Legal Apocalypse

Ready for ’21? The Three Horses Of The Legal Apocalypse Are At Full Gallop

As we extract ourselves from ’20 and cling onto the hope that vaccines are finally available to deal with COVID-19 at scale, it’s impossible not to think about what ’21 and beyond has in store. I’m struck by the technology potential of the next 3-5 years especially – in part, spurred on by the ways in which we have had to adapt this year on account of COVID-19. I was once again reminded of the piece I wrote and the phrase we coined at the outset of HPC. In truth, the Three Horses of the Legal Apocalypse are no longer champing at the bit – they are in full gallop.  Data, tech and finance will entirely change the legal world as we have known it to-date. And the change may happen quite a bit faster than may be comfortable for many who make a living in this sector. Here’s the piece I wrote – I hope you enjoy this visit to the archives.


I coined the phrase when we first launched High Performance Counsel: the three horses of the legal apocalypse. These stood for data, tech and finance – in any order. The power in these elements in play is vast – truly transformative for the legal industry – and the horses are running.


For many years, largely for want of better technology and an apathy about using labor for research, law put up with a fraction of the available universe of data. Slowly but surely the reality dawned in the last couple of years that there is no good reason not to have all the good data to hand. It forms the basis of better decisions. Data, like energy, drives things – and it’s powerful.


Similarly, the appetite for technology was muted – viewed as being a lesser thing than a person. Technology played second fiddle to billable hours. After all, how could any computer be better than an associate who has been to one of the top schools. eDiscovery solutions became the litmus test for the utility and acceptability of tech – and its eventual adoption has been the green light for more. It turns out the young associate cannot possibly compete with machines on volume, price – or speed. Technology breaks things down and makes complex things simple again – and who doesn’t like simple?


The money game has been circling law for a while. Real money, that is, not just the kind we associate with annual law firm revenues. Indeed, many law firms have been curiously complacent about growth while their tech counterparts have grown in size and value exponentially. It comes from a view of the world that is hard for many to shake – a services and billables view, not a product and value outcome view. For some, it will not end well. The inability to change is no excuse.


While many in law have defended against the encroachment of outside investment, the money game has moved elsewhere – and it’s gathering momentum. Think: products, service-enabled products, subscriptions and managed services – that is, true leverage – not labor-encumbered billable hours. More of what clients want even when they sometimes struggle to articulate it.


Law has been sold on qualitative value – something almost mystical. With every passing day, data and technology are helping buyers pin it down and put a price on it. But beyond cutting costs of law “as is” there are the (far) greater prizes of packaging and pricing law in a very different way altogether – and letting others or other technology provide it, distribute it.


This past week, another trillion dollar company came into being and it’s hard not to imagine what disruption Jeff Bezos will create when (not if) he turns his attention to the legal space. One thing is for sure: the legal industry is now firmly in play and complacency is the most expensive commodity in this market. The price you’ll pay for it is truly vast.


David T Kinnear