‘Pre’ Legalweek New York began today with various premium boot camp-style intensives but Tuesday’s ‘State of the Industry’ general session at 9AM (Grand Ballroom West) marks the official kick-off for Legalweek 2018. I had a chance to touch base with Steve Kovalan and Nicholas Bruch, both senior analysts with ALM Intelligence and tomorrow’s ‘state of the union’ session leaders.
Senior Analyst, ALM Intelligence
Senior Analyst, ALM Intelligence
Check out this insightful Q&A before you head into the session tomorrow and you might be one of the smartest (but definitely most informed) folks in the room. I attended the 2017 session, really a useful, perhaps sobering way to kick-off the conference, and was constantly reminded that law firms are (still) lousy listeners when it comes to acting on as Kovalan and Bruch put it, the ‘changing field of play’, especially in terms of new competitors and evolving client demands. So as we head into this year’s session, the elephant in the room if you will is whether law firms have made any strides in terms of recognizing change and taking proactive measures to address increasing client as well as market demands?
IL: Before we dive into some of your findings, can you tell us a bit more about your research scope and focus for this project?
ALM: When we prepare for this presentation each year we try to do two things. Firstly, we reflect on what we are hearing from law firm leaders, law department leaders, and other leaders in the legal industry. We spend a lot of time talking to people in leading roles in the industry. It is important to us that this presentation reflects on those conversations and connects to the trends they are seeing in their own businesses and the narratives that we see forming out in the legal market which try to help explain why things are moving in the way they are. The second thing we do is take a deep dive into the data to help explain some of the trends and, when needed, debunk some commonly held beliefs that aren’t supported by the data.
IL: Last year, your state of the industry session was focused on three central themes: disruption, innovation, and revolution. How does 2018 compare in terms of focus areas? SK & NB: This year’s presentation certainly touches on the themes we discussed last year. Disruption is still a major conversation in the legal industry and you will see that trend continued in this year’s presentation. Our focus this year, however, is slightly different. We want to show people what the data says about the future of the legal market and provide a coherent view of where the legal market is heading over the next decade. IL: What are the top 3 significant data points, perhaps even ‘wow moments’ you will be sharing during your session?
ALM: Different parts of the audience will find different data points more compelling so we try to put something in the presentation for everyone. We suspect individuals from law departments and ASPs will find some of the insourcing data particularly compelling; the law firm audience will find the data on billing rates and GDP growth of interest and our analysis on the future of the legal market should be compelling and thought-provoking to all.
IL: You mention that based on your data analysis, the legal industry is undergoing a significant, if subtle, shift. What are you seeing?
ALM: People tend to see things in extremes – either everything is changing or nothing is. That tendency is as true in the legal market as it is anywhere and you see it all the time. We're constantly hearing predictions about the “death of the hourly rate” or the “death of Big Law”. Our analysis suggests there is a shift happening in the legal market, but it’s not quite that dramatic. If we look at the legal market 20 years ago it was fairly straightforward – law departments managed the work and law firms did the work. This is obviously a generalization, but it is also broadly true. Law department’s primary task was deciding which law firms got what work and on what terms, while law firms did the vast majority of high and medium value work (and a fair amount of low value work). Today’s market is a bit more complex. Law departments still play the role of manager but law firms now share their market with in-house teams, alternative service providers, and increasingly, with the legal arms of The Big 4. The looming question for the future of the legal market is how all of this new competition is going to impact the space that law firms once owned. Many people seem to believe that the answer to that question is fairly straightforward – that law firms will lose market share at the expense of these new competitors. We believe the data suggests a slightly more nuanced outcome is more likely. We think some law firms will be highly successful. But we also believe that many will, indeed, loose share to new rivals. We think success in the future legal market will be based on a firm’s ability to provide a unique value proposition. Some firms will success because they have the scale to deliver services more cheaply. Others will succeed because they are profitable enough to buy the best talent. Regardless of the specific value proposition we strongly believe the market is moving to a world in which firms – whether they be law firms or ASPs – must be highly focused.
