Guest Post: By John G. Kelly B.Com., LL.B., M.Sc. (international relations) M.A. (Jud.Admin) F.CIS

Short explanation: what was “legal” for generations has given way to a broader, inter-disciplinary, functional definition. “Legal” is no longer restricted to lawyers and “practice.” Law is now about lawyers, technology, the business of delivering products and services, other professionals and paraprofessionals, new players, new structural and economic models, and new skillsets. It’s a new ballgame.

EY/Riverview and the Legal Services Management Ballgame

Ernst & Young (EY) has become the current newsmaker in the legal services market among the “Big 4” consultancies. It’s acquired Riverview, a UK based alternative legal services provider (ALSP). EY currently employs 2,200 lawyers in the 81 jurisdictions in its global mix of professional services. But the Riverview acquisition is a signal that EY is intent on becoming a player in what is a plateaued practice of law that is being integrated into a bourgeoning legal services market. The underlying theme is that law is now a professional services business and technology is a professional services enabler.

Riverview is one of the emerging innovative “legal tech” players that recognizes that law is an information driven professional business service. Business Information services are prime candidates for adding value by integrating them into business “tech” platforms. It’s developed a technology platform that enables its team of lawyers, client managers, analysts and other professionals to manage instructions from start to finish for a corporation utilizing a “legal managed services model. Through a managed services contract, clients are provided with a subscription or license fee arrangement (rather than time and materials, or hours billed). Corporate legal department  mandates have expanded into the professional services business realm that extends beyond procuring external counsel andconducting bill review audits  to include cost effectively managing a combination of law and law related functions internally. They  are prime candidates for Riverview.

The Flawed Safe Disruptor Theory

Riverview has been labelled as a safe disruptor”. It’s disrupting the conventional practice of law “billable hour”model by providing corporate legal departments with a package of legal management services. It’s a ‘new ballgame” in that the customized legal platform Riverview installs in a corporate legal department will enable in-house counsel and paralegals to proactively manage the legal workflow and implement cost effective management of external law firm work. This is being mis-labelled as being a “safe disruptor” on the premise that law firms will now be nudged to practice law cost effectively but still remain in control of the critical “practice of law” components of the legal services.

A common mistake among the dominant monopoly player in a market, in this instance law firms, is to assume that a “disruptor” who introduces a new niche service into the market will operate as an edge provider leaving the high- end revenue segments of the market to it. This is only correct if and to the extent that the disruptor is mimicking the dominant players service model, such as licensed  paralegals or legal document service providers who operate at the bottom of the practice of law pyramid. However, when the disruptor introduces a new service model that redefines the architecture and framework and tech platform that’s capable of changing the marketplace dynamic, in this instance from the practice of law to a professional services business model legal, the dominant player may well be displaced.

Legal Zoom has demonstrated how, in a relatively short period of time, an innovative technology platform that was considered a marginal player in the legal services market by the establishedlegal profession can displace law firms as the primary source for consumer personal document driven legal services. In Canada, more than two-thirds of divorces are now self-document driven. The Clayton Christensen Institute, arguably the global leader in think tank disruption research, has identified the JD legal education model and corresponding conventional practice of law as being prime candidates for disruption and displacement by a new generation of innovative legal services in which technology will be an enabler.  

The Riverview Disruption Formula for Success

Riverview recognizes that law is being integrated into a dynamic legal services market. “JD jurisprudential education and the conventional practice of law are rooted in the 19th century industrial revolution principles and practices. The 21st Century has undergone a fundamental revolutionary transformation to an information society in which technology is the primary enabler. Technology platforms enable and empower new age professionals and paraprofessionals, the latter who frequently combine a disciplinary knowledge base with technology to be primary professional enablers, to disrupt and displace traditional professional service provider models. Riverview has created a workplace culture and environment that is enabling innovative teams to think outside the practice of law box and integrate law into the design and deliver of legal services. Legal services management is arguably the first step in what may well become a progressive learning curve in  21st century professional services  market where the mantra is:

Law When Necessary but not Necessarily the Law”.

The EY Factor

Lawyers have traditionally been, at best, lukewarm to gravitating out of the comfort zone wherein in-house counsel liaises with “those that they know” and “those that think like they do”; other lawyers. Much of this can be traced to the JD model of professional legal education that  isolates law students from other professional educational sources and resources andinduces them to rely on one of their own as the primary resource on legal and law related matters. However, the EY brand is a powerful presence in the business and professional services market . A study by the Harvard law School Center on the Legal Profession notes that the “Big 4” have had demonstrable success in breaking down the fraternal lawyer to lawyer network and inducing corporate legal departments to begin looking to them as a source of professional services expertise. The EY integration of  a legal management services provider into its brand may enable Riverview to succeed where comparable independent providers have had limited success.

Legal Futures

The JD/LLB Degree and the Future of Legal Services Careers

Law schools have got to “get with the program” and gravitate to a professional services business education model that embraces the combination of specialization and collaboration that  Riverview is demonstrating with its legal services management platform . The JD/LLB does provide students with a framework of solid professional learning experiences. However, it’s in need of a reinvention in a 21st century professional services context with added value intensive multidisciplinary learning experience. The UK “Combined senior status LLB/LLM” integrated three-year degree is the solution. Two years of graduate legal education supplemented by one year of post graduate multi-disciplinary LLM level education that combines law with a learning experience that requires intensive collaborative research and out of the envelope lateral thing will attract those best and brightest into legal education and provide the legal profession with the new generation of 21st century legal services providers.

Most savvy and ambitious professionals today understand that it’s in their economic interests to become truly expert at one topic. Ideally, that one topic is both arcane (in the sense of not being easily learned) and critically important (meaning there’s a market for this skill).