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I.T in practice: Future focus

Every Issue

Cite as: (2008) 82(9) LIJ, p. 86

Firms which ignore the trend towards internet-powered legal and web-enabled services are ignoring the future.

The concept of legal services commoditisation is beginning to be seen as “the elephant in the room”.

However, it is necessary to recognise that not all client services offered by a lawyer can be commoditised.

Clients need, and are more than willing to pay for, personal service.

The accounting services sector is an example where commoditisation has encroached on the traditional turf of tax return preparation, and this has largely been driven by accessible technology.

Those accountants who have adopted the tools of commoditisation and leveraged those into better client relationships have enabled a change in the mix of services provided, and increased profitability as a result.

A parallel adoption in the legal profession, paired with a clear recognition of what can (and cannot) be commoditised, will give strategic direction to the law firm wishing to identify core services at risk in the years ahead.

Those legal services which can be commoditised will be heavily influenced by internet-powered law, or “Law 2.0”, which is a market-oriented adaptation of “Web 2.0”.

Web 2.0 is a catch-all phrase referring to the new wave of web-based tools which go beyond mere data content. They involve information sharing and data collaboration,1 hosted services, and web-based communities.

In effect, Web 2.0 is the use of resources that are separated from a specific computing device.

Two acronyms relevant in this area are “SaaS” and “HaaS”.

SaaS is “software as a service”, which in practical terms means software which is accessible over the internet via web pages, but which historically has been available as an application which must be installed on a computer.

An example of these is Google Docs,2 which allows word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation functionality in a structured, accessible-anywhere environment.

This type of functionality modifies the nexus between data content and the process by which that content is created and maintained. It also eliminates the need for software purchase, installation, maintenance, upgrades and some support, as this is externalised.

In the US, SaaS for the legal profession is entering the market for litigation support, time recording and billing, etc., but Australian software developers have not had the resources to aggressively attack these projects and achieve market penetration.

There are disadvantages to SaaS – generally use of vertical market solutions (such as legal software) comes at an ongoing subscription cost, and opportunities for customisation are minimal. Finally – and this is the key issue in the legal profession – the confidentiality and security aspects to data content need to be reviewed.

HaaS is “hardware as a service”, which is a concept that has, to some extent, been leveraged off SaaS.

Whereas with SaaS the generation and maintenance of data is done over the internet, HaaS assumes that the data itself is also stored externally. The implications in this regard are yet to be fully felt as the ability to work from anywhere there is an internet connection, without the need to carry (or even own) one’s own computer, will change the way in which professionals view what they do.

Assuming the security and confidentiality issues are adequately dealt with, it is conceivable that a new type of law firm will develop in the future: a legal services broker that matches clients who have specific needs, and who view legal knowledge as a commodity, with specific legal professionals whose skill and experience is also seen as a commodity.

The cost and revenue metrics of this are as yet unmeasurable, especially when one considers that the HaaS/SaaS combination means that there is no hardware to install, and no software to configure.

All of this does not mean that the practitioner should send all of the office computers off to the recycling depot next month.

Law 2.0 is still in its early stages of development, is fragmented in terms of available offerings, and is still waiting for an Australian “category-killer” application.

However, an awareness of the trend towards internet-powered law and web-enabled services should put many lawyers on notice that an assumption that things will continue the way that they are, or at the same fee levels, or with the same client or service mix, is a high-risk strategy.

Regular reviews of potentially better ways of doing traditional tasks are necessary, recognising that issues of security, confidentiality, reliability and service differentiation are paramount.


ADAM REYNOLDS is the principal of Proficio, an independent IT consulting firm. For more I.T. in practice information, see the contributions of the LIV Legal Practice Management Committee and IT e-Marketing department at http://www.liv.asn.au/members/sections/lpm/it.

1. See for example http://www.wikilaw.org, http://www.jurispedia.org or topics.law.cornell.edu/wex.

2. See docs.google.com.

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