Legal freelancing and ALSPs: what’s next?
By Matthew Kay
Matthew Kay and Geraldine Kelm examine the past decade for alternative legal solutions providers and considers what the next 10 years will look like.
Vario’s 10th anniversary this summer has given us occasion to reflect on the broader freelancing legal market and the changes we’ve seen. What’s clear is that, after a turbulent and dynamic decade, things are not showing any signs of slowing down.
When we consider change, we tend to look at three pillars - people, process and technology. This theory was developed in the 1960s, and it has its roots in the business management expert Harold Leavitt’s ‘Diamond Model’ which focused on change and the impact it has on structure, people, technology and tasks. Ten years ago, change in the legal sector was predominately focused on people. To deliver a more agile service to clients who increasingly needed to use lawyers in diverse ways, we had lawyers working as freelancers and in other, different roles. One of the contributing factors to this change was the broader evolution of businesses and how general counsel are now expected to have a more holistic view, not just advising on legal risk but also the impact on wider strategy. This means they often need more support with the day-to-day legal tasks.
Looking ahead, we can’t see this changing. Law firms will always need people and the human touch has never been more important. We expect we will continue to see an evolution in how businesses utilise lawyers, but the need will always be there. We do think we will continue to see new roles created and a requirement for new skills, particularly if generative artificial intelligence continues to grow at this pace. These platforms can offer huge efficiency, but they need careful handling by someone who really understands how to get the most out of them.
For providers like Vario, our ongoing challenge is to ensure our lawyers feel supported and connected. This won’t be news to any law firm operating with a hybrid workforce, but perhaps a more pronounced challenge for businesses like ours, which has such a large, mostly remote group of lawyers. A success for us over the past 10 years has been creating a community for our lawyers and ensuring they remain anchored to us with access to the support and training they need. But this is an ongoing job and one which will only increase in importance for us as we grow.
When it comes to the process and technology elements of change, there’s been some significant shifts in these areas in the legal profession over the last decade and we think it’s these two particularly which will continue to grow and evolve. At Vario, our services have diversified over the past decade to meet client demand. This includes hiring dedicated technology and process professionals with legal project management and Lean Six Sigma expertise. A big trend we’ve noticed across all these different services is that they’re no longer seen as a short-term fix. Our contract lawyers for example, would often be brought in to cover just a period of holiday or staff absence. Now clients are using a greater combination of new services for longer periods of time. Legal teams are using technology to a greater extent and extracting more value from it. As technology becomes more sophisticated and complex, more experts are needed to help ensure value is being extracted.
It’s also been interesting to see how so-called ‘New Law’ products and solutions are shaping the legal industry and law firms more broadly. At Vario, we are integrated into Pinsent Masons which is a unique model: a ‘professional services business with law at the core’. We expect to see more of this, as more firms embrace these broader professional services and evolve in tandem.
The evolution of Vario and the broader market has been wide-ranging and so fast at times it’s been difficult to predict what will come next. We think there will be more opportunities as these solutions continue to filter into the mainstream with processes and technology being the focus of the most radical changes.
Matthew Kay, partner and practice group head at Vario, and Geraldine Kelm, partner and head of account management, at Pinsent Masons Vario.