06 June 2019

Legalpreneurs Spotlight - Breaking Through The Traditional Legal Model

Published on 06 June 2019

The law was not made by women. Law firms were, historically speaking, rarely led by women. Yet from law school to the law firms, women are coming to dominate the legal profession. Senior professionals with more than 50 years combined experience in law firms, Allison Warburton, Belinda Marschke and Bronwyn Eynon-Lewis, knew the time had come for the profession to change with the times. That is why they launched Lacuna Legal Providers. Lacuna is not a law firm but provides business support, administration services and a community to a team of senior and very experienced lawyers who are working independently.

Firms to fit women, not just men

“We previously had careers in large private law firms,” said the founders of Lacuna Legal Providers. “We saw a lot of senior lawyers struggling to fit their modern lives into very traditional law firm operating models.  Law firms are trying to adjust, but their structures can make the pace of change very slow.”

Rather than fight a long-established structure, the founders opted to build an entirely new approach to law.

“We established Lacuna Legal Providers to provide a new way for experienced lawyers to operate in private practice,” said Allison. “Traditionally, there were benefits for lawyers to practice collectively in a larger firm. These had to do with economies of scale – spreading the cost of the necessary business support services across a larger group of lawyers – and benefits of community – firms could provide a sense of collegiality and a source of work referrals.”

Technology, however, levelled the playing field. No longer were these economies of scale solely the province of larger firms.

“Technology enables lawyers to now run their own legal practices and gives lawyers much greater control over how they manage their working lives,” observed Belinda, who last year helped her husband David set up as an independent practitioner. “The trick is to understand the technology available on the market and how it can help lawyers in their day to day practice.  The volume of apps, software, and offerings that cater to lawyers is now simply overwhelming for many. Our challenge has been to sift through and understand these offerings to find the best fit for the lawyers we support.”

Lacuna’s prime advantage is its ability to make quick and agile decisions about what technology works for the firm and the lawyers it supports. This is made possible by their highly complementary perspectives. Belinda brings expertise around finance and practice management, while Allison brings experience and knowledge of legal practice, and Bronwyn delivers an in-depth understanding of business development and client retention.

Legal innovation nothing new, but pace is accelerating

While legal innovation is not new, the pace of change and adoption of new technology is accelerating. This is what challenges the profession most.

“There are now so many more ways to practise law than the traditional pathways of carving out a career in a private firm or seeking a more commercial skill set as an employed inhouse counsel,” Allison observed.  “Legal careers can be much more flexible and dynamic than they once were.”

They have seen two key trends emerge in the sector. The first is the significant and rapid growth in legal labour hire services, such as Lawyers on Demand, NextLegal, Keypoint Law and similar offerings from law firms.

“Clients are seeking greater value from their legal spend and find these services with a lower cost structure very attractive,” said Bronwyn.

Secondly, they are seeing a move towards multidisciplinary services, where lawyers work alongside accounting, IT, project management and other professionals to offer clients a more integrated service.

 “These trends offer new opportunities for lawyers,” said Belinda, “But it is essential that lawyers are able to articulate and demonstrate their value in the integrated service offering rather than risk commoditising their contribution in that service.”

Disruption is catching

The founders decided to launch Lacuna after observing key trends, both in the legal industry and in adjacent sectors.

“Industry disruption can be like the flu – it's caught from the people around you,” the founders agree. “From where we sit, AI and machine learning look set to play a much larger role in the provision of legal advice and, hopefully, will reduce the cost of access to justice for many.”

However, the human factor should never be overlooked.

“Laws are ultimately creatures of culture, not mathematics. They grow and evolve as a community’s knowledge and expectations evolve. The human element of law will always be important.” 

Likewise, lawyers are best advised to see how other professionals have responded to disruption in their sectors.

“The pace of innovation and disruption will not slow. To respond effectively, lawyers need to be adaptable and have a clear strategy around adoption of technology, delivery of innovation and the resulting advantages for them, their clients and the wider community.”

Keep challenging the status quo

The new generation of lawyers know no time before iPhones, innovation, technology and connectivity. According to the founders of Lacuna Legal Providers, this is an advantage that should never be lost.

“Stay curious and keep challenging the status quo,” urged Belinda. “Curiosity will save young lawyers from becoming complacent and should not be limited to being just about the law.”
Much can be learned from young lawyers to help the profession stand out from the crowd and effectively adapt to meet the expectations of the next generation of businesspeople.

 “Find your voice early and don’t be afraid to fail – it is the best learning experience you will have,” said Bronwyn. “Focus on your soft skills – communication, building relationships, maintaining client networks and emotional intelligence – as well as your technical and technology skills. Employers of the future will be looking for these skills and it could be what makes you stand out in a crowded market. Build these skills now and keep developing them – there is always more to learn from other people, experience, and new ways of doing things. Keep learning! Legal careers are going to continue to change so be across the changes, look to other industries and bring new ideas to the table.”

Time is a lawyer’s most precious commodity

“Few of us are in the head space for thinking about the future after we get through a day of client meetings, supporting our internal team and dealing with administration requirements,” said Allison. “The Centre for Legal Innovation is an amazing resource which collects and collates for us a vast array of ideas and information.  It has a central role to play in helping lawyers at all stages of their career understand what is in the marketplace and how it can be applied to their own practice or career in a way that enhances their offering.

“The conversations started by the Centre and the training and workshops offered present lawyers with a great opportunity to step into, keep up with and be part of informative discussions around innovation, disruption and change on a regular basis.”

Lacuna Legal Providers will be facilitating one of the pop up sessions on “Legal freelancing – why it’s on the rise and how to make it work” at the CLI Innovation in Legal Practice Summit in Melbourne on 9 August. If you would like to continue the conversation with Allison, Belinda and Bronwyn, do a little networking and share in the experience of our 30 plus faculty, in 7 sessions and 10 pop ups with your fellow participants, register for the Summit here.