From Cognition to Axiom: The Development of the “Un-Law Firm”

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“Uber”.

The next big thing is always “The Uber of…”

So it’s no shock that at last summer’s CBA National Conference guest speaker Leonard Brody made the assertion that there was, as he spoke, an “Uber” development for lawyers that we would be foolish not to see coming.

And it’s no shock that more and more we’re seeing blogs and articles talking about the development of “Uber Law Firms” working to take away business from those who are mired in the 19th century model of legal service delivery.

And, yet, most lawyers nod and go back to their desk feeling somewhat comfortable in doing things, “the way we’ve always done it.”

Meanwhile, however, real people, in the real world, were working for actual clients in ways that weren’t “the same old, same old.” In 2005, Rubson Ho started up a new, lean and aggressive legal service firm called “Cognition LLP”.

Cognition LLP quickly developed a strong base of highly skilled and highly experienced corporate counsel, taking their members from some significant lawyers in the “Big Law” field and from in-house corporate counsel as well, including senior counsel with former lives at firms like Gowlings, Oslers and Stikemans and corporate entities such as ExxonMobil and CNRL.

The model of this new upstart was a lean delivery process that eschewed the in-house dining service and massive board rooms, with lawyers most often working at home or at client offices,
taking full advantage of cloud-based computers and other technology reducing the reliance upon the traditional big-firm “brick and mortar”. When lawyers are “in the office”, they are in shared office facilities. The result reportedly being that legal costs to clients are reduced from a half to a third of comparable traditional legal service providers.

And then, as even that change began to ripple the waters of the legal sphere in Canada, offshore came, perhaps, a tsunami. A U.S. corporation coming into Canada to provide legal service to Canadian corporate clients.

Meet Axiom. Or, to be precise, “Axiom Global Inc.”

In January of 2016, Cognition’s large “corporate clientele with general counsel” base was taken over by Axiom – with the small/medium enterprise corporate work moved to newly formed
“Caravel Law”.

“Caravel Law” appears to continue to serve clients as a law firm, but as with Cognition, focused on developing lean, efficient service models that “cut the fat” of Big Law and deliver high quality service in a more efficient (read “less expensive”)and personalized manner.

But Axiom is a whole different animal, and it’s feeding in our own backyard as of January 2016.

Who, or more importantly, “what” is Axiom?

Well. If you go to their website, www.axiomlaw.com, it looks sort of like Cognition. Lawyers without ties, sitting around non-descript tables, with large, airy staff areas where people collaborate to find solutions to their clients’ legal problems. It looks like a “Google-ized” law firm.

But here’s the rub. It’s not a law firm at all. Which means no Law Society oversight. No restrictions on advertising, no regulatory compliance costs. No “responsible lawyer” to attend to the coming “entity regulation” programs. Basically, it’s the Un-Law Firm.

If you dig through their website they looks like a large law firm delivery package, but then you find your way to these interesting disclaimers:

Axiom® is not a law firm and does not provide legal representation or advice to clients. Axiom attorneys are independent and do not constitute a law firm among themselves. The Axiom mark is the property of Axiom Global, Inc. and is intended solely for the purpose of marketing Axiom services, and not for the practice of law.

By providing information to Axiom via this website or otherwise communicating information to Axiom, you are not establishing an attorney-client relationship and the information you provide to us will not be afforded legal protection as an attorney-client
communication.

Any engagement of an Axiom attorney constitutes a direct attorney-client engagement, and the attorney is solely responsible for all legal advice rendered to you. Axiom is not
responsible for the legal advice rendered by any Axiom attorney. You agree not to hold Axiom responsible for the legal advice rendered by any Axiom attorney and hereby release Axiom from any and all claims arising in connection therewith.

So. We know what they aren’t. They are not a law firm. They do not create attorney-client privilege, and the service the company provides are not protected by oversight of a legal regulatory body, like the Law Society of Alberta. The individual lawyers are, but not the corporation as a whole.

Well. Clients won’t buy that. The foundation of public trust in our profession rests in the oversight and regulatory authority of our Law Societies, doesn’t it? Maybe not.

According to Forbes magazine, Axiom recently signed a $73 million contract to review collateral risk to a major worldwide bank. 1

In a recent Beaton Capital online article, they predicted that by2018 Axiom may well being the world’s largest legal services firm. 2

You see, since Axiom started out in 2000, it has grown to become a massive legal service provider where they seem to broker or organize solutions for clients who have need for assistancein matters relating to their legal concerns:

Axiom functions more as a consulting company than a law firm or temp firm. It conducts audits of the in-house legal department’s needs, and then designs solutions to meet them. The solutions can include a customized team of lawyers with the expertise and price point needed by the general counsel. They can also include services provided by one of Axiom’s four delivery centers, which are staffed by attorneys, paralegals, negotiators, and other non-attorney staff. The delivery centers perform services including document review, discovery, and mergers and acquisition negotiation. Axiom’s marketing focuses on performing legal work efficiently through this segmentation of legal services. 3

The fact that Axiom is not governed or subject to the oversight of legal regulators doesn’t seem to faze a growing and sophisticated clientele.

Which raises all sorts of interesting questions regarding our perspective on what it is that our clients’ want and need from lawyers and lawyer regulators. Maybe it isn’t what lawyers and law societies think it is.

If we’ve learned anything from Uber, perhaps, it’s that if you provide reasonable service at a lower price, clients will ignore the absence of regulation and insurance.

As our Federation of Law Societies work towards increasing regulatory oversight and “entity” regulation, they may be setting the groundwork for their own eventual irrelevance. The “new”development of entity regulation may already be passé. Time will tell.

By |2016-04-16T12:32:04-06:00April 16th, 2016|Business Law, Legal Profession|Comments Off on From Cognition to Axiom: The Development of the “Un-Law Firm”