For those lawyers and legal services sector professionals about to gather in Mumbai for IDEX Legal’s Asia Law Firm Management Congress (ALFMC) April 20th – thoughts of legal market liberalization and change hastened by technology are taking center-stage.

But what do these things mean?  And what do they mean, in particular, for the legal services sector?  For your law firm?  For your legal career?  Simply put – legal market liberalization and technology are both a challenge to — as well as an opportunity for — the legal services sector.

Identify and capitalize upon opportunities in legal market liberalization  

Many might consider liberalization to be primarily a threat to domestic Indian law firms.  But liberalization in other Asia-Pacific jurisdictions demonstrates it often takes many years to take hold. And even the most open markets curtail the activities of foreign law firms in some ways — making it necessary for domestic firms to be involved in work brought or attracted by foreign firms. These liberalizations have also often provided significant opportunity for domestic law firms to partner with foreign law firms to act for clients which they might not have acted for were it not for these new, liberalization-driven relationships.

Does liberalization mean that competition among law firms will increase?  Yes it does. Both foreign firms versus domestics firms — as well as domestic firms versus domestic firms — will see more competition as a result of liberalization. But law firms that are able to see the opportunities that economic growth and investment represents – and plan and implement strategies to capitalize upon them – can and should see positive benefits.

For example, foreign investors and companies interested in opportunities in liberalized legal markets from Japan to Korea, Singapore to Malaysia, Indonesia to Vietnam – and elsewhere in the region – have seen opportunities created for local firms who undertake proactive and informed initiatives in practice development, international alliances, human resources, business development and marketing – among other areas.

Technology is both disrupting and empowering law firms and legal services companies

Technology is a vast area of both disruption and empowerment for law firms, individual lawyers and legal services sector companies alike.  Indeed, technology applied to the legal services sector is impacting almost every aspect of legal practice — from human resources to marketing and business development, practice management to pricing of legal services.

What lawyers and legal services sector professionals might seek to come away with from the conference is a deeper understanding of the breadth and depth of change taking place as a result of technology in the legal services space globally, regionally and in India specifically.

NewLaw

For example:  Were you aware there is a fast-growing business model in law commonly referred to as NewLaw which is pioneering lower cost and often virtual secondments into the general counsels office and taking market share from traditional law firms?  These often private equity-backed NewLaw firms are rapidly expanding in the Asia-Pacific region after much success in Europe and North America.  It would be surprising if they are not soon seen in India seeking to serve the needs of general counsel here.  Axiom Law, Korum Legal, Lexvoco, LOD-Lawyers on Demand and Eversheds Agile are just a few of the NewLaw firms currently operating in places like Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia.

Legal Document Startups

Another part of the NewLaw movement is companies that offer legal documents to individuals and small and medium-sized businesses.  In the Asia-Pacific region, for example, LawPath in Australia, Dragon Law in Hong Kong and Legistify in India are leading venture capital-backed startup firms which are making access to legal documents easier and less expensive for the consumer.

B2C Lawyer Matching Services

Other firms are seeking to be a conduit between lawyers and legal consumers in the B2C legal markets.  AsiaLawNetwork.com and SingaporeLegalAdvice.com in Singapore, BurgieLaw and CanLaw in Malaysia, Bengo4.com in Japan and LegalVision in Australia are just a few examples of this rapid-growth legal services business model in the Asia-Pacific Region.

Practice Management

In the area of practice management, companies focused on helping law firms manage their caseload, price their services and hence become more profitable – are growing in size and influence in the legal services sector globally.  Firms embracing improved internal processes are likely to be best positioned for success in an increasingly price competitive, buyers market for legal services.  The EU’s LegalTrek, Canada’s Clio and RocketLawyer in the US are just a few of the firms focused on improving the internal performance of small and large firms alike throughout the world.

Business Development and Marketing

The internet has fundamentally transformed the way in which lawyers interact with current and prospective clients.  Advanced firms are utilizing blogging and social media to identify and engage with clients online – and in some cases well-designed efforts create substantial streams of inbound work.  In business development, highly competitive firms have adopted what are known as new business pipeline initiatives, staffed with trained professionals who help firms identify, pursue and capture new work, bringing in practicing lawyers only when needed to close new engagements.  This increases top-line revenue and allows practicing attorneys to focus on practicing law.

Trends and practices in this area are myriad – but prominent examples include firms that have established themselves as thought leaders in their niche such as King & Wood Mallesons with their multilingual blog China Law Insight.  And Baker & McKenzie has championed the new business pipeline model in their London and Chicago offices.  The leaders in this type of effort are the Big4 accounting firms, however, who maintain arguably the most sophisticated outbound business development initiatives in professional services in the world – some of which they apply to their growing legal services divisions in Asia.

Looking forward to Mumbai

Does some or all of this sound familiar?  For anyone in law practice today seeking competitive advantage – it should.  And at the conclusion of the Asia Law Firm Management Congress (ALFMC) – you will be more familiar with these and many other business trends impacting your practice or your legal services business. 

Posted by John Grimley

John Grimley edits and publishes Asia Law Portal and is the author of A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets. He specializes in providing writing, editing, research and strategy services to the corporate and professional services sectors. Between 2002 and 2008, he established and directed the European representative business development office of US AmLaw 100 law and public policy firm Patton Boggs LLP. At the inception of his career, he served as a writer to the President of the United States in the White House. A licensed American lawyer, he holds a Juris Doctor from the University of San Diego School of Law.

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