What is the Definition of Legal Practice?
It is providing professional, zealous, lawful, and ethical service to clients. Lawyers enter into this covenant not only with their clients but also with society, as the ultimate defenders of the rule of law. The practice consists of three primary components: legal skill, judgment, and persuasion. Whether they are involved in trials or negotiations, practicing attorneys are in the persuasive business. Persuasion requires numerous components: emotional intelligence, credibility, knowledge of the legal trade, and earning the client’s, opposing counsel’s, and the tier of fact’s faith in contentious cases. For years, legal practice was the expected professional route for the majority of lawyers.
As legal companies expanded in size — particularly between the 1970s and the global financial crisis of 2007, fewer practitioners had direct customer contact. Client competencies deteriorated, and the legal ethos shifted inward. The attorney’s supervisor(s) assumed the role of client representative. The majority of lawyers had no idea what their clients’ objectives, risk tolerance, or business issues were. Legal practice, particularly for younger practitioners, is frequently dull, repetitive, and involves a significant volume of low-value labor. Numerous lawyers developed boredom, disillusionment, and a lack of understanding of what legal practice entails from the client’s standpoint.
Generations of lawyers—particularly those in large law firms—were well-compensated cogs in the law firm machine. Their primary objective was to meet billing and realization targets in order to earn the partnership’s gold ring. It was not their responsibility to question the significance of their labor or to evaluate its value in relation to cost or outcome. High compensation distorted the true value of their clients. They were distancing themselves from the customer and concentrating their efforts on isolated slivers of concerns. This was their “rehearsal.” The firm, not the client, was the entity that needed to be served and satisfied. Firms prioritized profit-per-partner (PPP) rather than net promoter score (NPS).
Why the Legal Profession is Trailing Behind?
Numerous lawyers’ practices have been diluted. That is not an indictment on lawyers or a slight on their intelligence, diligence, or capacity to make more effective use of their license. Too many lawyers are doing precisely that, which is one of the reasons legal buyers are shifting work previously provided by law firms to alternative provider sources. Value optimization—allocating the proper resource to the appropriate task—is a critical component of the company in the digital age.
Clients continue to pay a premium for lawyers — and a select few firms — who have distinct practice talents.
This is a small group of practitioners who work “above and beyond the scope of their license” on the most high-value client situations. Legal purchasers are increasingly hesitant to pay such a premium to third parties. The universe of high-value, “bet the company” work is a tiny percentage of the total volume of legal work. This is in contrast to the go-go decades of law, during which lawyers and businesses propagated the illusion that all work was “bespoke.”
Regulators in the United Kingdom and a few other jurisdictions have permitted other professions to conduct numerous responsibilities traditionally exclusive for lawyers (“non-lawyers” in legal language). The Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) has whittled down the list of “regulated activities” – those that require the presence of registered attorneys – from a far broader range of lawyer/law firm activities. Corporate clients in the United States are voluntarily reducing that list. The concept of legal exceptionalism has been debunked. The Legal Industry Is a Reaction to Practice Inflation and the Increasing Demand for New Skills
Corporate clients, not attorneys, increasingly choose what constitutes “legal” conduct and if licensed attorneys are required (the retail legal segment is a distinct but changing tale). That is why the practice of law is diminishing while the business of delivering legal services—what we refer to as the business of law—is expanding. That is also why significant capital is being spent on “alternative legal service providers” and their market share is rapidly expanding.
The 2019 Georgetown/Thomson Reuters Report on the State of the Legal Market (The Georgetown Report) documents firm-to-firm work mobility and identifies numerous contributing causes. The Report makes the recommendation to “rebuild the legal firm model.” In a more customer-centric, digital, data-driven, technology-enabled, diversified, agile, multidisciplinary, and cost-effective marketplace, law firms continue to be practice-centric and inward-focused (in order to maximize PPP).