“Disrupt or be disrupted”. That was the message from Keith Block, Co-CEO of SalesForce, the multibillion-dollar cloud-based software company, to the audience at this year’s Barclays New Frontiers Conference. Legl’s CEO, Julia Salasky, picked up on this theme on a panel discussing the role of technology in increasing access to justice. Julia Salasky joined Sir Geoffrey Vos, Chancellor of the High Court; Elizabeth Van Den Berg, Vice President, Ignite at Insight Partners; Dr Natalie Byrom, Director of Research and Learning, Legal Education Foundation and Simon Bladon, Managing Director, Barclays Ventures and Head of Law Tech Strategy. Here we take a look at some of the key themes which emerged from the panel discussion.
Disrupt or be disrupted
For Elizabeth Van Den Berg, it’s clear: “If organisations aren’t prepared to disrupt themselves, it will come from the outside”. She observed that some of the larger UK law firms are already ahead of the curve in this regard - actively using technology and re-thinking delivery models. However the rest of the legal market, the small and medium sized law firms, need to keep up if they want to survive.
And when it comes to survival, as Sir Geoffrey Vos said, what’s needed is a total cultural change, a total re-think of how legal services are delivered. For him, this change can't happen fast enough.
And while there is scope, for example, for the judiciary to lead on some of these changes, ultimately this change in mindset needs to come from those delivering legal services - law firms. So the big question from the panel was this: “Who’s willing to disrupt themselves?”
"Pilots don't run airlines"
The UK’s legal market is the second largest legal market and English common law is the most widely used globally, yet the legal industry has yet to see the disruption that other industries, like financial services, have. So what’s holding the legal market back?
As Julia Salasky put it, the legal profession is different to other industries in that it is run by those providing the service rather than business professionals, comparing it to how the airline industry is not run by pilots.
And even more fundamentally, unlike other industries where the problem might be easily identifiable by the consumer, who might help drive change, with law people often don’t even know that they have a legal problem. As Dr Byrom said, 40% of people who have a legal problem attribute it instead to “bad luck”.
Solving real problems
Whilst the panel discussion focused on how technology can increase access to justice, a key theme which emerged was how fundamentally this is no different to any other market problem: the key is understanding the end users and how technology can solve real problems for ordinary people. And with two thirds of people with legal problems not seeking legal advice, for Salasky the only way you can tackle a problem like this at scale is by using technology.
What is unique, is that using technology in this sector requires being sensitive to the needs of legal users. As Van Den Berg put it, improving access to legal services isn’t a problem that Google can solve simply by throwing lots of money at it.
But it is a problem which can be solved. And the overriding theme from the panel was of optimism and urgency. Change is coming and legal service providers need to keep up before they get left behind.