Fifty years ago, the United States experienced what became known as the “Summer of Love.” Part political event and movement, part social phenomenon, and part hippie celebration, that summer saw an increased emphasis on sharing and community, across many cities around the United States (grounded of course in the Bay Area – then and now a region at the forefront of change).
While much has changed since then, the summer of 2017 in Biglaw seems to be all about collaboration, sharing and community, within and among the various players in the Biglaw ecosystem. Could this be Biglaw’s summer of love? If so, does it foreshadow major changes to the industry? Or, like 1967’s Summer of Love, will it pass quickly, and become remembered more as a moment in time and lost opportunity, rather than the beginning of a major change (i.e., a revolution) in the industry?
In early 2010, we presented at a Thomson Reuters event for large law firms. At the time, we quoted a survey that showed that the top areas where law firms looked for innovation were all internal — including firm executive committees, other partners, and the like. We commented at the irony that firms, in the quest for “new ideas,” were simply talking to themselves, rather than looking outward at, and taking ideas from, clients, vendors, consultants, or academics. That survey confirmed our experience when we started Pangea3 in 2004. At that time, the general counsel and in-house departments we pitched were grateful for something new, explaining that for years they’d felt that the alternatives were either using a large law firm or hiring full-time staff. So much has changed since then.
Now, nearly every week, we read about a new partnership, venture or collaboration in the legal industry. Make no mistake about it – many of these arrangements are driven by the goal of future profit or IP ownership. And, without a doubt, there have been partnerships, joint ventures and relationships between Biglaw and others for many years. Nonetheless, the level of collaboration and joint effort seems, to us, unprecedented.
Usually, technology is the anchor or focus of the partnership. A growing number of law firms have set up and now run LegalTech incubators, including Dentons, Mishcon de Reya, Allen & Overy, and others. Likewise, law firms such as MinterEllison are launching joint ventures or co-investing with technology companies to create AI companies or AI tools for their own use (full disclosure – Sanjay is advising an Am Law 50 firm here in the U.S. on just such an effort). Littler’s ComplianceHR effort, a 2015 collaboration with NeotaLogic, is already well-known. And earlier this month, Cravath (yes, Cravath) inked an agreement with UK legaltech company Luminance to deploy an artificial intelligence product. Interestingly, Luminance itself is part-owned by famed UK Magic Circle firm Slaughter and May.
Interestingly, many of these collaborations involve or aspire to technology tools that enable lawyers to be more efficient by eliminating or automating lower-value tasks, such as contract authoring tools, which at the same time require a fundamental re-thinking of traditional billable hour pricing. We are seeing exactly this type of re-thinking in our advisory practice.
Sometimes, the spirit of community goes beyond partnership and manifests as one company unilaterally giving something away in the hopes of accelerating change. Examples include (1) tech company DoNotPay announcing the creation of legal bots for free, for anyone who can send in a detailed plan for a Q&A legal bot designed to fill in a form or legal document, and (2) U.S. legal analytics company LexPredict making its contract analysis platform open source and free to use.
But there are also examples of collaborations around other areas, including mission-critical areas such as diversity and inclusion. One significant example is 30 domestic law firms agreeing to the Mansfield Rule, a policy requiring them to consider women and minority lawyers when it comes to promoting and hiring talent.
And it’s not just law firms and tech companies collaborating. AdvanceLaw, a consortium of dozens of law department leaders, helps GCs identify the right law firms for their needs and share performance related information, with a goal of “greater transparency and better decision-making.”
And nearly everyone following the industry has watched the rapid rise and growing influence of CLOC, the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium. Among its offerings, CLOC provides members with “best practices in areas including legal department tools, technology, templates and knowledge bases; and work[s] with key legal service providers to drive efficient & effective solutions for corporate legal customers.”
As entrepreneurs, we are of course optimists. But we aren’t idealists or dreamers. Obviously, the current collaborative environment could easily give way to the legal market of the past, where players competed in what was often a zero-sum game, and rarely a client-centric market where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Nonetheless, we believe that we are in a period of real and substantial collaboration, the results of which are benefitting clients, their in-house legal departments, law firms, technology providers and newer, alternative legal providers. Here’s hoping that it takes root and becomes a permanent part of our industry, and that 2017’s Summer of Love continues for years to come.
David Perla and Sanjay Kamlani are co-founders and managing directors of 1991 Group.