U.S. Legal Services is a $430 billion industry comprising roughly 2% of the domestic economy. However, law firms and corporate law departments are relatively under-penetrated by technology thus we have yet to see a robust volume of venture-backed legal tech companies achieving scale, nor a single Legal Tech company to go public (Appfolio deriving the vast majority of its revenue from its real estate tech product and Thomson Reuters from its information services and non-legal solutions). Candidly, lawyers do not make the best purchasers of technology; law firms and legal departments lack substantial tech budgets, sophistication and willingness to adopt technology.
This being said, legal technology is set to change the market dramatically and that’s because of a confluence of factors catalyzing a transformation in the industry including:
Unbundling of legal services, thus incentivizing legal firms to earn fees through bespoke services rather than through routine tasks
In-housing of legal work by general counsel
Decreasing number of junior attorneys leading to lower attorney leverage (attorneys per partner)
Increasing adoption of alternative fee arrangements
Outsourcing of legal work to offshore and alternative legal services providers, in turn driving greater transparency and efficiency
Incremental automation, especially that enabled by AI and big data
Catalyst Ventures has a three-part thesis on the space:
Law firms, driven by competition and necessity, will become better purchasers of technology.
Businesses will continue to transfer spend from law firms to service providers that better leverage technology, such as our portfolio company Envoy Global, as well as firms such as UpCounsel and LegalVision.
Finally, AI and big data technologies have paradigm-shifting applications in law, specifically in automation and analytics, that can save expensive attorney-hours; firms such as ROSS Intelligence enable lawyers to benefit from these technologies.
Legal Tech Market Overview
Catalyst Ventures defines Legal Tech as organizations that provide software and tech-enabled services to the legal vertical (including law firms and internal counsel) as well as tech-enabled legal services delivered to businesses and consumers.
Law Firms Today vs. Tomorrow
As the rest of the business world has adopted technology to create more efficient business models, law firms have been slower and more hesitant to change. Chief Legal Officers have rated law firms a median score of 3 out of 10 every year from 2009–2016 in the question of “law firms’ seriousness about changing their legal service delivery model.”
Law firms are not meeting their clients’ demands for faster cycles and data analytics driven analyses, largely due to their static business model and slow adoption of technology.
Meanwhile, internal legal departments have adopted technology at a much faster rate.
80% claim they have achieved above average value from use of technology tools.
To better accommodate market demands, many non-traditional legal service providers (tech-enabled firms, software automating legal work, non-traditional law firms etc.) have emerged.
82% of law firms name “competition from non-traditional service providers” to be a permanent change to the legal service market, up from 70% in 2011.
Legal departments are in-housing their third party legal service work.
More Chief Legal Officers are decreasing their outside counsel budget (32% increasing vs. 41% decreasing) while increasing their internal budget (50% increasing vs. 27% decreasing); this trend extends back to 2011.
In-housing legal work is the number one tactic CLOs use to reduce costs.
Unbundling of legal services:
Internal legal departments are unbundling legal services into smaller services, then either in-housing or outsourcing the commoditized work (document preparation, legal research, etc.) while relying on outside counsel for bespoke services.
Law firms can no longer rely on time-consuming tasks to drive utilization rates and instead must provide increasingly specialized advice and opinions to justify their fees.
Massive Legal Services Market, ~2% of US GDP
Law Firm Economics
Billable hours — Firms agree with their client to a rate per lawyer hour and then bill at the end or during a project based on that rate and the actual number of hours worked.
On average, law firms collect ~80% of what they quote (i.e. their “standard rates”).
Alternative fee arrangements — Any other means of charging besides billable hours including fixed fees, subscription fees, and success fees
The frequency of alternative fee arrangements has been increasing over the past few years especially in certain services easily productized (M&A, immigration, etc.).
Associates at big law firms are effectively hired approximately one year before beginning work, after their summer associateship after their second year in law school.
Law firms often use “contract lawyers” (temporary attorneys hired on ad-hoc basis) to flex capacity.
Forecastable (seasonal) and unforecastable (cyclical) fluctuations in demand for services reduce law firms’ ability to staff accordingly therefore lowering utilization rates.
Other law firm economics considerations:
Compensation and benefits (for both support staff and attorneys) typically make up the largest cost for law firms.
Leverage (attorneys per partner)
Leverage has trended down over time; fundamentally, this is the result of incremental automation and outsourcing performing tasks that used to require junior attorneys and paralegals.
Substantial Legal Tech Market — $16Bn TAM
$9.4bn TAM selling to law firms
$6.5bn TAM selling to corporate legal departments
Actual spend of ~$3bn reflects <20% penetration
Largest areas of spend today include Enterprise Legal Management, Contract Management, and eDiscovery.
Fastest growing areas over the next few years include Knowledge Management, Legal Analytics, and Contract Management.
Key Market Considerations
The Artificial Intelligence cluster of technologies (AI as well as machine learning, natural language processing, machine vision, etc.) are especially applicable to the legal services space.
AI has been proven to be most useful / profitable when:
Fed large volumes of data (e.g. legal research archives, eDiscovery electronic stored information “ESI”)
Contract Management — Technology that enables the management and automation of legal contract creation and review
Document Management — Technology that organizes and manages documents
Analytics & Automation — The emerging class of technology that leverages big data, AI, machine learning and other technologies to perform predictive analytics and automate legal work
Law Firm Management Suite — Technology to enable law firms to manage their practice
Practice Management / Case Management Platforms — Practice management suites include both case management software, which are digitalized case files, and law firm practice management, including ERP, calendaring, billing, workflow management, CRM and any other business processes
Law Firm Management Point Solutions — Includes legal CRM & marketing, time & invoices, case management, hiring, payments, collaboration tools and other point solutions sold to law firms
Enterprise Legal Suite — Corporate technology to manage legal departments and matters
Enterprise Legal Management — Includes eBilling and matter management software, which together enable corporations to manage internal legal processes and external legal matters
~$450mm market growing 7%
IP Management — Software used to research, manage and protect intellectual property including trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and patents
Tech-Enabled B2B Legal Services — Service providers leveraging technology to perform legal services to businesses
B2C Legal Tech — Technology delivered to the legal consumer market
Tech-Enabled B2C Legal Services — Service providers leveraging technology to perform legal services to consumers; includes legal marketplaces and DIY legal templates
Litigation Finance — Litigation finance enablement tech, in which lenders provide credit to plaintiffs in need of capital to pay for legal costs
Continuing Legal Education — Continuing legal education (“CLE”; legal study done after passing the bar) enablement technology
It’s clear that the legal landscape is changing dramatically — the time for legal technology is now.
See below for a state of the market map of LegalTech companies.