By Stanislav Roth. This article was originally published in Anthill Online.

I know, I know… for many people, hiring a lawyer is akin to inviting in a highway robber. But like any industry you can poke a stick at, the legal industry is undergoing massive disruption. So while ‘NewLaw’, AI, and automation are creating uncomfortable reverberations in the hallowed halls of top law firms, it means a next-generation of boutique legal firms are cropping up…. And the winners are the clients. You! That’s right, start-ups and SMEs now have an eye-watering range of innovative legal services to choose from to help them with their legal needs, that are a whole lot more affordable.

So what should you look for when choosing a legal services provider?

Firstly, consider your budget. Chances are that it’s limited. An increasingly popular innovation in new-style law firms is to charge not by the hour (forget $800+ hourly fees from the top tier firms), but instead to offer fixed pricing. Further, truly innovative law firms will ensure that the fixed price is based on the value of the job to you, while also having regard to your size and budget (rather than simply estimating the number of hours it may take for them to do the job). This means you know up-front what you’re going to get, how much it’s going to cost you, and the price matches your budget and expectations. And if you’re after ongoing legal support, consider a law firm that offers fixed-price monthly retainers, for the ultimate in budget certainty. Why pay for the clock ticking on a lawyer’s desk? Essentially you want a legal firm that sells their expertise and value, not their time.

Secondly, what do you need? While this is somewhat like ‘How long is a piece of string?’, the focus here is on simple vs complex. Good practical lawyers will always try to make things simple, provide concise and clear advice and create shorter documents. Further, automation of simpler legal services means ‘standard’ legal support can now be done at a fraction of the cost. Examples include creating legal documents, reviewing contracts, researching issues, and litigation discovery. This type of automation in law is still in its infancy – so it’s only going to expand from here. While there will always be legal activity that needs humans to do the thinking and work, there’s no need to pay a lawyer for something that an algorithm can do.

Thirdly, you want a law firm that understands the pace of business today, and has innovation hard-wired into their own business model. In other words, lawyers that know that flexibility, creativity and collaboration are vital ingredients for success. To help you be competitive, it’s no longer good enough for lawyers to just have a solid grasp of the law. They need to be highly adaptable, experienced working inside businesses, as well as setting up and running their own businesses or side projects. These type of lawyers are drawn to working alongside technologists, salespeople, marketers, accountants, investors and (wait for it), other lawyers. That’s because collaboration and competition drives innovation and client focus. And chances are, that’s exactly what you need.

So where do you find lawyers with these attributes? The new generation of law firms are typically described as ‘NewLaw’ firms – so searching for legal businesses that fit that description is a good start. Also look at which firms are being recognised for their innovative business model, and outcomes-focussed approach. Awards programs not just within the legal industry, but also mainstream business and innovation-focused awards can help you zero in on law firms that provide value-based and responsive legal services.

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