The Innovative Legal Practice


The Innovative Legal Practice

It goes without saying that the present rate of technological change is breathtaking and only accelerating. The potential implications for the business of law are deep and wide-ranging. The pandemic forced many law firms to innovate quickly and use technological tools and platforms that were new to them. The challenge will be to effectively assess those changes and continue to utilize what works and jettison what doesn’t, all while trying to keep up with the increased pace of innovation (no small feat!).


One area of practice most affected by the pandemic, of course, was legal service delivery, with the dramatic increase in the provision of virtual services, including through electronic signings, meetings, mediations, and hearings. This move went hand-in-hand with the dramatic increase in virtual office working hours for lawyers. The convenience and cost-effectiveness of all this was obvious.

That said, some law firm partners we spoke to, while acknowledging the clear benefits of these developments, lamented the missed mentoring opportunities, camaraderie, and intangible advantages gained by everyone physically working together. As one managing partner put it, he felt like someone desperately trying to “get the band back together” in shifting his firm back to a more balanced hybrid work culture.


A more long-standing area of innovative legal practice study has been the search for viable alternative legal fee arrangements and the move away from the ubiquitous “billable hour.” The disadvantages of the “billable hour” have long been cited, including a built-in financial incentive toward inefficiency as well as significant cost uncertainty for the client. A commonly used critical analogy is that you wouldn’t tell a potential car-buying customer that the cost of their purchase will depend on how long it takes to build their vehicle, which can only be roughly estimated.

Digby Leigh previously wrote in BarTalk about alternatives to the “billable hour” fee model, such as market cost and value-added billing ( The former essentially involves figuring out what to offer as a fixed price for more standardized legal projects, even complex ones, with enough room to account for some unforeseen contingencies. While the latter involves listening to clients carefully to determine what a firm might potentially charge for the successful value-added services they are able to provide — both methods financially incentivize efficiency and excellence.


A further area to consider for innovation is the law firm structure itself. Is the traditional partnership / associate model still the best way to go? Does the increased technological ability to deliver legal services virtually allow for more innovative ownership structures that might better work for both lawyers and clients? What about incorporating different business professionals into the mix, beyond the expected newly defined professional classes of notaries and paralegals, potentially coming our way under the same single regulator? How about the modernization of the reporting structures, management teams, and even compensation arrangements of the traditional law firm?

It is generally accepted that we are likely to see (in fact, it’s happening already) a more diverse legal market driven by the forces discussed above, including the aforementioned breathtaking pace of technological change (we haven’t even touched on AI!). This issue will delve into many of these areas and you can rest assured that CBABC will continue to be on top of it all, providing the cutting-edge information you need to make your way successfully in this brave new legal world.