruited allied legal talent from other industries. They are neither “alternative” nor presumptively relegated to high-volume, low-value tasks. They are multidisciplinary professional service companies that have demonstrated that practice skills diverge from delivery expertise. What remains is for the two to be culturally, functionally, and synergistically linked with each other and with customers.

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