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What is NewLaw?

A recent article in focused on NewLaw and its potential to revolutionize the practice of law. What is NewLaw, you ask? For some it is a neologism for the effort going on in many law firms to rethink, redesign and automate the delivery of legal services. For others, it is a shiny new term for “alternative legal services providers” (ALSPs) who focus on augmenting traditional legal services. Either way, the term is about innovation and it applies to those organizations striving to make the legal process more efficient and cost effective.

Like six sigma or other innovation disciplines, NewLaw is not a destination but rather a journey. It is, as Brad Blickstein, a partner of the New Law practice at Baretz + Brunelle, put it, NewLaw is “a result of an improvement process, not an objective in and of itself.” It is a new way to think about legal innovation with the beneficiaries being clients and legal consumers alike. Because, you see, NewLaw isn’t just about internal processes, it is about making access to justice simpler and cheaper, which benefits all of us. 

The funny thing is that NewLaw isn’t new. I built a system to help Albertson’s automate labor case management back in 1998 and a workflow system to manage Sears advertising review (internal and external) the next year. I wasn’t alone in that others at the time (a few at least) were using computers to help automate legal processes then too. We called ourselves legal innovators back then but we were NewLaw before NewLaw was cool.

Reportedly, the term itself was coined by Michael Huber back in 2009, but he was simply talking about new offerings for traditional law firms. Eric Chin, a consultant in Australia, seems to be the first to apply NewLaw to refer to new business models for legal services. In 2013, he was referring to the ALSPs I mentioned earlier. They certainly impacted the practice of law but they didn’t really change things much. Rather, they were more about labor arbitrage, substituting lower cost lawyers and paralegals (often offshore) for more expensive law firm associates and partners. 

As technology began to catch up with the legal profession, more of us began talking about NewLaw as a simple way to describe rearchitecting legal processes, not just restaffing. In October 2013, George Beaton became one of the first to popularize the term, bringing it to wider attention through his multi-contributor ebook “NewLaw New Rules.” Even more recently, we have seen a number of law firms and service providers calling themselves NewLaw organizations. In some cases, it is a marketing gimmick. In others, the folks are sincere in their efforts to improve the delivery of legal services. 

So what is it really? In our view NewLaw is a lot more than a marketing term. It is rather about strategy—to improve legal processes and deliver better value to the client. And, it is about a commitment to redesign basic legal services and processes to make them more efficient and effective and almost always at a lower cost to the consumer. 

How about NewLaw Technology? We are a NewLaw Technology Company which means we build the tools to carry out NewLaw strategies. Our clients see the problems (often inefficiencies) that prevent them from moving forward. We provide the tools to overcome those barriers, allowing our clients to move forward with their ideas. 

Our basic tools revolve around legal process automation. We are experts at  using software to model workflow, route documents to decision makers and integrate AI algorithms to help make decisions quicker and easier. Our watchword is legal automation, which allows clients to work faster, more efficiently and with fewer mistakes. 

Redesigning legal strategy isn’t a process with listable components but several have tried with good success. I think NewLaw strategies include these steps: 

1. NewLaw is about innovation.

Most NewLaw providers are characterised by a willingness to innovate. But as one person put it: “Disruption must produce better outcomes or it isn’t innovation. Real innovation delivers better outcomes for both client and lawyer. Many NewLaw businesses benefit one, but not both. True disruption comes from re-engineering the structure of the law firm itself, not tinkering at the edges or pretending to be something new using old structures and thought processes.”

2. NewLaw  is built on  disruptive technologies.

While you can innovate through simple process redesign or even step changes, NewLaw contemplates a more rigorous approach. Automation is key to a NewLaw solution because it typically goes farther than just reducing labor costs. Throw in AI where appropriate and you have the potential for radical process improvements at dramatically reduced prices.

And, NewLaw is a continuing disruptor. As one writer elegantly put it, “Right now, we’re talking about cloud-based computing and storage systems, team-based workflow or task-oriented apps, and using data analytics to improve scoping, efficiencies and outcomes. But as the legal industry continues to change with the growth of digital, we’ll see the likes of blockchain technology and artificial intelligence increasingly used in the practice of law.”

That’s what gets a NewLaw innovator excited.

3. NewLaw relies on secure cloud computing.

OldLaw organizations felt it critical to use in-house technology to power their practices. It worked but they were limited to rapidly aging software that often couldn’t be accessed remotely or by other legal professionals. NewLaw technology is almost always cloud based because of the many benefits the cloud offers including speed, scalability and cost savings—and the ability to deliver them simply and securely from anywhere in the world.

4. NewLaw often comes with non-traditional service delivery.

While BigLaw is still the best for some matters, NewLaw seeks new ways to provide those services better and more cheaply. Consider banking. OldBanks made you drive to their facilities and wait in line for services. NewBanks let you do it all on your phone.

5. NewLaw requires NewPricing strategies. 

NewLaw firms look to move away from the traditional billable hours and instead use alternative pricing strategies such as blended rates, fixed pricing or value-based billing. This makes legal fees more transparent for clients to provide greater certainty, value, and benefit than traditional law firms.

NewLaw may not change all of the legal world but it is a driving force for change and that’s a good thing. It is more about process than product, results rather than good intentions. People are still key to the delivery model but the focus for a NewLaw innovator is to quote Barry Dark, the CEO of NewLaw service provider Legility, is to “improve the underlying processes of the work you’re doing.”


John Tredennick is the founder and CEO of Merlin Digital Magic, Prior to forming Merlin, he was the Founder and CEO of Catalyst Repository Systems and earlier was a trial lawyer and a partner at a BigLaw firm based in Colorado..
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