THE STORM ISN’T COMING—IT’S
here. Since the U.K. Solicitor Regula-
tion Authority first allowed law firms under its
jurisdiction to accept equity from non-lawyers back in
2012, debate has raged whether states in the U.S. should do the
same. The fallout from those decisions threatens to have huge rami-
fications for the legal profession, but when it comes to the way law firms
are engaging with technology and disruption, non-lawyer ownership is more
of an accelerant than the spark lighting a “Mission: Impossible”-style fuse.
For starters, even without any game-changing ownership on the table, the
U.S. legal industry is already changing. However, that disruption isn’t being driven
by regulatory evolution, but rather the age-old maxim that the customer is always
right. Factors ranging from the rise of the legal operations professional to a trend that
sees corporate law insourcing e-discovery, litigation and other technology-related tasks
have given rise to a newly sophisticated client base—one that expects a more innovative
approach to law firm services across the board.
Firms have responded by launching tech labs, dropping homegrown apps onto the
marketplace and working more closely with alternative legal service providers in an
effort to quickly bolster their technological prowess in a “buyer’s market.”
But it’s not certain whether those investments, and the additional ones that
could come if ownership laws are loosened, will ultimately benefit firms.
For some, such investments may not be able to overcome some of the
natural barriers law firms are encountering to their technological
growth, including a dependence on the billable hour model and
siloed practice areas. And if firms keep evolving into tech-
nology hybrids, they may run directly into the path of
the Big Four, who may benefit from the new
opportunities a more relaxed set of
equity laws affords.