06Jun

The business of lawyering is undergoing a transformation that is as dramatic as it is still little recognized even by many in the profession.

As has been the case with so many other sectors of the economy, the COVID pandemic accelerated changes already occurring. Most obvious has been the rapid deployment of technology in ways that few in the field would have predicted even as recently as the beginning of this year.

Court appearances, hearings and chambers’ conferences that just months ago had to be conducted in person, are now routinely handled by video and phone. Legal filings are accepted online. Clients meet with their lawyer remotely. Law schools are teaching entirely online.

“The pandemic has liberated the legal industry from compulsory attendance at legal sanctuaries — offices, schools, and courthouses,” writes lawyer, legal entrepreneur and law professor Mark Cohen. “In a matter of weeks, the legal ecosystem became more agile, fluid, collaborative and efficient. This transition occurred with remarkable speed, pervasiveness, absence of resistance, and overall effectiveness.”

These innovations were born out of necessity. Courts couldn’t simply shut down completely, so judges and lawyers and their support staffs switched to the online model many other businesses did.

Now that the experiment has, as Cohen notes in his commentary on Forbes, “illuminated the opportunity for reimagining and improving upon old ways of delivering legal services, learning, and resolving disputes,” a complete return to tradition is unthinkable. “The genie is out of the bottle.”

The transformation, though, is not purely technological. Cohen points to Arizona and Utah, where the high court in each state approved sweeping programs to change law’s business structure and open the door to admit non-lawyers to the practice.

In August, the Utah Supreme Court unanimously authorized a pilot program to test changes enabling “individuals and entities to explore creative ways to safely allow lawyers and non-lawyers to practice law and to reduce constraints on how lawyers market and promote their services.”

Later that month Arizona’s high court removed a long-standing rule that prohibited non-lawyers from owning a law firm and other alternative business structures. The court’s order also permits the licensing of non-lawyers as paraprofessionals who will be able to provide some legal services to clients, including representing them in court.

The courts in both states established committees more than a year ago to study ways to improve access to legal services, so the two announcements didn’t come as complete surprises. Anticipating a loosening of the legal rules and recognizing the transformation of the profession, Deloitte, PwC, EY, and KPMG began enhancing their legal consulting practices.

Cohen says The Big Four “are each supplementing their legal talent pools by hiring well-known lawyers and business of law experts in an effort burnish their ‘legal’ credentials.”

As CEO of The Digital Legal Exchange, Cohen has a stake in promoting the transformation, especially the digital transformation, of the legal profession. Still, the evidence he cites and the articles he references, many written by him, makes a compelling case.

“Law,” he concludes, “Is not solely about lawyers anymore, and digital transformation, accelerated by COVID-19, will transform it just as it has its customers.”

Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

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Jun 6, 2023

Wearables That Print On Your Body

Biomedical sensors long ago moved out of the hospital and into an assortment of recreational exercise devices monitoring heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and other vital signs.

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Whether medical or recreational activity trackers, these sensors require some sort of carrier — think wristbands or EKG electrode patches — which limits their effectiveness and can make them uncomfortable when worn for extended periods. They can also be hard to place and often have poor signal quality.

Now, right out of science fiction, engineers at Penn State, China’s Harbin Institute of Technology and other Chinese institutions have come up with a way to print the sensors and their electronics directly on human skin.

Up to now, the only way to bond nanoparticles together to create flexible electronics was through a process requiring temperatures hotter than the hottest home oven. The new process uses common materials that allow the particles to bond at room temperature.

The resulting sensor is flexible, smooth and durable enough to remain on the skin until peeled off with hot water. The devices can then be recycled and reused.

Lead researcher, Penn State Engineering Professor Huanyu Cheng, explained that the bonding process uses polyvinyl alcohol paste — the main ingredient in peelable face masks — and calcium carbonate — the key ingredient of eggshells.

The sensors, he said, “Are capable of precisely and continuously capturing temperature, humidity, blood oxygen levels and heart performance signals.”

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Jun 6, 2023

As Pharma Transforms, Drug Stocks Poised for Comeback

Big Pharma is poised for a financial comeback this year, even as both industry leaders and ambitious upstarts will navigate through choppy waters.

J.P. Morgan analyst Chris Schott wrote in mid-December that 2020 will be a recovery year for the stocks of major pharmaceutical companies. After a year in which the S&P 500 was up 25%, the S&P 500 Pharmaceuticals grew not even half that.

Schott basis his forecast on several new drug launches and significant growth for the category of cancer drugs known as PD-1 inhibitors. He also discounts the possibility of drug pricing legislation, suggesting “there appears to be more headline risk than fundamental risk.”

Meanwhile, a CPHi outlook article discusses 10 trends pharma leaders expect the industry to confront during the year. Artificial intelligence and its application in developing, not drugs or clinical outcomes surprisingly, but in predicting timelines and in compliance and regulatory matters.

Cell and gene therapies (CGT) will likely continue to be one of the focus areas in 2020, while the importance of biologicals will continue to grow. Pharma will increasingly turn to CDMOs to take their research from clinical development through regulatory approval.

Peter Bigelow, president of xCel Strategic Consulting, sees more “transformational partnerships between CDMOs and big pharma” in 2020, as the major companies refocus their traditional methods of operation.

“Whereas in the past Big Pharma has been very transactional and has put driving product costs down as a priority, they are instead looking now at partnerships on baskets of products. This means the CDMOs must operate differently, be longer-term in the way they envision these relationships and they must commit to very high degrees of operational and quality improvement.”

Another prediction, this from Jim Miller, founder and former president of Pharmsource, is that CDMOs will continue to be the targets of acquisition. He expects some of the bigger private equity firms to be attracted to the mid-size CDMOs as will larger, public firms.

Morgan analyst Schott agrees. Rather than more mega-mergers, “We see biz dev pivoting towards bolt-on deals in 2020 with focus on building out existing therapeutic verticals and adding potential mid-2020s launch opportunities.”