Happy coexistence

  • It is inevitable that roles will adapt as the impact of technology is felt
  • The present comfortable relationship between service providers and law firms might not survive another decade
  • Law firms will compete more aggressively with service providers

Service providers and law firms currently exist in what one interviewee referred to as a “happy coexistence”. How long can that last, once service providers are offering tools that either compete directly with what law firms do, or provide cheaper and quicker substitutes?

Some profess not to be worried. “On watching and searching, we get leads from law firms and are happy if we can solve it for them,” says one service provider. Most trademark businesses have a mix of corporate and law firm work, so are hedged to some extent, but it is inevitable that roles will adapt as the impact of technology is felt. One service provider notes that corporations and law firms have different requirements: “Reporting capability is more important for attorneys, for example.” Another predicts that law firms will become the “quarterbacks” aggregating information from various sources. There are a range of views on this question, but there is a consensus that the present comfortable relationships might not survive another decade.

One reason is that law firms will compete more aggressively with service providers, either by developing their own technologies (such as Incopro, which came out of the law firm Wiggin) or even acquiring established businesses. This will become even more likely if more law firms become publicly listed companies (eg, as was the case when the Australian company IP Holdings bought the service provider Practice Insight). One interviewee even speculated that UK IP firms might be particularly interested in buying global service providers as an insurance policy against a downturn in work post-Brexit.

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