I spend a lot of time talking about the changing shape of the legal profession with business development leaders. And so it was great to attend the Law Society’s FLIP conference (Future Law and Innovation in the Profession) to hear about the future of the legal profession from the lawyers’ perspective.
I found the entire discussion fascinating. What is clear to me is that, for business development professionals either working in the legal industry, or considering a move to the legal industry, there has really never been a more exciting time. One thing is for sure, as law firms evolve to meet these changes, business development and other business support leaders and their teams are going to be critical.
The changing shape of the legal landscape
The FLIP conference was thought provoking, future forward and there was some great content. It’s hard to do the
conversations justice in an article, but here are some key insights from the day .
The key speakers I am summarising are:
- Mitch Kowalski– Barrister, Solicitor and Consultant, Gowling WLG Professor in Legal Innovation Calgary Law School
- Richard Susskind – OBE, Author, Speaker and Independent Advisor, The President of the Society for Computer and Law
- In-house counsel understand how law firms work (margins, operations etc) and in-house teams can now do more themselves. There is a trend away from a willingness to pay for juniors. Clients want cost reduction, senior level service (not just business as usual) and a firm looking at new and better ways to deliver.
- Corporate clients are increasingly comfortable with non-traditional law firms and with carving bits of work out to different people (the rise of new law and Big4 coming into this space).
- When client feedback is negative it’s pretty much always about service delivery, not technical skills.
- Clients want to communicate through various channels (text, whatsapp etc). E-mail now only reserved for formal communications.
- Clients will compare legal services to the efficiency of what we do in other parts of our lives. They would prefer to sort out their dispute or transaction from their iPhone.
- The “more for less” challenge will continue.
- The leading edge of millennials will turn 40 next year.
- They are not fixated on linear career paths, rather they are comfortable with portfolio careers. Some new law firms are accommodating that flexibility and lifestyle.
- Firms are losing good young lawyers what they want.
- Knowledge workers want “Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose”. Firms must look at how do we give this to talent. The same applies to law firm BD and business support people.
- Millennials want “work life harmony” and many would prefer flexibility over a pay raise.
- Increasingly general counsel and in house teams are millennials.
- Future generations will probably want the same things.
- There are 2000+ legal tech companies globally.
- A reality which is “more tech, less lawyers” is coming.
What does this mean for the future?
The predictions for the next five years are:
- Staying the same is not an option. The pace of change is accelerating.
- Lawyers score in 90th percentile for scepticism. Big changes are scary but it needs to happen. This is where BD and business support professionals come in to play their part in driving the change.
- We will see small firms punch above their weight and do more complex work from more diverse regions, facilitated by technology.
- We live in a DIY world. Some law will go DIY. Examples are cropping up of major corporates’ in-house legal teams, training in-house business people on some less complex legal work so they can do it themselves. This allows the in-house teams to work on higher value stuff (similar to BD/bids people training lawyers to do their own proposals).
- There are already examples of law firms who are up skilling non-lawyers to do some lower level legal work, supported by technology that doesn’t allow a mistake therefore pushing higher level work up the value chain. Lawyers are happy as they are doing the big brain work they went to law school for, other staff are happy as more purposeful work and clients are happy due to lower fees.
- There is great filtering potential for tech – to triage off the 80 percent you can deal with in an easy way to then feed work back to the lawyer if the situation gets more complex. Examples were shared of firms offering advice via technology for free online as a feeder program.
- There are already clients who won’t engage a law firm unless they are using technology and other lower cost business operating models efficiently, and this will continue.
- Technology allows flexible working and it’s predicted hot desks and working from home will continue to increase.
- Innovation isn’t always tech based. The cost of premises and leases is huge for law firms. If you change your shape in that regard it’s innovation and a more sustainable solution, which is attractive to clients. The hot-desking culture will continue.
- “Just in time lawyering”, eg LOD, Axiom, Elevate will become increasingly common and in the future alternative legal services will no longer be alternative.
- At some point the Court system will likely change and parts will go online.
