UnitedLex’s CEO Dan Reed talks to The Lawyer about the impact of New Law arrivals on Big Law firms, how prepared clients are for digitisation and about UnitedLex’s long-term goals, ahead of his session at the General Counsel Strategy Summit. 

Are Big Law firms doomed because of the rise of New Law rivals?

Daniel Reed
Daniel Reed

In short, no – but client demand for innovative solutions that require more than top-tier legal acumen is beginning to replace Big Law firms’ narrow perspective of legal services. To tackle their sophisticated and highest-value business challenges, clients need what enterprise legal services (ELS) providers can uniquely offer: scale, substantial capital, and integrated multidisciplinary expertise, all supported by a seamless global infrastructure. Clients want a provider that can identify and manage problems before they form; use data, artificial intelligence, and other technologies to compress delivery time and predict outcomes; and expand “legal” services’ impact beyond the traditional legal function to add value to all parts of the business units.

To be sure, Big Law firms aren’t doomed. Although they are challenged to meet these shifting customer demands in their current state, they will undoubtedly evolve – but the questions remain how quickly and to what extent given their confining partnership structure and current regulatory environment.

How prepared are most in-house legal departments and other clients for what ‘digitisation’ entails? 

Most in-house legal departments are in the earliest stages of understanding “Going Digital”. Many companies have only recently instituted technologies like DocuSign or e-signature, yet these are only the thinnest, primitive tips of the iceberg. Law firms’ traditional structure— which is challenged on a number of fronts — has resulted in slow pace of change within the sector. And the partnership structure has also limited the agility and enterprise that would encourage investment in Going Digital. While business service functions such as human resources, information technology, and finance have transformed in response to customer demand, the legal function still lags behind.

“Going Digital” is a C-suite priority across the legal industry, but it is about much more than platforms, data, and AI. It requires a shift to convince employees to accept continual improvement and training in anticipation of and in response to technological change.

Do you ever miss not practising as a lawyer?  

I am still very active in providing a broad swath of legal service in collaboration with our clients.  I feel very fortunate to be a lawyer and enjoy practising to provide unique value. I am perhaps most intrigued by the impact of technology that may be leveraged – and how we may empower clients we support to focus on the highest impact areas of the practice of law.

What do you hope will be the long-term impact of UnitedLex on the legal services market?

UnitedLex’s longer-term goal is to foster the next generation of legal talent. Today’s business clients are demanding transformative legal services. They need legal service professionals who understand and can navigate the intersection of law, technology, and business. There is presently a disconnect between client needs and the ability of legal service professionals working in-house, at law firms, or within law companies.

By pioneering the ELS model, we offer attorneys a unique opportunity to practice in the most progressive model in action today and provide other legal and business professionals with career opportunities unavailable in a traditional law firm. Our 2,700+ employees worldwide are committed to challenging the status quo, and this is something of which I am incredibly proud.

We are committed to the development of our professionals and how that translates to elite client service. We have invested heavily in our UnitedLex Academy program, which provides recent law school graduates with a two-year residency to increase their tech and wider business skills and improve their employability. It means we can provide a source of highly trained associates to cost-effectively help clients exceed their business objectives. In addition, we are partnering with our client, DXC Technology, to launch the Digital Lawyer Institute, a part-virtual, experiential learning initiative to equip legal service professionals with the transformative skills and competencies traditionally outside legal training.

What is the best thing you’ve learned during the course of your career?

I have learned to strive for the ‘art of the possible’, not settling for the minimum requirement but asking how far can we go. This mantra can apply narrowly to a particular digital transformation project or more broadly, and it certainly applies to leaders reliant on legal services—the art of the possible allows them to improve law department and law firm performance to push the boundaries of innovation, efficiency, and cost effectiveness. I have also learned that focusing on UnitedLex’s core values of complete ownership, absolute trust, and inspired innovation allow us to ask those challenging questions and, most important, stretch the limits to solving our clients’ needs.

Tell us 2 truths and one lie about yourself (in any order).

  • I love serving those that are severely challenged to help themselves.
  • I am scared of heights.
  • I believe that instilling complete trust is one of the, if not THE, most important human traits.

Dan Reed is one of the 30+ speakers making up this year’s speaker line-up at The Lawyer’s General Counsel Strategy Summit in association with UnitedLex on 15-17 May. For more information on the conference, a copy of the agenda, or to inquire about attending, please contact Kenan Balli on +44(0) 20 7970 4017.