Three Ways Legal Can Change To Thrive In The Future

May 6, 2014

Miriam RiveraMiriam Rivera did not mince words during a presentation at Thomson Reuters’ Eagan campus on April 25: “We cannot continue to do business as usual.”

Rivera ought to know. As a co-founder of Ulu Ventures, a Silicon Valley angel investment fund, she has what David Curle, Thomson Reuters’ Director of Strategic Competitive Intelligence, called a “front row seat to what’s going on in the industry.” What she sees from that front-row seat is an industry in which complacent law operations will be vulnerable to legal startups if they do not respond to market changes and pressures.

Overall, Rivera’s message was that clients have traditionally felt that law firms and legal departments have operated like a “black box”:  ‘“We put something into it and we don’t know what’s going to come out of it until the end,” she said, paraphrasing what others have told her about their experiences working with legal teams. “And we don’t know why it takes so long.”

That, Rivera said, is not going to cut it anymore: “Our clients just aren’t willing to pay the kind of money for The Black Box answer that they used to be,” she said.

To adapt the industry, Rivera suggested changes that fall along three lines:

  • Give your clients information, and make it actionable: In the era of Big Data, there is no reason to come to any meeting empty-handed. Lawyers need to know that their clients are working with lots and lots of data and expect that they are, too. “That means you have information for me in addition to expertise,” River said. “If I don’t even have the raw data to be able to make informed decisions, it gets pretty frustrating.” This all should not be taken to mean that tables and graphs without context will do, though: “What does it help people to do? That is the next-level question,” Rivera said. “How do we make information more available and more useful?”
  • Run Legal like a business: “Satisfaction does matter,” Rivera said. The problem here is that some attorneys are used to a black-and-white world where a result is what it is because that is what the law says it is. Rivera thinks law firms and legal departments need to make the experience of working with them better and more clear. Some in the legal industry have lost a sense of customer service, especially around the deliverables, and that makes their clients more likely to explore other options.
  • Offer predictability and reliability: Today, clients expect a clearer picture of potential outcomes than they did in the past. Now, can anyone predict the future? Of course not. But lawyers can offer their clients a reasonable forecast. “I think we can still talk to our clients about trade-offs and the choices they have to make,” River said. “The kinds of things clients are looking for is business advice. It isn’t like I can get rid of the legal risk, but I can inform the client about the ways of dealing with it and the pros and cons of each.”