Uberization of the Legal Market, but Not in the Way You’ve Imagined It

Today, few are the markets where talk of the threat of uberization is absent. Some markets have already led the way with Uber-like challengers already in place: hotels (Airbnb), delivery (Uber), restaurants (VizEat), cleaning (getMaid), etc. The legal market is no exception. When you discuss this topic with business lawyers, they are mostly convinced that this development will impact others, further down the value chain. The justification for this stance is generally some version of “what I do cannot be automated.” I think that in certain ways, lawyers are right to believe this: legal work, as it looks today, can’t be fully automated, and neither the sharing economy nor the on-demand economy is currently able to provide sophisticated legal services. However, by taking this position, I think that you miss out on important lessons which can be learned through looking at the revolution undergone by the market for personal transport.

Uberization has shaken highly regulated markets to their core

Both in Paris and in New York, the taxi economy is one of licenses. Artificially keeping the number of licenses down inflates the price.

The legal market, too, is regulated, if not in the exact same manner. However, the feeling that prices are kept artificially high is prevalent and lawyers are seen, whether this is true or not, as rent-seekers in a monopolistic market. What’s more, fees rarely seem to correspond to the actual added value provided to the client.

Delivery without friction

Instead of calling a taxi dispatch, waiting in line, worrying that the cab won’t accept credit cards, and then fearing for your life while the taxi driver frenetically executes the 18 different operations that the ancient GPS and taxi meter seem to require to find your address, or alternatively looking for the address yourself on Google Maps if your driver has thrown in the towel from the get-go with his or her system, then worrying about whether the route really is the shortest one… we got Uber.

With just a few clicks, your cab is ordered. You can add the destination through your app, then follow the arrival of your cab as well as your trip in real time. Do you want to share the fare? One click and it’s done. Communicate your ETA to your company? Another click away. Smooth doesn’t even begin to describe it.

With the exception of the transition from fax to emails, the delivery of legal services has not changed a whole lot. The question that needs to be asked is how the friction in the delivery of legal services could be diminished/removed. In a recent mirror survey conducted by Day One between GCs and MPs, many GCs lament the lack of innovation by lawyers, including quotes like: “Law firms haven’t come up with any new ways of charging. Invoicing is hopeless to understand. We, as a client, have to nag on them to get the details we want. We have tried flat fees, but they are very reluctant to do so. Compared to any other consulting company, they are useless with coming up with new ways of billing,” or “I’m less and less inclined to pay a lot of money for services.

New IT systems have tried to remedy some of these issues, especially within the areas of billing (SerengetiELM solutions, DOE legal, etc.) and document management (KleosLexisNexis, etc.).

So far, it would be a gross exaggeration to claim that it has become as easy to hire a lawyer as to order an Uber; however, the trend is clear. It is thus not only a question of new IT systems, but rather how you work with existing tools that can design the service and the delivery thereof to make it as smooth as possible.

Possibility of giving feedback

Uber lets both drivers and passengers rate each other. This means that undesirable behavior very soon disappears. In Paris, as in New York, cab drivers have a (possibly well-deserved) reputation for being impolite, arrogant, and far from customer-oriented. Uber has – albeit in a very radical manner – made that attitude impossible for its drivers.

In our mirror survey mentioned above, a commonly recurring comment from the GCs was that they felt like lawyers didn’t care how their services were perceived. Rarely were they asked to provide feedback on possible improvements, and several GCs expressed their surprise at how little they felt that the client was the main focus. 41.3% of the GCs mentioned the client relationship as one of the three main challenges for law firms, and some went as far as to suggest customer orientation trainings for lawyers.

Uber provided customers with an alternative

Uber is far from perfect and not adapted to all situations (for instance, it is impossible to book in advance), and it has a somewhat creative attitude towards rules and regulations. But what they have managed to do is provide a new alternative in a market which was considered by many to be very stagnated and dominated by a few big players. Many, for different reasons, still choose traditional cabs, but the historical players have undoubtedly lost market shares.

 

I don’t believe that the uberization of the legal market will follow the exact same path as transport, hotels, or restaurants. But what I do believe is that many of the favorable conditions which have made Uber and Airbnb so successful are present on the legal market as well. It is time to innovate on all levels (pricing, delivery, IT, structure, etc.) or live to see the day that a new player comes out of nowhere and becomes the obvious alternative.