Future Framework for Legal Practice: How to operate a law firm in larger interconnected ecosystems (Part 3)

The Bridging Environment completes the current iteration of the Future Framework for Legal Practice in expanding the vision of the future of legal service providers. This Environment is where the legal service providers interact with other businesses and integrate into a broader ecosystem. I

August 31, 2020

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Future Framework for Legal Practice: How to operate a law firm in larger interconnected ecosystems (Part 3)

As I have explored in my series here on Legal Tech Weekly, the current models of law firms are not designed to benefit from the efficiency and scalability of technology. In the same vein, the technology being developed does not exclusively consider the realities of the current mode of practice, but are designed with a future ecosystem in mind. The Future Framework for Legal Practice is a conceptual framework designed to assist firms in building technology capabilities by reimagining the way a legal practice operates. Using this framework, law firms and other parallel businesses can build new businesses leveraging disruptive technologies.

In the last article, we explored both the Internal and External Environments, the thinking and rationale behind them and how in combination they form the core capacity of a future-facing Legal Practice. In the third and final article, we explore the Bridging Environment and go through the thinking behind why it exists and the way in which it expands the possibilities of your now transforming legal practice, bringing exciting opportunities with it.

The Bridging Environment completes the current iteration of the Future Framework for Legal Practice in expanding the vision of the future of legal service providers. This Environment is where the legal service providers interact with other businesses and integrate into a broader ecosystem. Importantly, the Bridging Environment goes beyond asking you what tech stacks or processes you would like between your Internal and External Environments, it now asks where you would like to be situated in the larger market of legal service providers and what opportunities and conveniences you create alongside other stakeholders.

The Bridging environment 

The Bridging Environment is where you establish a connection between the core capabilities within the practice you have developed through your tech-stacks and the larger ecosystem which you interact with as part of your business.

One of the fundamental shifts in a future of law reality is the seamless interconnectedness of all parallel services and industries. It involves a constant and steady stream of relevant data and information, some of which will be used to form your differentiation in the market.

Like the previous two Environments, the Bridging Environment is broken down into sub-areas - two to be exact - which serve to help you better understand what tools you may wish to utilise in the existing (and future) market. They also help you define what areas of industry you would like to operate in. 

In the current version of the Framework, the Bridging Environment is built up of:

  • API and Platform Integrations
  • Data Streams

API and Platform Integrations

This section is about how the legal service providers connect their knowledge and capability, or “work” into the greater market, how they incorporate themselves as nodes in the greater infrastructure. Creating API - Application Programming Interface - capabilities means clients (usually larger ones) and collaborators can have access to the services you have built through their identifiable key and you can stream your outputs or “work” to them.

Think of your Practice as a fountain, would you want to improve the ability for others to drink from the fountain? What mechanisms have you developed that allows people who want water to recognise that your fountain is easily accessible and available? Importantly, are you using universally accepted “signs” so that clients can spot your fountain and know how to use it? Whatever the Internal and External Environment functions you have designed - you will need a way to deliver your work and collaborate with other businesses.

It is important for you to prepare for this reality and to recognise how your practice can benefit from the emerging future marketplace, where others are doing the same.

One of the other reasons for this capability is to collaborate with other legal service providers who specialise in other areas of law or deliver complementary services. Much like how smaller firms will either be approached by larger ones or vice versa in order to tackle a larger piece of work, we can see that future collaboration amongst legal service providers using this model will have bridging environments that allow a consortium or syndicate to form seamlessly in order to service even the largest projects. This collaborative capacity also indicates the leverage those who run the Future Framework for Legal Practice will have regardless of size. Those who wish to specialise and build specific capabilities will be as valuable as the largest legal service providers who have extended resources. Capabilities will be versatile and scalable.

The second layer of interaction APIs create is allowing Aggregators, of which the first inklings are emerging in the market (One specialised early example is ReynenCourt.com and more recently Amazon’s attempt at traditional aggregation with recent IP offering), to produce a platform which will give “click of a button” integration convenience to clients small and large alike. Once the buyer has compared the services against the metrics of the Aggregator (potentially including reviews, ratings, categorisation, etc.) they can select a service and tap into the capabilities of your firm, with the clear transparency of what capability is being delivered and how much it will cost (including responsive charging depending on scope and scale, how much it taxes your internal business functions, how much extra human capacity is required, etc.)

