In today’s global economy, businesses must find new ways to do business for less money. This is particularly true when buying legal counsel and legal services. As a result, clients analyze and question the costs and work associated with each invoiceable item.
Common questions raised include which services can be outsourced. Must every service be provided by a licensed legal professional? Is an alternative legal services provider available who can deliver equivalent work at a lower price? Are we free to shop around for competitive rates for this service?
Understanding Legal Services
When businesses and individuals recognize a need to address a legal problem, they often turn to a lawyer or a law firm to supply the services they need. After all, lawyers and lobbyists have a penchant for defining what we think we need. In fairness, the availability of standalone providers of legal services, such as language translation providers and technical and industry experts, is a fairly new concept that was not widely available until recently.
However, today many types of legal services have become decoupled from law firms and are available from a range of independent service providers operating in the legal services field. While not operating under the direct oversight of licensed law professionals, these independent providers are trusted by leading law firms, businesses, government agencies and individuals to complete legally admissible projects.
Because these firms focus solely on providing specific services, they operate far more efficiently, while producing better, faster and more affordable results. Separation of legal services from primary and specialized work performed by lawyers represents a paradigm shift from when law firms delivered all services related to legal matters.
Often the package of legal work that you or your business needs consists of two pieces, a legal practice piece and a legal services piece. Legal practice requires licensed professionals who can understand the circumstance, interpret law, develop legal strategy, and argue a defense.
On the other hand, legal services consists of the ancillary services that support the work of attorneys. Usually, these services are not completed by licensed legal professionals. Instead, legal services are increasingly provided by experts who focus on a niche job function. Some examples include language translation services, graphic design, presentation and video creation, statistical analysis, technical or occupational consultancy, and investigative services.
The differentiation and decoupling between the roles of a lawyer or law firm and the role of specialized service providers is changing the way legal services are offered and purchased. While continuing to target their services to law firms, providers of legal services are marketing their expertise directly to clients of law firms, further discrediting the belief that only law firms can deliver legal services and that legal services are so closely linked to a particular case that they can be provided only by the law firm.
The Evolving Legal Market
At the same time, law firms are becoming smaller and more specialized. Law-firms today frequently have in-house professionals who can provide expert ancillary services in language translation, desktop publishing, statistical analysis, graphic design, private investigation and presentation development. By no longer offering these services, specialized law firms have found that they can get higher quality, more efficient alternatives from independent services.
This practice also allows law firms to focus long-term business objectives on improving the delivery of the services they offer, while continuing to command premiums for their own expertise. However, generalized and non-specialized law firms may fear a loss in profitability if they outsource these specific legal services unless they can develop a specialized skill set that allows them to command higher fees.
In contrast, less profitable firms will continue to find ways to invoice for legal services. Instead of focusing on maximizing the value of their own legal knowledge and experience, they will continue to promote the notion that only lawyers can provide legal services. To a client, legal services have simply been an invoiced item defined by however their attorney wants to define them, since attorneys set the prices, requirements, and delivery dates for services.
Resistance to Change
With the availability of independent legal services providers, clients increasingly want to shop around for competitive providers to handle the various facets of their work. Consequently, law firms are breaking from the inefficient business model that forces clients to use overpriced in-house services.
Further, in-house models typically lack the managerial and investment focuses to continuously improve and streamline costs. This shortcoming permits clients to find faster and higher quality ancillary services that offer significant savings. However, the legal industry is very conservative and resistant to change, even as their clients demand more pricing transparency, efficiency and options.
Change rarely keeps pace with today’s hyper-competitive business world’s demands for greater efficiency. Even so, responsive law-firms understand these economic and financial pressures and are slowly adapting to them.