Fixed fees, lower overheads, increased job flexibility, smarter technologies and the absence of a competitive partnership model – is it too good to be true? These are just a few things that characterise an alternative and emerging breed of law firms dubbed ‘NewLaw’. Firms like this are steadily disrupting the legal industry, with the potential to play a big role in shaping how legal work is carried out and services provided to clients.
The man behind the term, Eric Chin of Beaton Capital, has described NewLaw as the ‘antithesis of the BigLaw model’. It represents a fresh way of doing things, of challenging the status quo and engaging in this dialogue could help promote entrepreneurial thinking amongst lawyers and law students.
Law schools encouraging innovation
Initiatives like LWOW and ReInvent Law are testament to NewLaw thinking. They encourage students to develop skill sets that enable them to navigate the turbulent legal environment and identify opportunities. While Sydney University is among the universities participating in LWOW, Australian law schools are yet to adopt initiatives such as these that provide support and guidance for legal start-ups developed by students.
Impetus for challenging the traditional model
The NewLaw model is going to attract lawyers seeking more flexible hours, an alternative to charging clients using billable hours and also to the partnership model that characterises BigLaw.
From a bottom-line perspective, the challenges that law firms of all shapes and sizes face is that clients want ‘more for less’. Clients are less willing to pay higher fees for routine work and BigLaw firms have generally responded through cutting back on costs, graduate intakes and low-income partners. NewLaw firms seek to respond to the ‘more for less’ dilemma through delivering value to clients in more sustainable, efficient ways.
Some of the new breeds
NewLaw firms seek to offer routine work at competitive, fixed prices. In Australia, Hive Legal and AdventBalance are examples of NewLaw firms that were started by ex-BigLaw partners. Hive Legal operates as a virtual firm that enables staff to work from home. Like many other legal start-ups, it is also an advocate of fixed fees. AdventBalance also works on a fixed price basis, sending lawyers to businesses to work as in-house counsel when required.
Opportunities for graduates
For tech-savvy, entrepreneurial students, attaining a career in NewLaw may be possible sooner than expected. NewLaw firms like Rocket Lawyer advertise that the firm ‘needs law graduates to fill the sort of roles you’d typically find at startups and tech companies’. It’s likely that we’ll see many more firms like this open up in Australia as the NewLaw trend grows. This presents a big opportunity for law graduates with the skills these companies value.
Regardless of one’s view on whether NewLaw will significantly challenge BigLaw, we can be certain of one thing: the legal industry is innovating. And I for one am excited about the challenges and opportunities this will present for us all as we become NewLawyers.
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