Report from Innovative Legal Services Forum 2018 Part 3 – Law firm or un-firm organizations

Alex Hamilton, CEO Radiant Law, took the stage at the Innovative Legal Services Forum in Prague with the bold mission to share his own failures. Already in 2009 he was quite the talk of the town with his “Jerry Maguire mission statement”. This refers to an internal memo that Alex Hamilton wrote when he was a Partner at Latham & Watkins, explaining why he believes that changed expectations among clients over pricing is one of the key elements driving disruption in the legal market, and why law firms need to provide clients better value and service through use of technology and process. Frustrated by his partners’ lack of interest in innovation, he sent the memo to Latham’s Executive Committee urging it to implement innovations that could improve client satisfaction and profitability. When his recommendations were ignored, Alex Hamilton left Latham & Watkins and founded Radiant Law in 2011, with a vision to set-up a firm that was ‘less lawyer like’ and that could provide better services to the clients. However, the way to structure the new business turned out to be harder than expected, since the employees were lawyers and tended to turn back to acting like a law firm when under stress. “It’s a nightmare to get my lawyers to behave non-lawyerly,” Alex Hamilton admitted, and quoted Thomas Edison about the lessons learned, “I didn’t fail a thousand times, I learned a thousand ways what did not work.” Alex Hamilton’s solution to this problem was to bring in people with other skills to create a multifunctional team and a completely new organizational structure.

Another mistake Alex Hamilton brought up was the ambition to build their own tools. Now all the original technology has been replaced by purchased one. Alex Hamilton also made some predictions about the future of legal departments and of the legal service development onwards; foremost that the development will come from the side, from players outside the legal sector.

There is a lot of exciting new innovative solutions aimed at consumers being launched at the moment, like the DoNotPay parking ticket appeal and flight refunds robot, the ClaimCompass flight refunds tool and the JustFix help for housing justice claims. None of these new solutions have been created within the legal sector. Access to justice solutions that meets a new demand to private persons, is being created by small players outside the legal sector.

Friedrich Blase continued to discuss the issue with law firm organisations by talking about the un-firm concept. For professional services firms that have the guts for it, there are opportunities out there. So far, there is no legal service provider, in-house or external, that really is in the business of running a legal department.

When asked why there is so little private equity investment in law firms, Friedrich Blase, explained that in most countries, law firms are not allowed to, or want to, take external investment. But also, that any private equity player being interested in investing in law firms, must be insane as “law firms are basically a bunch of egos held together by central heating”.

Referring back to Alex Hamilton’s generous sharing of his failures, Nilema Bhakta-Jones, Chief Executive Officer Alacrity Law, blaimed Batman for all failures in the legal sector, i.e. Boss, Apathy, Time, Money, Always done it that way and Not my job.

She then presented successful case studies where innovation actually had been successful, such as Vodafone, whose in-house legal team was won the Financial Times Innovative Lawyers Award 2017 for it’s innovating across a range of operational areas, with comprehensive contract management systems and processes, a new talent programme, and in helping the business develop new services. Read more here: “In-house lawyers are the new pathfinders”

Nilema Bhakta-Jones concluded that cross-functional teams collaborating within a culture that permits failure is the best basis for creativity and innovation. The lone genius is a myth. Or at least, very rare.

When summarizing the day, we can refer to a thoughtful quote that Friedrich Blase shared. It was a from the Nokia CEO Stephen Elop who had experienced how Nokia suddenly, after dominating the mobile industry, was made more or less irrelevant by iPhone and other smartphones:

“We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost.”

If you do not want to become irrelevant to the legal services market you ought to start focusing on your strategy and how to make your business truly relevant to the legal services market for the future.

Read all our posts from Innovative Legal Services Forum 2018: