During a recent visit to the National University of Singapore Law School (NUS), I asked a first-year student what being a lawyer meant to him. His response was thoughtful and prescient: "I regard law as a skill. I plan to leverage my legal training and meld it with my passion for business, technology, and policy. For me, law is not about practice." The distinction between practicing law and engaging in the delivery of legal services--the business of law--is critically important to a wide range of existing and prospective legal industry stakeholders.
'Legal innovation' is no longer an oxymoron. The staid, precedent bound, legal guild is slowly morphing into something different. The contours of the new legal order are still being shaped and the dominant players have yet to emerge. Even confirmed industry Luddites concede the legal profession/industry is changing. Many lawyers, to borrow from T.S. Eliot's Journey of the Magi, are "no longer at ease in the old dispensation."
"Time is Money" wrote Benjamin Franklin in a 1748 essay titled Advice to a Young Tradesman. Franklin was a polymath--scientist, statesman, publisher, inventor and diplomat. Is it coincidence that he was almost everything except an attorney? Lawyers have a different take on time than other industries. The legal profession uses it as a price gauge--more is better.
The legal industry is known for adherence to precedent, not innovation. While precedent remains a guiding principle in the practice of law, innovation is transforming the models, methods, and players involved in the buy/sell process of legal services. Technology, process, access to institutional capital, re-reregulation, client demand for enhanced value, and changes in other professional service industry delivery models--notably medicine and accounting-- are legal innovation's principal drivers. Legal innovation has lagged compared with other industries. Law's Uber has yet to pull up to the curb.