Answer: Be the relevant, accurate, and practical colleague

You may have noticed that I’m not one for hype and fantastical projections meant to scare actors into action. It is critical for credibility in emerging spaces to ground the noise back into reality. The key to becoming a trusted NewLaw and legal innovation advisor is to make it all very practical.

This “wait a minute, here” fire lit inside me after a doomsday litigation presentation at a conference a few years ago. After telling a room of litigation partners that they were going to be automated out of business in the next few years and thus needed the presenter’s services, it was my turn to take the stage.

As respectfully as possible, I addressed the prior presenter’s points in the context of the realities of the people in the room. What was the biggest wind taken out of the presenter’s sails (pun intended)? His thesis featured the fast changes happening in PeopleLaw – the business-to-consumer (B2C) space – and positioned that accelerating market environment as evidence of big changes happening within the worlds of the B2B litigators in the room. See Post 037 (discussing the dramatic differences between B2C and B2B legal sectors). That’s quite a leap.

Instead of relying on self-interested presentations that might distort the landscape relevant to your in-house position, practice, or service, how might you monitor the real pace and change of NewLaw acceleration in a way that is acutely relevant to your world? How might you make it all practical for yourself and those relying on you to help them see clearly and make smart decisions?

Forces governing competition in an industry [click on to enlarge], from Michael E. Porter, “How Competitive Forces Shape Strategy,” HBR (Mar 1979)
One approach is to compile a periodic briefing using Porter’s Five Forces Model, a widely used and well-regarded industry analysis framework developed by Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter.  The graphic to the right is a depiction of the model from Porter’s original (and now very famous) 1979 article.

The advantage of this approach, if done with reasonable care and diligence in the fact-gathering process, is that the output is bound to be relevant, accurate, and practical for someone who is concerned with the success of a business unit (hopefully near everyone on your team).  In response to the story, I followed my own advice, creating a five-forces quarterly briefing, distributing it to a few friends and in-house networks on an “in case helpful” whim.

It turns out that the briefing was very helpful. General counsel from two multi-billion-dollar companies reached out to discuss it, and other senior in-house folks offered unsolicited reactions, insights, and suggestions.  [Curious about what this looked like?  See Legal Transformation Briefing, December 2020 Update.]

Although my briefing may look like a lot of work to compile, that is not necessarily true, as it can be reduced to a template that produces a work product that is valuable to you and very valuable to your time-starved and often overwhelmed colleagues.

Below is a potential starting point that any LE reader is free to use.  Note that it is set up as an industry briefing for the B2B sector and thus relevant to legal professions in the B2B space.  For an example of a high-quality B2C briefing (#PeopleLaw) focused on a different organizing theme, see Post 184 (authored by Jordan Couch, who represents injured workers at Palace Law).

Analyzing the Five Forces

1. Threat of new entrants. This section covers both barriers to entry, mainly regulation and new entrants, including consultancies and the Big Four in the United States.

For your research, start with these resources:

2. Bargaining power of suppliers. Suppliers in the legal context are attorneys and legal technology companies (including legal research). This section features topics related to the voice, movement, and changing preferences of attorneys and the power of #legaltech. Topics range depending on the strength of impact for a particular update.

For your research, start with these resources:

3. Bargaining power of buyers (clients). This section covers top trends and commentary from senior in-house legal leaders and, to the extent available, also includes indicators from C-suite executives outside of legal with impacts on legal decision-making.

For your research, start with these resources:

4. Threat of substitute products or services. A substitute performs the same or a similar function as an industry’s product or service by a different means, for example, videoconferencing is a substitute for travel. This section focuses on the emergence of alternative legal service providers, alternative business models, technology substitutes, startups delivering legal or law-related services, and investments by traditional law firms in efforts to “disrupt themselves.”

For your research, start with these resources:

5. Rivalry among existing competitors. This section covers rivalry—including M&A activity—among traditional law firms, legal departments (bringing work in-house), the Big Four internationally, and established legal solutions businesses that compete directly with law firms.

For your research, start with these resources:

Anchoring the briefing in a widely accepted strategy model is a way to be relevant to peers who worry about their competitive position (what the great business strategist Jim Collins calls productive paranoia). Fact-based research is a way to ensure accuracy, which has the second-order effect of building credibility with your peers.  The practical element is putting all of this into a concise format that is well-organized and easy to scan.

The above template is a simple, straightforward way to build your own knowledge base while simultaneously creating a common set of facts and ideas that, over time, will influence and benefit your team.  For those readers willing to give this a try (using the Five Forces Model or another compelling framework), please pass along your results.  I’d be very interested in multiplying your success in a future NewLaw Q&A column!