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Disruption’s early warning signs

By Alan Bass and Michael Sauber 

Alternative legal services are here. The only question is how quickly they will become the new norm. Lawyers should be aware of what signs to track and how to prepare.

In our last post, Revolution or Evolution, we alluded to new service models that are challenging traditional legal practices. We turned to Clayton Christensen1 to determine whether the legal market is in the midst of disruption or merely incremental change. In this post, we describe the alternative models that firms should be tracking and conclude with a thought about why incremental change and disruption may be two sides of the same coin.

Emerging alternative models

Jordan Furlong, a leading analyst of the global legal market, describes three alternatives to traditional legal services2:

1. Non-lawyer legal services: These are legal services that can be delivered through technology. They include online dispute resolution, e-discovery, advanced document assembly, and others.

2. Alternative legal service models: Some demand for legal services can be met without a traditional law firm. Alternatives include flex lawyer networks, managed legal services, and legal departments within accounting firms, among others.

3. Internal options: Some corporate law departments are expanding internal capacity through new hires and technology-based productivity tools. A variant on the Christensen model, this alternative is driving change from the demand side.

Should you be concerned?

So far, these alternative models have only captured a small piece of all legal business. Christensen would say providers of these services are beginning at the edges of the market – an early warning sign that disruption is on the horizon. Lawyers would be wise to track the uptake of these alternatives and begin preparing for disruption now.
Notice that virtually all the emerging alternative models are technology-enabled. In our next and final post in this series, we’ll look at how some firms are applying technology to stay one step ahead of disruption.

1 Christensen wrote the definitive book on disruption, The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business. In it he describes the steps that lead up to wholesale change in a market.
2 Furlong, Jordan. Why law firms should focus on adaptation, not disruption. LegalBusinessWorld.com. 27 October 2016.

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