End of Lawyers and the Legal Services Act

In previous posts I have commented both on the ‘End of Lawyers?’- a book by Richard Susskind and also on the Legal Services Act, which are two commonly discussed items by those interested in the UK law business landscape.

In the ‘End of Lawyers? The Legal Hybrid is already here‘  my message was I already see the need for some of the changes Richard Susskind predicts, such as for lawyers to become deeply multidisciplinary.  While in the Legal Services Act 2007 post  I mentioned that the Act is expected to  mark the beginning of a sea change in the legal services market, with more innovative solutions likely to materialise.

Naturally, these issues are occupying the minds of many of us who run law firms.  One such issue I have been thinking about a lot, concerns what Richard Susskind calls the latent legal market – that is those circumstances in which non-lawyers are generally unable to benefit from the legal input they require because conventional legal service is too expensive or impractical.  To quote from Richard Susskind’s first book ‘The Future of Law’ (p.27):

“In conventional, reactive legal service, when a legal risk has been perceived and a lawyer instructed, there is an expectation that some optimum disposal of the matter will be achieved.  In contrast, legal risk management techniques are often brought to bear in respect of legal risks that would otherwise not be managed at all or would be addressed too late.  And in this context, in the latent legal market, it may be entirely tolerable (commercially and as a matter of practicality) that any solution reached may be well short of the optimum position.  The point is that the legal risk is being  managed.  Without such techniques, such risks would not have been managed at all or may not have been manageable.  Thus there can be improvement if not perfection”.

Stephen Mayson in a speech ‘Legal Services Reforms: Catalyst, Cataclysm or Catastrophe‘ alluded to a similar matter – namely that one of the ways of reducing the cost of legal services may be to deliver less technically perfect and comprehensive advice sometimes.  It is not always necessary, in other words, to have the same ‘deliverable’.   For example, many SMEs often prefer us to draft a brief legal agreement for them, rather than to serve up the traditional 15 pages or so that the precedents appear as.  As long the SME understands the downsides and upsides of this approach, then why not provide the business with something more user friendly?

I am finding that the cost of legal services is increasingly unaffordable to many start ups and small businesses.  Either the size of the latent market is growing – for example, in society generally more people  have to set up their own businesses as the number of full-time salaried positions declines – or people are simply unwilling to pay the level of fees lawyers need to charge for their services (possibly because there are cheaper, alternatives available thanks to IT).  For this reason we have introduced a new system to provide affordable access to risk management and to our expertise.   Our press release here gives more details.

2 thoughts on “End of Lawyers and the Legal Services Act

  1. Mark Bower (Connectegrity)

    What do you think about the possibility of more Open Source contracts in the future Shireen? I am thinking along the lines of the Creative Commons and GNU Public License type of documents but applied to common business transactions. If a catalogue of widely accepted business contracts are available off the shelf and for free, the the two parties in a transaction can pick one they are both happy with and the whole cost and time of completing a business transaction is expedited for everyone, costs are reduced and all parties (possibly except the lawyers) are happy.

    1. Shireen Smith

      Hi Mark,

      You raise an interesting issue. However, it is important to note when contemplating this approach in relation to contracts for business transactions, that these agreements are rarely standard.

      I have heard that there are initiatives working to produce various ‘open source’ agreements, however the main expense is the tailoring of these documents to fit specific circumstances. While document assembly through software such as Hot Docs or similar has come a long way, these solutions often only achieve 80% of the necessary adaptation, and even then it’s after a huge amount of effort setting up the particular type of agreement.

      That is not to say that there will not be a time in the future where it is feasible that off the shelf, and assembled documents can cater for a wide range of business transactions, but at the moment that time feels quite far off.

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