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The Singapore Law Gazette

Why Should Law Firms Shift to a Collaborative Business Strategy?

The digital age is gifting the services industry with new and unexpected ways to collaborate. Platforms like Uber and Airbnb are letting individuals partner with businesses to create a “gig” economy that is shaking up entire sectors.

And often, it allows businesses to scale without the typical upfront investment. We can see this in the success story of Uber, which has expanded globally – without ever having to take on the responsibility of employing fulltime drivers.

This poses two critical questions for the legal sector.

Is our industry conducive to similar forms of collaboration? And if so, could collaboration be the key to preventing lawyers from becoming obsolete?

We talk to Katherine Thomas, teacher and founder of Free Range Lawyers, about what the collaborative legal ecosystem of the future may look like.

Shifting the Lawyer Mindset

When it comes to collaboration, the legal industry has a poor reputation.

According to Forbes: “Law’s hesitant embrace of collaboration is deeply rooted … . It begins with the public misconception that good lawyers are combative, cut-throat, aggressive, and win-at-all-costs. This is not true, of course, but it fuels a stereotype that many in the profession emulate.”

Katherine believes that for the legal sector to thrive in our changing society, this dated mindset must go.

The Collaborative Legal Sector of Tomorrow

The legal business of the future will grow through networks and allied organisations.

Katherine says, “Rather than just competing aggressively for market share and winning, firms will start collaborating with those around them for growth. They will work with other lawyers – as well as complementary service providers. Essentially, we will see a professional ecosystem of service provision. And we are already starting to see evidence of this throughout our sector. The pace of adoption will only hasten from here.”

This raises a key question: “Why now?”

But we need only to look at the success of platforms like Netflix to understand the answer.

“Customer behaviours are changing, and industries need to either meet these new demands or risk going the way of obsolete businesses like Blockbuster,” she continues.

So, What Do Today’s Legal Customers Want?

Consumers are becoming more accustomed to convenience – necessitated in part by the time scarcity that is so endemic in today’s society.

Katherine says, “Fewer and fewer people have the time, patience or inclination to do business with multiple service providers anymore. And that means clients want broader solutions from legal firms. Perhaps they are looking for strategic business consulting with legal advice alongside. Or maybe they want a complete M&A solution that includes legal, finance and change management expertise. Legal firms therefore need to integrate more into their offerings and bring in multidisciplinary professionals. By collaborating with lawyers who hold other specialisations as well as tangential organisations, firms will be able to widen their scope without the upfront capital investment.”

What We Are Already Seeing

Many legal businesses are already recognising the upside of collaboration and Katherine has experienced some of its benefits firsthand.

“Running Vario, a freelance lawyer network for Pinsent Masons, has taught me the power of professional ecosystems. By accessing Vario’s hub of carefully selected lawyers, businesses of all sizes have been able to scale when they need to, without having to outlay a permanent investment. Lawyers and businesses alike are able to participate in the network, rather than owning it. The hub turns a traditionally fixed cost into a variable one.

“It’s the kind of arrangement we are seeing with Uber, People-Per-Hour, Airbnb, Crowd & Co and LOD. There is a long and fast-growing list of platform-based businesses out there that are providing access to people, assets and infrastructure that was traditionally only the preserve of scaled businesses. It was only a matter of time for this model to start presenting options and benefits to our industry,” she says.

Katherine is now the CEO and founder of Free Range Lawyers, a collective of freelance lawyers working remotely with law firms and companies.

But Our Future is Not Assured – Even with Collaboration

As futurist Richard Susskind once said, “The competition that kills you may not look like you.”

We saw this play out with Uber which uses a completely different business model to that of the taxi industry. Met with apprehension when first launched, the Uber model now dominates the vehicle transport market in Australia.

Katherine says, “Even with a collaborative legal professional ecosystem, new threats are likely to emerge. Perhaps it will be in the form of smaller, more agile models – ones that can use this ecosystem of collaboration to challenge established partnerships. Maybe even beating them at their own game. It’s an interesting thought, and it means we should never rest on our laurels.”

It’s time to rethink your strategy. It’s time to embrace collaboration.

An upcoming e-Masterclass on Business Strategy from The College of Law will inspire and equip you to tackle the contemporary strategic challenges facing the industry.

During the e-Masterclass, we will:

  • Examine traditional schools of thought on strategy – and flip them on their head
  • Apply a critical eye to the strategic business planning models within our sector
  • Create a practical, strategic plan for your own organisation