CY4OR have published a paper written by me called Make another firm’s risk your competitive opportunity. CY4OR’s main business is electronic disclosure and litigation support, forensic data collection, and digital forensics for civil and criminal proceedings. It has wider interests, however, having, for example, recently taken part in seminars about social media for law firms which were concerned as much with appropriate policies as with the eDiscovery / eDisclosure implications which comprise CY4OR’s principle concern.
Their work also gives them the opportunity to see at first hand which firms are getting to grips with the implications of modern technology and which are not. I have been similarly talking and writing beyond my narrow subject of eDisclosure and into broader aspects, including subjects like social media and wider matters of law firm competitiveness and marketing. eDisclosure is one example of an area which holds both threats and opportunities for lawyers, and much the same is true of social media.
The paper’s broad purposes set out in its opening paragraph which reads as follows:
Even without the new competition brought by the Legal Services Act, law firms need increasingly to find ways to distinguish their practices from those of rivals, both by what they offer as services and by the channels which they use to publicise their skills. Their skills are only one of the discriminating features which they must promote – clients expect service offerings to be packaged in a way which is attractive both financially and in terms of how they meet objectives and mesh with the client’s own way of working. In addition, lawyers need to find ways to personalise their services in a world which is increasingly commoditised and anonymous.
Technology developments bring risks and threats to clients and corresponding risks and threats to their lawyers, both in their own capacity as businesses and as advisers who are expected to identify and anticipate their clients’ risks. A claim is brought by or against a client and the evidence which might resolve that claim one way or another lives in Facebook or on an employee’ iPad. Will you think to ask about such sources and devices, whether of your own client or of the other side? Do you have at least a lay understanding of what such devices might contain and how it might be extracted? You may never think to ask the question if your own firm has not thought about it for the purposes of its own business.
There are opportunities here as well. Moving beyond such reactive work, there is new business to be won by those who shape up better than their rivals at a beauty parade or on a competitive tender.
My CY4OR paper considers these points, with others, as part of a broad set of suggestions as to the minimum amount of information which a lawyer ought to have about current technology, whether or not he or she uses such things personally. The conclusion reads as follows:
All these things lie at the crossroads between legal and technical implications. Between them, they touch on matters which concern legal business departments beyond those which deal with contentious business and which relate also to the work of IT departments and marketing departments. The fact that no one person or department has an overview of all these things is perhaps one reason why they are neglected in many firms. They do, however, separately and together, represent areas of both risk and an opportunity for law firms at a time when others are keen to make inroads into work which has traditionally been done by lawyers. They provide reasons why solicitors (and barristers) may think it helpful to understand more about the pervasiveness and the potential uses of modern technology and to think how they might use it for themselves.
This paper was written before the recent spate of material, reported here and elsewhere, which elaborate on the same theme, including recent speeches by Richard Susskind. Much of that has been at a high level; this paper gets down to some specific examples of areas where lawyers might either lose the plot or win work from less well-prepared rivals.