Branding: 13.06.24


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What does the future hold? Branding the Business of Law in 2030

‘40% of respondents believe that firms will have separate brands for the practice and business of law’.

Listening to the two eminent thought leaders, Richard Susskind and Mark Cohen), on a recent UnitedLex webinar discussing legal modernisation in 2023 and beyond, they posed some fundamental questions on the future of law. In short, what will the law firm of 2030 look like? Further on, what will it look like in 2050? The quick answer is “very different from today” (2030) and “unrecognisable from today” (2050). Technology is driving change both on the supply and demand side of legal services. We live in unprecedented times of technology development; we are still in the foothills of what is possible. ChatGPT is a significant moment in this development, but all the defining technologies have probably not been invited yet (a sobering thought).

But what does the mean for law firms?

In the future, to be a global leader, it won’t be good enough to have excellent lawyers, firms will need to have mastery of data and a new breed of skills and talents to achieve this. Legal design thinkers, legal process analysts, legal engineers, data scientists and more. These are the people who will be ultimately designing the new systems and products, first to optimise legal services and ultimately to transform them. Data transformation is affecting all businesses. But for law firms to be more data and customer centric, it will require a mindset change enabling firms to be faster, more transparent, and to operate at the speed of business and society, not the traditional paradigm of moving slowly and opaquely. Is the existing LLP model up for this, however? Or will firms need to evolve their business models or even create new ones?

How will firms position themselves?

Currently most adopt a monolithic model for branding. Everything that the firm sells and provides, it does so by using the same corporate brand name. Lawyers, technologists, project managers and more, all ply their trade under the same name. Firms that use their reputation for premier legal expertise now provide a bundle of complimentary new services covering technology, legal operations, legal managed services and more. There are exceptions to this. A few have separated out the practice and business of law. Hogan Lovells (law) formed Eltemate (technology), Reed Smith (law) created Gravity Stack (technology). While both firms endorse their new offspring’s, Eltemate and Gravity Stack are relatively free from the constraints of life under the LLP model. This gives them the flexibility to better mould their cultures and operations, and ultimately their brands, around the needs of clients and markets. There are others who sit between the two extremes. Ashurst Advance (ALSP) and ClearyX (technology) for example, use the association of the parent’s name for premier legal services to provide a range of alternative services. Mischon de Reya also uses its famous acronym MDR to badge a series of sub-brands in the business of law.

Which leads us to ask the question, what brand models will firms adopt in 2030?

We posed this question in a recent survey to representatives of the top UK 50 law firms. From the results, 40% of respondents believe that firms will have separate brands for the practice and business of law. This level of support for separation supports own our hypothesis that premier law firms are more likely to transition from a monolithic approach to a model where they have established separate brands for their business and practice of law services. Or, some hybrid of the two. Whether as sub-brands (i.e. Ashurst Advance) or independent brands (i.e. Gravity Stack) is open to debate, but it will become harder and harder for firms to attract, develop, finance and harness the skills, relationships and data sets required to support clients in 2030 and beyond under the existing LLP model. The skill sets and culture between lawyer, technologist, data scientist and innovator for example, don’t make comfortable bed fellows. These were some of the reasons Travers Smith gave for its recent decision to establish its AI software company, Jylo.

By 2030, the freedom for those involved in the business of law to develop their own business models will be compelling. As firms continually progress and reshape their business models, we anticipate operations currently sitting under the corporate brand to evolve and become separate or semi-separate business of law entities. Gravity Stack originated inside Reed Smith, and is now separate from the parent brand and has a different focus. Technology is hard for law firms to fund and manage. It is an expensive game. Does technology have to have sit under the corporate brand? From our survey, 50% of respondents believe firms’ digital products and services is best suited to sitting separately from the main corporate brand. Hogan Lovells took the decision to establish its technology brand Eltemate. Keeping technology close to the corporate brand is clearly important. Vertical integration is still important for law firms where every task will require a mix of legal expertise, process and technology.

Partnerships will form a big part of the landscape, with Big Law and Big Tech collaborating as firms seek to harness mutually beneficial relationships with complimentary service providers. Baker McKenzie’s relationship with AI specialist SparkBeyond is a good example of how firms can respond to developing modern solutions for clients without investing in areas outside their comfort zone.

As firms re-draw how they provide legal services and make them fit for the future, the relationship between the practice and business of law will transform too, impacting on how firms position themselves and behave. As Susskind remarked, “Big Law is struggling to retool the factory, and it’s hard to bring new tech and skills [into that model], and make the fundamental changes, so [the idea is] build a whole new factory, with new leadership and reimagine the delivery of legal services.”

There is no doubt. The landscape in 2030 and beyond will be very different.

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