The future of alternative legal services: Libby Jackson MBE gives her take

In June, Herbert Smith Freehills partner and head of Alternative Legal Services (ALT), Libby Jackson, received an MBE in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honour’s List for her services to the Northern Ireland economy and for innovation in law. ALT, an integrated service catering for volume and document-intensive work, was launched in Belfast in 2011 and is now global. Here Jackson shares her take on the evolution of the alternative legal services space and the changes she anticipates in the years ahead.
“The alternative legal services market remains a chaotic and largely undifferentiated space,” Jackson tells Legal IT Insider. “It is at different moments in its evolution depending on where you are in the world. But here in the UK we are seeing an increasing focus on technology and a move towards what you might call managed legal services. In practice, that means a greater confluence between what has previously been understood as traditional legal work and the types of work that have fallen into the alternative space.”
As a result, Jackson adds, the UK legal market has seen a proliferation of fast-growing new managed legal services players, such as Elevate, and the onus on creating a differentiated proposition is growing. “We are at a point where it is critical to communicate what you are about as powerfully as you can, and we are spending a great deal of time honing this message.”
As a captive within a wider law firm, Jackson aims to differentiate based on technical capability. Her team, she says, has a greater proportion of qualified lawyers than other law companies or legal process outsourcers tend to have and the business aims to pursue more complex legal work. “Others differentiate in different ways. They may have very deep pockets in relation to technology, or different pricing models. Some provide people rather than legal products. But this is a crowded market and players are jostling for position.”
Technological advances are, of course, having a real impact on the alternative legal services space. In particular, Jackson points to the application of machine learning to a broader range of products. “Machine learning that helps us martial increasing amounts of data and apply the right analytics to get quickly to relevance, is accelerating into transactional work, while it was previously concentrated in the disputes areas,” she says.
The other area Jackson identifies as exciting involves collaboration tools. “The adoption of collaboration tools by law firms is picking up fast,” she says. “People are tackling this in different ways, but I think everyone is thinking about how to improve the UX that goes into working with a law firm – how to be more user-friendly for clients.”
Despite an inevitable emphasis on technology, Jackson believes that people are going to be a key area of focus going forward. “There is a real recognition of the importance of the support change management process when adopting new technology. The way in which we work with people to make change happen is critical to success in professional services generally,” she says. “We see that in the new roles that law firms are introducing in order to develop tech expertise over time, and in the training contracts with a legaltech component. The whole area around talent and skills is going to be absolutely imperative for all law firms and for alternative legal services providers.”
Jackson believes the other significant challenge ahead will involve navigating the sheer volume of choice in the technology market. “Choice, assessment and selection is what I spend a lot of time thinking about,” she says. “It’s exactly the same for clients. The conversation I have with clients most frequently is, what’s out there that we can most powerfully use together? Which comes back to that power of collaboration. Law firms have historically had a traditional approach to competitiveness but we know legaltech works best through relationships. Collaboration with tech providers has been going on behind the scenes with things like document review for a long time, but it is now emerging in a more market facing way.”
by Amy Carroll