Is your legal practice feeling uncomfortable? Well, get used to it

[Australasian Law Management Journal,General Management,Marketing & Business Development,Strategy & Leadership,Technology] September 18, 2019

In the face of innovative technology platforms that will redefine the way legal services are provided, law firms must not make the same mistake as big banks and abandon the advantages that trusted relationships have long delivered, writes Trish Carroll.

In today’s world of disruption, get comfortable being uncomfortable. That was the headline of a story in the Wealth section of The Australian on September 3, 2019, and it made me think of how apt a saying it is for the legal market – especially after I turned to the technology section and read a story about Sprintlaw.

Sprintlaw has automated low-value work, made it more affordable and used an online delivery platform akin to many of the businesses with which we interact as consumers, such as banks, airlines, telecommunications companies and insurers. Its business strategy is to re-imagine legal services for small business by developing and using custom-built legal management technology, as well as more than 100 intelligent bots to automate tasks. Check out this video http://www.sprintlaw.com.au/about  and you will begin to see the value of Sprintlaw’s value proposition and business strategy.

Disruptive effect

Small business is the backbone of the Australian economy. It’s also the backbone of many smaller law firms’ client bases. Any partners of law firms who predominantly advise small business and start-up businesses should have shivers running down their spines at the thought of Sprintlaw scaling up and doing its first significant equity raising to power the growth of its business.  The business owners, Alex Solo and Tomoyuki Hachigo, were quoted in the article saying: “We are ready to scale up because there is plenty of opportunity across the domestic market. You have 16,000 suburban lawyers servicing their local geographies and we think we can disrupt them by becoming a mass service provider.” I think they’re talking about suburban NSW in this quote, but it hardly seems a stretch for Sprintlaw’s ambitions to soon surpass NSW.

This is the new frontier of legal entrepreneurialism. They have funded Sprintlaw so far on the smell of an oily rag.  Imagine what is possible when they raise some serious money. Sprintlaw’s two founders may turn out to be the legal industry’s equivalent to Atlassian’s founders, Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar. They financed their start-up with credit card debt to launch its flagship product, Jira, a project and issue tracker in 2002. In 2004, they released Confluence, a team collaboration platform that lets users work together on projects, co-create content, and share documents and other media assets. A $60 million capital raising followed and the rest is history. Atlassian, now dominates the world market for collaborative software development.

Big plans

Sprintlaw is now targeting bigger companies and has developed Sprintlaw Counsel, which helps outsource business-as-usual legal work. And let’s face it, that’s the rump of any organisation’s legal work – it’s where the majority of the money is spent.  This should make all of those law firms who specialise in providing business-as-usual legal services to the corporate marketplace a little on edge, too.

Sprintlaw says it is a technology business.  Interesting.

Richard Susskind, the legendary legal futurist speaking at the UK Law Society’s law management section annual conference in 2016, warned the profession that “you have five years to reinvent the legal profession”.  He said artificial intelligence would move forward at such a pace in the coming years that systems would be able to diagnose and respond to clients’ legal problems.  He also said: “In the 2020s, we will see technologies that change the way we work – you are no longer face-to-face advisers, you are a person putting in systems and processes. It is not that there are no jobs in the future, but the 2020s will be a decade of redeployment, not unemployment. It is not an emergency, but over the next five years we have to prepare. More and more legal services will be enabled by the support of new technology. You can say that is for the technology industry to sort out, or you can be part of the technology industry.”

Sprintlaw appears to be acting on Susskind’s advice.

Striking back

What can law firms, big, small or in-between do to compete with the likes of Sprintlaw? It’s a good question and brings me back to the relevance of the headline about getting comfortable being uncomfortable.  It also makes me think about the true value of genuinely trusted relationships and their ability to combat the likes of Sprintlaw.

Law firms need to learn from the mistakes of the banks when they relegated genuine relationship banking to a purely digital experience or the retail sector which, by not investing in better customer service and product knowledge, made shopping online faster and preferable.  If there is no relationship, then the client or customer may as well go online and sort it out for themselves. But if you have genuine trusted relationships, if your firm is streamlining processes to make service delivery an efficient and pleasant experience, and if you make the cost more affordable, then perhaps you have a competitive advantage against the likes of Sprintlaw … at least for a while.

Trish Carroll, Principal of Galt Advisory, helps law firms devise and implement successful marketing and business development strategies and she has no relationship with Sprintlaw. She can be contacted at trish@galtadvisory.com.au.