Time For A Digital Legal Marketplace?

Many years ago at a Finley Kumble partnership meeting a friend wryly commented, ‘We’re tents in the bazaar.’ He was right; each partner operated his/her own mini-firm– setting rates, hustling business, and engaging in non-stop origination disputes. It was by no means a collegial bazaar. Decades later, the Finley Kumble version of ‘partnership’—once anathema to white shoe firms—predominates. But in addition to the ‘bazaar’ that most large law firms are, a broader competitive marketplace exists. Law firms once dominated the legal vertical, and there was plenty of work to go around. Those days are over. In-house legal departments and legal service providers now combine for nearly half of total legal spend. The ‘tents in the bazaar’ remain, but a new digital marketplace is also emerging. It is changing the way legal services are bought and sold.

GE’s ‘Preferred Counsel’ Digital Marketplace

General Electric’s recently launched an internal website for its approximately 800 strong in-house legal team. The site, called ‘GE Select Counsel’ enables users to search the roster of more than 200 law firms that are GE ‘preferred providers.’ Each firm posts its profile which GE counsel can access for reviews, rates, discounts, diversity data, and a range of other information relevant to retention decisions. This is GE’s version of ‘Yelp meets LinkedIn,’ part of the company’s broader initiative to become digital to achieve a shared services model. Welcome to the new legal marketplace where legal providers vie for work in a digitized marketplace and where buyers can comparative shop as never before.

There are several takeaways from the GE site. First is its prerequisite that to become a ‘preferred provider’—and to maintain a profile– a firm must agree to play by GE’s rules. That includes signing an agreement to provide negotiated rates. Next, the site enables GE counsel to make more informed buying decisions; they can access and compare firm expertise, experience in similar matters, price, peer reviews, and other criteria. This signals the end of the ‘water cooler recommendation.’ Most significantly, the GE ‘marketplace’ underscores the fundamental shift in the way legal services are bought—and sold. To borrow from Facebook, clients were once ‘in a relationship’ with particular lawyers and firms. Now, ‘it’s complicated.’ In a digitized world, buying decisions are less relationship and more procurement-driven. This Tinder-type transactional dynamic between seller and buyer is a reminder that legal services are generally perceived by buyers to be more fungible than bespoke. And now buyers can make more informed, less subjective, and more cost-effective buying decisions. And sellers that are truly differentiated benefit, too.

Editor’s Note: This Article originally appeared on Forbes and is featured here with Author permission.


Mark A. Cohen
Mark A. Cohen
MARK has had a long and distinguished career as a lawyer and innovator in the legal vertical. His unique perspective on the legal industry is derived from roles he has had as an internationally recognized civil trial lawyer, legal entrepreneur, early large-scale adopter of technology for the delivery of legal services, partner at one of the largest law firms, founder and managing partner of a national litigation boutique firm, outside General Counsel, federally appointed Receiver of a large, international aviation parts business with operations on four continents, (Adjunct) Distinguished Lecturer of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, writer, speaker, and acknowledged global thought leader at the intersection of law, business, and technology. Mark currently serves as CEO of Legalmosaic, a company that provides strategic consulting to service providers, consumers, investors, educators, and new entrants into the legal vertical. Prior to founding Legalmosaic, Mark was Co-Founder of Clearspire, a groundbreaking legal service provider whose disruptive, proprietary IT platform and reengineered legal model garnered international acclaim. This followed his founding of Qualitas,an early entrant into the LPO space. Earlier in his career, Mark was an internationally recognized civil trial lawyer. He was an award-winning Assistant U.S. Attorney and the youngest partner of Finley Kumble prior to founding his own multi-city litigation boutique firm. Mark is widely known for his blogging and speaking on a range of legal topics focused on changes, challenges, and opportunities in the current legal landscape. Mark maintains an active speaking scheduled, both domestic and international. He has been a keynote speaker at Harvard Law School’s Speaker Series, Reinvent Law, 3M’s Global Legal Alignment Summit, LegalZoom, University College London, and, in May 2017, The German Bar Association’s Annual Conference. He writes a weekly column for Forbes and has been published in major legal and business media sources around the globe. Mark has been active in sports and the arts throughout his life, and this is reflected in his writing and speaking on legal issues where he frequently makes references to those topics. He enjoys mentoring students and young lawyers and is known for his colorful sense of humor and candor.

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