Lessons from a lifelong legal innovator
Mark Cohen isn’t a huge fan of the word ‘innovation’ when applied to the legal industry, but his remarkable career has been closely aligned with it for over 40 years. From his days as assistant US attorney to today, where he is a highly respected legal business strategist, author and speaker - Cohen has made a point of finding new, delivery models and tech-enabled ways to better serve his clients, his colleagues and himself.
Mark’s message for lawyers is to forget what old lecturers told them years ago, to adopt a more customer-focused, business-centric mindset, and to embrace reinvention. While acknowledging the acceleration of digitisation because of COVID-19, he warns the legal fraternity not to consider the implementation of tech solutions the end game, but to continue to use them to become more customer-centric and to drive value.
“When we talk about digital transformation, customer centricity is the ultimate objective. It’s not tech for tech’s sake. It’s how do you reimagine workflow processes, existing models, data, hiring practices, collaboration, and change management that benefit customers. How do you reimagine how legal services are delivered? It’s all about the customer experience and using data effectively,” he says.
From civil law to the business of law
Right from the beginning of his career, Mark Cohen dedicated himself to moving the practice of law forward and as a result ascended quickly from Assistant US attorney to partner in a large private national firm to Managing Partner and founder of his own highly acclaimed national litigation firm that bore his name.
In 1991 he did what many law firms are beginning to explore in 2020. He invested $1M to create what was the first technologically integrated law firm that boasted a virtual law library, video-conferencing, and centralised attendant. He also instituted fixed-price billing and flex-time.
Fifteen years ago, he pivoted from the representation of clients to 'the business of law'. Today, Mark is the CEO of Legal Mosaic, a legal business consultancy. He also serves as Executive Chairman of the Digital Legal Exchange (DLEX), a global not-for-profit organisation created to teach, apply, and scale digital principles to the legal function.
“DLEX was created to bridge the gap between the legal function and business. Business operates on data; something law has been slow to adopt. Business relies on technological efficiency. Most lawyers – especially from large firms – use technology in their personal lives are often reticent to do so professionally for fear of redundancy. They have smart phones, VOIP, Uber, Airbnb. How come? They need to be more proactive about using it to drive value to their customers.”
Mark believes one way to achieve this is for legal services to be delivered from outside the law firm.
He says, “Lawyers are still focused on profit for partner as the holy grail of metrics but that’s an internal facing metric. It has nothing to do with clients and client satisfaction, which is the holy grail of business. This is why so much work once performed by law firms is now being taken inhouse or sent to other types of legal service providers with different models. These legal service providers tend to focus on the business of legal services as opposed to the practice of law. These are two different things that require different skillsets, mindsets, and models.”
Further commentary on these providers can be found on Mark’s website, legalmosaic.com as well as in his regular contributions to Forbes. Here is an excerpt from one that also appeared in Bloomberg Business of Law:
“Lawyers still sift through data and maintain privilege logs, but now they frequently do so while working for lower cost service providers, not law firms. And the top service providers have invested in technology-not to mention project managers- to promote efficiency and to deliver legal services at rates commensurate with the value that clients ascribe to the task … Many of those service providers perform legal functions but operate from a corporate rather than a partnership model. Plus, service providers can-and do-often engage in inter-disciplinary practice with technologists, engineers, accountants, and project managers working side-by-side with lawyers.”
Exciting times for law
Mark encourages lawyers to consider the customer perspective—what do they expect and need from the legal function? What is it that clients are really engaging lawyers for? What could others do as well or better and more cost effectively than lawyers? What are lawyers doing that could be automated? What are lawyers doing that could be delivered by bots? What are lawyers doing that other resources—including technology-- could and should be doing?
“While I understand its challenges, I think it’s a great time to be in the legal industry,” says Mark. “There are going to be a lot of different career paths that will become available for learners for life. Whether you’re early in your career or at a later stage, to be relevant you must keep your eye on where things are going. You need to continually ask, ‘what do I need to do to make myself relevant to providers and consumers of legal services?’”
Don’t miss the opportunity to hear more from Mark Cohen who will be giving two talks - COVID-19 Will Accelerate Change In The Legal Industry - An understanding of the challenges and opportunities post-pandemic (keynote) and Legal Innovation is a Mosaic - at the Legal Innovation & Tech Fest – DIGITAL.