IL: Based on your analysis and insights, what major trends will be impacting the legal industry this year and further down the road?
ALM: 1. The Big 4: The Big 4 are coming for the legal market. The legal arms of the Big 4 are still largely underappreciated. We strongly believe that there is growing evidence that the Big 4 are targeting a position in the legal market which threatens law firms and traditional ASPs.
2. Consolidation: The consolidation we have seen in the legal market over the past several years is likely to continue and, probably, accelerate. We will see more law firm mergers and more ASP mergers. We believe it is highly likely that the Big 4 will go on a buying spree in the ASP market for example.
3. Divergence: The data clearly shows that there is an ever-widening gulf growing in the law firm market. Law firms are growing more and more different from each other – in terms of profitability, size and operational models. We think we will see this trend continue and probably accelerate. In 10 years full-service law firms will look dramatically different from bet the company firms.
4. Litigation Finance: The litigation finance trend has just begun and it is arguably one of the biggest and most exciting trends in the legal industry right now. It has the power to be a major force for change in the legal industry. It could, for example, spur new demand for litigation services (via an uptick in lawsuits). It could also spur changes in the way litigation is priced and managed.
5. Law Firm Failures: We have seen quite a few law firm failures in the past years. Dramatic failures – with law firms going into bankruptcy – and less dramatic ones – with failing law firms “merging” into “white knight” firms. The data suggests this trend will continue and potentially accelerate. There is significant volatility in law firm financials. Many firms can withstand a single bad year – but few are in a position to withstand two or three bad years.
6. CLOC Movement: We think the CLOC Movement – a term that we use to describe the changes going on in-house – will continue to evolve. Currently, it appears to be focused on in-sourcing. We suspect that will change in the coming years to a greater focus on vendor management and more sophisticated sourcing strategies.
IL: In 2017, you commented on the ‘changing field of play’ with various graphs and visuals. What are you seeing this year?
ALM: The trends we have seen on the client side – that we highlighted in the ‘changing field of play’ slide last year – have continued. Clients continue to report that they are in-sourcing more and that they are using ASPs more. We provide new data, particularly on the in-sourcing trend, in this year’s presentation. We're very optimistic about the future of the ASP market. In the short term, we think they have a lot of scope to grow in areas like litigation support, contracts, and due diligence. In the longer term, we think there are even more opportunities. We are less convinced about the future of the in-sourcing trend. The largest law departments may be able to effectively manage large portions of their legal work themselves. But we're not certain most departments will have the scale to compete with ASPs and law firms. We think in-sourcing is a transitionary step. As stronger alternatives grow, we suspect law departments will follow the direction of other support functions in large corporations. Most marketing departments, IT departments, and finance departments outsource large portions of their work. It is tempting to think law departments are an outlier – but we suspect they are not.
IL: Lastly, for anyone on the fence about attending your ‘state of the industry’ session on Tuesday at 9Am, what’s the one compelling reason you can give them to make this a ‘must see’?
ALM: The legal industry has gotten so large and complex over the past several years that it is easy to miss the forest for the trees. Many people live in their own bubble within the legal industry. Law firm partners are surrounded by other law firm partners. They might be highly aware of the trends within the law firm market and they probably know quite a bit about the law department trends as well. But, we suspect, most partners know very little about the happenings in the ASP world or the LegalTech world. The same can be said about individuals who work in ASPs, law departments, or LegalTech. This presentation is a chance to see the forest and the trees at once. To be able to see how the corner of the legal industry fits into the broader picture. We think that is incredibly valuable for most people, particularly business leaders. We are focused on what the data can tell us. We base our findings on imperial evidence, on analysis of large longitudinal data sets. Presentations like this one are meant to bring together some of our best research from the past year to provide business leaders with a set of facts to help them better understand the marketplace.
Get your Legal Week Tuesday started right by attending this state of the legal industry session at 9AM in Grand Ballroom West.