For the longest time, the legal profession seemed immune to change — particularly in Asia. But the long overdue modernisation of the industry is now proceeding apace, creating a host of challenges and opportunities that are shaping the future of legal services.

In recognition of the rapidly evolving landscape, In-House Community hosted its inaugural Legal Inno’Tech Forum in association with Axiom in June. The event, which was also co-hosted by Blackberry and Navigant, brought together legal decision-makers and innovators to discuss these disruptive changes and share ideas on how to avoid being left behind.

Kirsty Dougan, head of Asia at Axiom, knows a thing or two about that. Welcoming the attendees, she shared her experience of pioneering a new, disruptive legal services model in Asia in 2010 — when she was told repeatedly that Asia wasn’t ready and that Axiom’s model couldn’t work.

Mitch Kowalski

Mitch Kowalski

Such attitudes were not surprising from an industry that had not changed much in more than a century. Today, preservation is all about innovation. The forum’s opening speaker, Mitch Kowalski, a Fastcase 50 Global Legal Innovator and author of Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century, explained that tomorrow’s leading legal service providers will be those that take an enterprise approach to legal services — those who see law as a team sport.

“The current legal services delivery model is at the end of its natural lifecycle,” said Kowalski. “And the only people who don’t know it are members of the legal profession.”

That observation paved the way for the second session, which comprised a selection of the few legal professionals in Asia who not only recognise the mortality of the current model but are actively working to innovate new legal services.

The panel comprised Nick Seddon, director of Seddon And Co; Bill Novomisle, founder and chief design officer of In-Gear Legalytics; and Crystal Lalime, head of global markets legal for Asia Pacific at Credit Suisse; and was moderated by Dougan.

The first panel session

The first panel session

There was broad agreement that the traditional law firm model is no longer fit for purpose. As stock brokers and accountants recognised long ago, partnerships make it difficult to invest in technology and to be innovative, but law firms just can’t shake the habit. A big part of the problem, Novomisle argued, is that the billable-hour model means that inefficiencies are profitable.

Clients are not waiting for law firms to get their act together. Lalime and other in-house lawyers at major financial institutions, for example, are already investing significant sums in automation and technological solutions that can allow them to do more with less. As an added benefit, these innovations are also freeing in-house lawyers to spend more time with their internal clients, which means greater synergy and more added value.

Peter Connor

Peter Connor

However, it was not all doom and gloom for Big Law. In-House Community’s Patrick Dransfield cited the example of the music industry’s “Napster moment” as a potential source of optimism for law firms. Despite being completely oblivious to the changing preferences of their customers, the big four music labels have remained dominant even as the industry has been turned on its head by digital disruptors — from the original peer-to-peer sharing platforms such as Napster to Apple’s iPod and modern streaming services such as Spotify.

Outlining a more proactive approach, Peter Connor, founder and chief executive of Alternatively Legal, argued that lawyers will need to learn a range of non-traditional skills to adapt and thrive in the future. These include process improvement, technology, risk management, design thinking, project management, business partnering and change management.

The final panel session

The final panel session

The final session of the day took a more detailed look at some of the specific technologies that are shaking up the industry, including artificial intelligence, regulatory technology, data protection and e-discovery, with panellists Fred Chan, director of Navigant; Michael Lin, US patent attorney and partner at Marks & Clerk; Matthew Kendrick, general counsel for Daimler Greater China; Rebecca Bradburne, head of BlackBerry Workspaces for Asia-Pacific & Japan; and Ronald Yu, director of Gilkron.

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