What The On Demand Economy Means for Lawyers

The global economy is undergoing a shift driven by the human desire for instant gratification. There are on demand services to deliver groceries, do your laundry, walk your dog, get a document notarized, and almost anything else you can imagine now. Our smartphones are literally becoming the remote controls to our lives. But it begs the question, how will the notoriously slow-moving and stagnant legal industry respond? Read on for our thoughts about what the on demand economy means for lawyers.

The On Demand Economy

Due to their constant state of internet-connectivity and close proximity to our bodies, smartphones have opened up a new market for on demand services. Today’s on demand services take convenience to an entirely new level, and you gotta admit, it’s pretty nice as a consumer.

Just open an app, push a button, and voila – you have a ride somewhere, a date for the night, or a six pack of beer at your doorstep. Soon enough Amazon will be deliver anything to you, the same day, via a drone. Uber is so prevalent that you can get picked up in a major city in under 5 minutes, no matter where you are or what time of day it is.

But what happens when our insatiable appetite for immediate gratification comes up against services that have historically been anything but on demand or instant? Will there ever be an Uber for legal advice? (Side note: I’m only talking about legal services here, but an on demand DMV would be life changing too.)

The point is, today’s consumers have different expectations about their services, and lawyers need to think about how this might impact their business in the future. Here are several ways that we predict the on demand economy will affect lawyers and the law firm business model:

Increased Adoption of Technology and Automation in Law Firms

Law firms are already starting to increase their technology budgets, but as the on demand economy continues to evolve and grow, the rate of technology adoption in law firms is sure to follow.

Case management software is very commonplace at law firms today. But the next wave of technological innovation is likely to be more focused on process automation, which is where today’s case management systems fall short.

With clients expecting instant services in the future, law firms will have to re-think their internal processes to maximize efficiency. This is where automation comes into play, and I predict that automation will be an increasingly important emphasis in the legal technology space.

Continued Expansion of the Platform Model

Platforms are a new type of business model that arrived with the advent of the internet. Early companies like eBay, Craigslist, and Amazon have been at the forefront. Now, as we shift toward an on demand economy, the platform model is rapidly gaining traction across all verticals.

The platform model works so well because it introduces a third party between the service provider and the customer. That third party’s sole focus is to facilitate interactions between producers and consumers, making them as seamless and efficient as possible.

eBay doesn’t manufacture or sell any products itself. They just provide the technology layer to help buyers and sellers locate each other and transact. Uber doesn’t provide any transportation services. They merely connect supply and demand by matching drivers with passengers in need of a ride.

There are several early market entrants in the legal platform space, with UpCounsel and Avvo leading the way. We expect to see a continued expansion of the platform approach toward delivering legal services in the future. Read more about our vision for how the platform model will revolutionize the legal industry.

Productization of Services & Rise of Non-traditional Business Models

The legal business model has remained the same for centuries, with hourly billing being the default. But today, the hourly model is broken and in dire need of innovation. It incentivizes inefficiency, which will never fly in an on demand world.

In the future, common legal services will become standardized and sold more like products, with an emphasis on reducing the production and labor costs rather than inflating them. In addition, legal services will be priced on value as opposed to time, opening the door for new, more innovative business models to emerge.

As we have stressed before, having a systematic approach to operations is how law firms can cut down on wasted time and maximize profitability. Technology will be a key driver of this transition away from hourly billing toward alternative business models that make more sense for clients.

Summary

The shift away from a manufacturing economy toward a service economy lasted nearly half a century, and the shift toward a technology driven, on demand economy is only just getting underway. That means there is still a lot of room for innovation and new business models to emerge.

The legal industry may be slow to catch on to these major changes sweeping other industries by storm, but it’s important to take note of them and find ways to prepare for the future. We think the three key changes will be the adoption of technology and automation on a wider scale, more growth in the platform approach to delivering services, and a proliferation of new business models as legal services become more standardized.

What do you think?

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