In the post-GFC world, whether you’re a large company, an SME or a start-up, you’re probably looking to do things leanly, especially with business functions that are not directly income making. Legal is one such function. A large company may cut back on headcount or seek to grow its market with an existing or reduced legal budget. A smaller enterprise will likely try to minimise spending its already limited financial capacity on legal services, if indeed it does so at all. In a world where businesses have to work harder to be relevant and competitive, it may seem the smarter thing to do to skimp on legals and focus on sales.
Lawyers and legal services are expensive for a reason. It’s hard work and your lawyer is taking on and solving legal problems so you don’t have to. However, lawyers are often expensive for less endearing reasons, including that they belong to a supremely exclusive profession, have to wade through layers of impenetrable laws, cases and terminology, and must justify their firm’s city office rents and their own billable hour targets.
If you take the legal profession and turn it on its head, taking away cost-adding elements or using technological solutions to allow those elements to be considerably less time-consuming, then you’re giving businesses a real choice to do their legal due diligence, have their contracts properly drafted or get their business structures set up correctly from the start. That’s where NewLaw comes in; alternative legal services providers that are constructed on virtual offices and a team of experienced professional legal freelancers. Fixed fee quotes can be given and done so without the extra fat.
Legal is often seen as a checkbox; a requirement to meet in case relationships go pear-shaped or to keep regulators on side. ‘Getting your legals done’ is considered a chore or a handbrake on the business’ main task of making money. If you’re a sales or marketing manager, or a start-up founder, you probably want to get the legal side done as quickly as possible so you can get on with the business of selling your product. Given its lawyers also want to get on with pursuing their other passions or spending time with their families, a NewLaw firm will try to be as efficient as possible, allowing a business to engage and work with lawyers on-demand and in the round-the-clock way we expect of many of our other service providers today. NewLaw allows both the client and lawyer to take advantage of existing communication applications and internet ubiquity to work at a time and location that best suits each party. And just like you don’t want to buy a whole head of cabbage to prepare coleslaw for two, NewLaw doesn’t require you to hire a lawyer every day for a year when you may only require them for certain deals, allowing you as a business to change tack quicker as circumstances evolve.
In today’s global economy, every business has to be a technology business. More and more, we are becoming cashless and paperless societies. As such, you will want your lawyer to speak the language of IT or to be able to quickly get up to speed, and even more so if you’re a tech start-up. You will need your lawyer to understand what you’re trying to do and the domain within which you’re trying to do it, whether that’s fintech, bitcoin trading or online marketplaces. As a legal disruptor itself, a NewLaw provider understands that its lawyers have to be nimble and aware, to figure out what’s happening at the edges of tech as well as comprehending the fundamental technology concepts so that they can truly be advocates for your business.
By way of example, I was asked by a tech client to prepare a software development and licensing agreement. On my brief instructions, I might have assumed I was dealing with a developer who wanted to licence their software to another entity. In seeking to understand the business and the ‘problem’ that the client was trying to solve with the document, I realised that the client was in fact not the developer and that the standard software agreement wasn’t going to cut it. The client was actually trying to provide a fixed price contract to one company while engaging contractors to perform the development work. As a result, what the client needed but may not have been able to articulate, was to manage their downside risk, given that as a reseller, they had limited knowledge and capacity in relation to the product.
In quickly figuring out the problem and understanding the various entities involved in the transaction flow, I could craft a solution by modifying the standard agreement I already had. Following some brief confirmation emails, within 24 hours I had a draft for the client. After another call to tidy up my draft, I had a further and final iteration done within the day. Understanding the problem, tailoring a solution and turning around quick iterations. NewLaw should perhaps be the norm in the legal marketplace. In the meantime, for responsiveness and savvy, you may very well need NewLaw now.
Huong Tang is a Legal Consultant with KorumLegal. In a past life, she has been a commercial lawyer for an Australian telco, acted for government and worked on property development deals. When not shooting off contracts into the ether, she tries to and is currently failing to balance her new roles as expat wife, co-parent of a small human and frustrated artist reconnecting with her creative energy.