Okay, so I’m a bit of a language geek. What can I say? My undergrad is in English Lit, and now I’m a lawyer… language is kinda what I do. And I don’t like the word “NewLaw”.
“NewLaw” is stunningly uncreative. The word is clunky and clumsy and decidedly not sexy, and although this might be the grammar geek in me, the internal cap is jarring and gimmicky. “NewLaw” does not communicate clearly the philosophy that drives those practicing “NewLaw”. Most annoying, though, is the fact that “NewLaw” necessarily evokes thoughts of “OldLaw” and so this amazing, innovative, creative approach to legal practice becomes inextricably tied to the values and ethos of traditional legal practice.
If “OldLaw” were truly something of the past, this might not be a problem. But big law firms ain’t going anywhere. As many problems and failings that we NewLaw types see with traditional legal practice, OldLaw firms are on the lookout for better ways of doing law, too. Bay Street firms have an enormous number of smart, talented lawyers—young and old—who care deeply about their clients, about providing high-quality advice, and who are eager to put new technology to use in their practice, and who are on the lookout for better ways of doing law.
In fact, more than just sticking around, many of the larger firms are working to co-opt NewLaw by working with incubators, by providing special packages of services for start-ups, and by starting to push value-based billing structures rather than that old favourite of BigLaw, The Billable Hour. Some of these changes are great (getting away from the billable hour is never a bad thing). For the most part, however, these changes are thinly disguised efforts at attracting new clients in much the same way that high school drug pushers get new junkies: get ‘em hooked, then jack up the price. BigLaw is sticking around, but they don’t really get what NewLaw is about.
At the other end of the spectrum there are some firms out there who are billing themselves as “NewLaw” firms who don’t really get it either. The proper and productive use of new technology, fighting for plain language in legal documents, and (gasp!) reducing business inefficiencies are certainly business imperatives, but by themselves these aren’t what make a firm “NewLaw”, particularly if it comes at the expense of the client relationship.
Those firms who actually get it—who understand at a core level that clients want problem-solving lawyers rather than problem-generating lawyers—are the true NewLaw firms. We focus on understanding our clients’ problems, the impact and risk those problems present to our clients’ businesses, and on involving our clients in formulating solutions which not only mitigate risk but—in the best of cases—create new opportunities.
We don’t need to be bogged down by the baggage of OldLaw. NewLaw is our own thing. But we (really really) need a new name. Off-hand, I don’t have a suggestion: the purpose of this article is to crowdsource the problem.
My only request is that the new name not contain any internal caps.
Jeff is a Co-Founder and Lawyer at Spark LLP. In addition to being a Bay Street refugee, Jeff is a commercial litigator, managing disputes for clients of all shapes and sizes.