“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” – Bill Gates
It’s easy to focus on the immediate future when thinking about how a certain industry will evolve. Although significant change will occur in the short-term future, the longer-term future of law is looking even brighter.
In the last few years alone, the legal industry has seen immense change. Further, emerging areas such as legal technology have seen unprecedented growth. The next 5 years will be truly game-changing for not only legal technology, but the entire legal industry itself. Looking forward, here are 5 predictions for the future of law:
Lawyers will ‘commoditise or specialise’
As more and more players enter the legal industry, we’re seeing firms alter their ways of doing things. This results in the decision to move up the ladder and specialise, or move down the ladder and commoditise. Each direction requires a different skill set and business model. The overriding question here is: Do you chase higher margins and lower frequency work? Or do you opt for lower margins and higher frequency work? The former requires more specialised and experienced lawyers, the latter requires more technology and automation.
My prediction is that firms that choose to stay in the middle will be left behind.
Junior lawyers will become ‘Legal analysts’
The role of a junior lawyer with change from performing largely administrative tasks, to operating and interpreting results from legal software. We know that human beings have cognitive skills which can’t be replicated by machines. The most important of these is critical thinking and analysis. By contrast, many administrative tasks have become automated in recent years. Interpreting data and information is a different ball game, especially when it comes to something more abstract, such as law.
There is a constant narrative that there are too many graduates leaving law school and not enough legal jobs. However, there is a world of opportunity for technologically-savvy legal professionals. The skills of the future for a junior lawyer will be process and project management, tech expertise, and data analytics.
Clients will purchase legal solutions, not lawyers
In a recent Forbes article titled “Legal Services” Are Whatever Buyers Need To Solve Business Challenges” Mark A. Cohen made the following remark:
“Legal services have long been whatever lawyers said they were. Lawyers – not clients – dictated what was required, the timetable for delivery, and the blank check cost of their services. Now, legal services are whatever buyers need to solve business challenges. Consumers-not lawyers-make that call. It’s a new ballgame. Law firms were the dominant force in the old game, but they are just one category of legal provider in the new one.”
As Cohen observes, clients are becoming more and more focused on a final result than how they got there. In the future clients will hire both lawyers and non-lawyers to have their legal needs met.
Legal services will continue to be ‘unbundled’
Over the last few years we’ve seen a movement towards the ‘unbundling’ of legal services. An alternative to traditional full-service representation, the ‘unbundling’ concept means where traditionally a lawyer would take care of the complete client journey, unbundled services might contain a combination of both lawyers and non-lawyers. These players work together to add value as legal services are completed.
Lawyers will not be replaced
For all the talk of lawyers being replaced by technology, it’s important to remember that many tasks cannot be replicated. (read: robots are not going to replace lawyers). However, the role of lawyers will change more in the next 10 years than they have in the last 100. The legal industry, whether intentionally or unintentionally, did resist change for many decades. However, these changes are worth embracing – for both lawyers and clients. There are many menial tasks that lawyers perform where it makes sense for technology to replace them. However, there are many more strategic, interpersonal and client related tasks that lawyers must perform. As more and more technological solutions enter the industry, lawyers will spend less time on research and drafting. This will allow them to focus their attentions where it’s needed – strategy and communication with their clients.
People and businesses alike will always need legal services. However, the way these services are delivered is changing – and it will continue to change. Lawyers will always be an integral part of the legal system. However, technology will ‘fill the gaps’ to bring the legal industry the transparency clients demand.
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