This post asks questions about the Uberisation of professional services. This phenomenon is occurring as surely as is the Uberisation of most other parts of the services economy.
Uberisation of professional services poses as many opportunities for professional services firms and institutions as it does risks and threats.
Late last year the London business press buzzed about a comment made to the Financial Times (pay wall) by Maurice Levy, chief executive of global advertising group Publicis: “Everyone is starting to worry about being Ubered”. Levy was referring to the rise of the freelance economy as an increasing proportion of workers chooses – or is forced – to become self-employed as contractors.
Uberisation is not limited to driving taxis, renting rooms, and nursing. Of the professions, Uberisation is most visible in legal services because of the rise and publicity given to what we have dubbed NewLaw providers of legal services.
And it’s not just newcomers like AdventBalance and Bespoke Law in Australia, Conduit Law in Canada, Lawyers on Demand and Riverview Law in the UK, and Custom Counsel and Axiom Law in the USA that are Ubering. Large BigLaw firms are too – witness Peerpoint by Allen & Overy, Vario by Pinsent Masons, and most recently Orbit by Corrs Chambers Westgarth, to name some. Online matching services like Professional Mums constitute another facilitator of Uberisation in professional services.
Implications of the Uberisation of professional services for individuals
Those facing the greatest uncertainty caused by Uberisation are the owners, employees and prospective employees of traditional firms.
Surveys done for the Commonwealth Bank in Australia by Beaton Research + Consulting in Australia suggest law firm leaders are now recognising the trend and seeing it mainly as one of a competitive threat. How current students and recent graduates perceive the situation is unknown; there is no research available as far as I am aware.
Let’s look at what Uberisation means to current practitioners. Most, if not all, contracted lawyers working under the auspices of one of the NewLaw firms are essentially self-employed with the freedom and positive challenges this brings. But they have no security of income, no superannuation, no permanent social work environment, no paid annual leave, no long service leave and, usually, no training and organised continuing professional development.
Especially for young practitioners there is no structured professional education program and no employer-provided training in the basics of practice. And certainly no apprenticeship – the foundation on which the next generation of the profession has been built for generations.
Implications of Uberisation of professional services for institutions
Uberisation is up-ending the status quo with inevitable implications for institutions such as universities, professional societies and regulators.
In Australia it would seem many are not really tuning into the trend, let alone exploring the policy, fiscal and other implications. In comparison, in Canada and the USA with the ABA Commission there are major enquiries in law, including some terms of reference to Uberisation – although not using the word!
One standout positive example of an Australian institutional policy initiative in this space is the work of the Professional Standards Councils – independent statutory bodies responsible for promoting professional standards and consumer protection. . While it’s early days, the signs from the Professional Standards Councils are encouraging and worthy of the support of all practitioners, firms and professional societies.
The implications of the Uberisation of professional services are far-reaching and have the potential to be very positive for the missions of professions provided all stakeholders engage and contribute.
On March 11, 2015 in Sydney, Beaton and the Future Exploration Network are running Clients and Firms of the Future: How to Compete. This not-to-be-missed Forum is for leaders in professional services and B2B services. Register here.