As a consultant and evangelist for practicing law more effectively, I write about best practices, outsourcing, knowledge management, and technology. Here’s a reminder why law firms need to think about these topics. 

A consultant friend works for a big company, serving many small clients. He’s supposed to have a signed contract prior to beginning work. Reality being pesky, that does not always happen. To satisfy his law department, he recently asked several clients to sign contracts. One wrote back:

“I’m not certain whether I ever discussed this with you or not, but soon after we initially talked about having a consultant agreement in place over the summer, we consulted with our attorneys and formed our own consultant agreement, attached. I wonder whether such agreement would be sufficient for purposes of satisfying [your company]? One of the ongoing issues we have is that due to the fact that we don’t employ in-house counsel, it costs us $5,000 every time we pick up the phone and call them. If we ask them to mark-up [your company’s] consultant agreement, we’ll essentially engage a lengthy, expensive process where modifications are made by us and responded to by your attorneys, and so on and so forth. Please let us know if the attached agreement is acceptable to you.”

Here you have it – a business person struggling with high lawyer fees for seemingly simple agreements. Sure, some lawyers will argue that big issues are at stake. But can’t a standard agreement provide enough protection?

This is a real world example of the “latent legal demand” Richard Susskind describes. Business will eventually figure out how to lower legal costs, either skipping lawyers altogether (and accepting the risk) or finding lower cost substitutes. More legal work will commoditize and at least some BigLaw firms will be affected. There is still opportunity for innovation driven by technology or better processes. Who’ll be first to innovate is an open question.