Leaders at Elevate and Obelisk debate: how can law firms leverage technology to compete with ‘alternative’ legal service providers?

Richard Brent, editor-in-chief|Briefing

Dana Denis-Smith, CEO and founder |Obelisk Legal Support

Kunoor Chopra, vice president of legal services and co-founder|Elevate Services

Are law firms seeing competition in all the wrong places? Are legal leaders right to still see “firms like mine” as their biggest source of competition?

And what should they make of the increasingly embedded ecosystem of so-called ‘Alternative Legal Service Providers’ (ALSPs) – are they a greater threat to law firms’ business models or are they potential partners?

These were among the key points up for debate in Briefing‘s Legal IT Landscapes 2021 digital discussion, chaired by Briefing editor-in-chief Richard Brent and featuring key speakers from New Law businesses:

  • Dana Denis-Smith, CEO and founder of Obelisk Legal Support, a flexible lawyering solution that draws many of its professionals from City law firms in search of a more flexible career;
  • Kunoor Chopra, vice president of legal services and co-founder, Elevate Services, which provides technology consulting and services to legal departments and law firms across the globe.

Competition time
Firms may have a potential strategic blind spot around how they think of their competition, according to our speakers. Although both Chopra and Denis-Smith agreed there’s plenty of opportunity to go around, Chopra pointed out the surprising focus law firm leaders continue to place on competition that looks more or less identical to their own firms. Briefing’s Legal IT Landscapes 2021 report found a clear majority of law firm leaders (84%) still see “Other law firms like mine” as their main source of competition – an increase on last year’s figure. 

Strategies for the future
Firms, we heard from Denis-Smith, have the chance to differentiate themselves by properly leveraging the technology they already have, playing to their strategic strengths and aligning their talent and technology with those points. They also need to better understand their own resourcing models and supply chains if they’re to keep up with client demands.

Chopra agreed that firms need to recognise opportunities to become more competitive through greater service delivery efficiency, whether that’s through technology adoption or strategic partnerships with ALSPs – currently a relative rarity – and through whole-heartedly committing to diversity initiatives.

Change mindset
The ‘alternative’ part of these ALSP or New Law business models, both speakers agreed, shouldn’t be considered alternative in 2021. With the flexible working and rapid digitalisation forced on firms by the pandemic in many ways proving a huge boost to change initiatives, both concluded that firms need to capitalise on enthusiasm for technology and find new ways of delivering legal services to get out in front of the competition – be that the usual suspects or the ‘alternatives’.

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