NewLaw kids on the block

NewLaw – a term coined in 2013 by Eric Chin, Senior Analyst at Beaton Capital – is the alternative business model of legal services that many law firms are choosing to take on, shunning the traditional law firm ‘rules’ in the process. It’s a unique way of structuring the provision of legal services, and its rising popularity is changing the entire landscape of law. But just what exactly is it?

What is NewLaw?

NewLaw varies from traditional law firms by using two very different approaches. The first is the employment of ‘supertemps’, a term that refers to the top lawyers, professionals and consultants in the field who have the best education and experience but choose to embark on independent careers instead. ‘Supertemps’ are like freelancers, moving from firm to firm and project to project rather than spending years working towards a partnership within the one practice. The second approach of NewLaw is the use of disruptive technology such as virtual workspaces, which use cloud computing and video/voice conferencing to conduct daily tasks and projects.

Virtual workspaces can allow flexible working hours and location, and deliver a faster turnaround of work. It also enables employees to have a better work/life balance, which has been linked to happier workers and higher rates of productivity. A study conducted at Stanford University found that, over nine months, workers who had a more flexible working arrangement took less sick leave, worked longer hours, achieved more and were generally happier within their work when compared to colleagues who worked a standard 9–5 hour day. NewLaw also delivers alternative payment structures, choosing to charge fixed fees instead of hourly rates. This non-time based billing method has enabled legal services to be more affordable to a wider range of clientele while ensuring the standards of law are still met.

How is NewLaw different to BigLaw?

Another example of the contrast between BigLaw and NewLaw is NewLaw’s ready acceptance of those who may not fit the status quo of ‘the legal professional’ as we know it. Employment in the legal industry is becoming more accessible to those who have skill sets and personalities that differ to the standards, and this newfound versatility sees individuality as something to celebrate instead of scorn. Take, for example, Catherine Mullens, who spoke to Lawyers Weekly in January this year. Ms Mullins has worked as a performing artist, teacher, judge’s advocate, banking manager and is now a lawyer, a career move that she credits to the NewLaw model. Ms Mullins theorises that if BigLaw firms don’t take on or accept the changing landscape, they may be doing themselves and their firms a disservice by “not thinking outside the square”.

When compared to the intense, heavily-structured formalities of the BigLaw firms, it’s no surprise that NewLaw’s flexible, relaxed outlook is becoming a preferred method of legal service provision. Its ease of accessibility and inclusiveness caters to everyone from all walks of life, not just in terms of employees but in clients as well. The NewLaw wave is moving quickly, and for those who still haven’t jumped on for the ride, now might be the time to do so.