Data Streams

Where the API and Platform integrations allow you to send your “work” in a streamlined way and/or collaborate with other firms, Data Streams are about what information is reported between businesses.

Data streams present a substantial opportunity for parallel industries to begin to develop and interact with the Legal industry. It also serves to assist the Legal industry itself, in the role of compliance and running a practice according to the requirements of the jurisdiction.

There are several parallel industries that work alongside the legal industry, from accounting to finance, to the public sector etc. The business of law itself is something that is sustained by these parallel industries both in terms of support services that lawyers require, and by being clients of legal service providers.

Imagine a situation for example, where a Financial Institution develops products that respond to the specific cash flow requirements of mid-sized firms. This is not a new scenario, however, imagine a product that would essentially establish a data stream between the financial institution and the legal service provider where they can monitor bottom-line revenue of the legal service provider. Based on the conditions of that product, the Financier can then inject funds within a certain pre-approved range when the revenue hits a certain predefined low. In this situation, both the Financial Institution and the legal service providers have what they need - delivered to them in a streamlined manner.

Another example which would generate a whole plethora of startups and business globally: Trust Account monitoring/auditing. Whether serviced by accounting, the Law Society or Bar Associations, or the Regulator of the jurisdiction. Most jurisdictions have extensive requirements for the legal service provider holding money in trust. A legal service provider equipped with Bridging capabilities could establish a data stream with a company that is accredited in the jurisdiction to monitor and audit money held in trust using this system of interaction. In this situation, the work for auditing and maintaining trust money is managed for the legal service provider and the compliance is upheld by the Regulator in a streamlined way with minimal impact to the business and greater oversight to identifying trouble situations.

To be clear, these examples are not suggesting an increase in policing. Certainly, there are nuances and a first principle approach to ethics, privacy and security which must be considered in all applications of technology. The examples serve to open your imagination to the possibilities and effectiveness of the Future Framework for Legal Practice in an emerging reality.

Implications for the future of legal practice

This framework takes into consideration not just how the core function of a law firm of the future would operate, but also how the legal service provider works inside of an ecosystem that includes businesses not directly providing legal services. While the details of the Future Framework for Legal Practice are directed to those who would most use them (owners of legal service providers and Lawyers), it is equally for those who would be audacious enough to build around them.

One of the glaring opportunities considered through the Future Framework for Legal Practice is the existence of multiple blockchain-based exchanges that would be accessible through the bridging environment providing reliable, secure and private data-streams. Whether the focus is the finance or audit examples given in this article or any other emergent needs, third parties are invited to build environments built on the need for trusted information exchange.

My wish for you is to draw inspiration and guidance from this new paradigm shift whether you are a law firm partner, senior or just starting out, a sole owner, student, intern, administrator or technologist. Even those working in parallel industries can apply this thinking to their own work and approach to the legal industry. This vision of a future facing law firm should provide you with a drive and passion for pursuing a creative reimagining of what practising law can be. The framework also creates many spaces and gaps for other areas within the industry and parallel industries that can be filled with new companies serving new purposes. If you feel inspired by an idea that would complement this framework but not be directly related, my hope is that you pursue it vigorously.

FutureLab.Legals vision for sharing this framework

The pace of change around the legal industry is unprecedented. We face a fundamental challenge in the transition away from models that have served us for a hundred years or more, an opportunity for all to consider at whatever size or level of practice. The major gap between the developments being made using technology and those who wish to embrace them is education. Education unlocks potential and enables people to make sense of this new world. 

This is why the Future Framework for Legal Practice was created; enabling you to embrace the changes in the ecosystem and empowering you to build or transform your way of practice. It encourages a new way of thinking about the practice and business of law and allows those who want to transform or build a legal service provider leverage the opportunity technology brings now and into the future.

Using the Future Framework for Legal Practice as inspiration, It is our hope at FutureLab.Legal that this series of articles give rise to more businesses that will aim to service the legal ecosystem. FutureLab.Legal’s vision of the future of law is to “raise the tide for all boats”, increasing understanding and opening minds to possibility so that those who wish to step into this new reality can take courage in doing so. We are always available for those who wish to make that change and will continue to work across the various stakeholders in the industry to step into the Future of Law.

FutureLab.Legal - The Future of Law is in our hands.

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