Disruption to go by Doug Hargrove, Advanced Legal

This article was also featured as a column in the September 2016 issue of Legal Practice Management magazine. To read the issue in full, download LPM magazine.

Change isn’t anything new, it’s just another word for evolution, but disruption is certainly one of the words of the decade, and one that is usually connected to revolution – a significant alteration to the status quo and one that has far more immediate impacts.

Disruption is also the go-to word for business commentators – especially “disruptive tech” – when talking about new business start-ups or innovations. Take the very latest craze to hit the headlines; Pokémon Go has seemingly gripped the world these last few weeks with stock valuations heading skyward and comments about the app “disrupting” mobile gaming.  But there is nothing disruptive about the game, it takes and utilises technology that’s been around for nearly a decade (geo-location and augmented reality specifically) and applies it in a new way, and it’s that application of technology that is causing the disruption.

Firms like Uber and Netflix have built compelling business models upon the groundwork of technology that is now pervasive (the smartphone and broadband internet respectively).  There is a lot here that law firms can learn from – it’s not necessarily about inventing new technology but finding ways to use existing technology to create a new approach.

So what opportunity is there for law firms to disrupt? This can be looked at in two ways – disruption to the existing law firm business model and disruption to the user experience. The first scenario has already been covered at length and is actually nothing new for the legal market, there are already plenty of law firms out there looking to change the way a law firm delivers its services to its clients and prospects – from franchise models to virtualised law firms. Disruption to the law firm business model has been an ongoing force ever since the term ABS became associated with legal practices.

The second scenario is a different matter. It seems legal clients have been patiently waiting for the “disruptive service delivery” model to come and there is plenty of opportunity out there for law firms to position themselves differently with the modern consumer of legal services.

Take a brief example of where old (or rather existing) technology can be used to differentiate; video-conferencing. Today it’s a fairly ubiquitous piece of technology thanks to the rise of Skype, Facetime and the Webcam, it gives an instant user experience and a 1-2-1 connection that bridges the remoteness of a phone call with the need to travel for a meeting. It doesn’t take much of a leap to imagine a service that allows consumers to instantly access a lawyer using this technology (maybe even a concept that combines the franchise model with an Uber Style app – connecting clients to the next available expert from a selection of associated law firms).

The point is – you don’t have to invent something new to be a disruptor - don’t be afraid to take existing technology and repurpose it to gain a competitive advantage. There are plenty of consumers of legal services who are willing to try out a new service or offering in the search for that great new experience – and for those law firms prepared to take the risk and disrupt there really is an opportunity to catch them all!

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