- This will reverberate down to law schools. Law and Tech will be taught intertwined.
What does this mean for the longer term future?
Let’s open our minds…
Speaker, Mitch Kowalski, made several predications:
- There will be more change in law in next two decades than last two centuries. What if everything else was outsourced and the law firm was just a platform or an aggregator.
- Like the film industry, Kowalski sees a future where law firms bring together different types of people (lawyers, data scientists etc) in on a project basis, with little office space and permanent structure.
- In the words of management consultant, Peter Drucker “In the Next Society’s corporation, top management will be the company. Everything else can be outsourced.”
Richard Susskind’s future prediction takes it further:
- There are two ways to view technology. The purpose of automation is to streamline, improve and optimise traditional ways of working. Useful but doesn’t fundamentally change how we work. Automation that creates transformation, challenge, disruption and replaces some of what we do.
- Many people in law are very comfortable with the first way of utilising technology but made nervous by the second. These two futures will progress in parallel for some time but the second, displacement technology will come. This is a huge opportunity and should be met with excitement. It’s important to remember that clients don’t want legal judgement, they want an outcome. If can be delivered without meeting someone, all the better.
- Technology is growing at an exponential rate. Consider Moore’s Law that every couple of years the processing power of computers will double. By 2020, the average machine will have the same processing power as a human brain. By 2050, the average machine will have more processing power than all of humanity together.
The Rise of Big Data
- The amount of data generated is growing at an exponential rate. Every two days we create as much information as we did from the beginning of time to 2003.
- There is a lot of opportunity in that which is where big data comes in. With the right tech that data can help us make predictions. Data science and data mining is now shifting to machine learning.
- As one example, Lex Machina can predict the outcome of patent disputes better than human lawyers. The system knows nothing of the law – it knows information around the law – details of past claims, courts, firms, judges, locations etc and can predict court behaviour on this better than legal method.
- This is a challenge for lawyers to hear as they often believe nothing will replace their judgement. As I said before, clients are not coming to law firms for judgement – they are coming for an outcome. And here big data is providing a better outcome. If you’re a lawyer everything looks like a legal problem but it’s the wrong mindset for a client who just wants to win.
- If a “lawyer” is someone who provides a legal outcome, is there a future where some “lawyers” have not been to law school? Instead they are data scientists, systems developers or similar. They are not reliant on understanding the method of the law to provide the answer to the client.
- Players in the legal industry need to decide whether they compete with these new systems or build them.
Richard Susskind on how innovative most law firms are being now
- Richard Susskind commented that law firms do a lot of “innovation by press release”. Many firms are in the early stages but a lot of it is exaggerated. It will continue to grow and there is still a lot of opportunity for firms to take the lead. He also commented almost all short term predictions for law and AI are hugely over stated. However the long term impact is generally under stated – we don’t understand how rapidly things are developing and what the outcome will be.
How does all of this affect careers for Legal Professionals?
- There was a real sense throughout the conference that this should shape a more exciting career for Lawyers. By making the machines do what they can, Lawyers will be freed up to do higher level work. This ‘grunt work’ is what often leads junior Lawyers to leave the profession and so the future may help retention in the industry.
- Lawyers should focus their training on communication and relationships building skills. This draws parallels to what CMOs say s about the BD person of the future. You can read our article on this, quoting CMOs. While the article was focused on Asia, the themes are relevant globally.
- One delegate asked the question, “how do you train lawyers without the grunt (high repetition) work now going to tech?”, and I found the answer fascinating. An example was share of 3 UK law firms (not named) who are using AI, gamification and experiential learning to put them through simulations for high level learning. These firms had taken the idea and technology from their clients, who train pilots, maritime professionals, engineers and medical professionals using the same tools. It has been a significant investment for the firms in question. There will most likely be a strategy to commercialise these platforms down the track. This approach allows the partners to focus on training on the softer skills like taking young lawyers out to clients and teaching them about how they interact, negotiate and manage the relationship.
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Allan Kay