Technology has disrupted every industry to some degree and the law is no different. As advances in technology revolutionise today’s legal landscape, the roles of the solicitor, administrator and paralegal have all shifted.
Legal professionals have had to learn to use an increasingly wide array of software and tech tools for their practice, and some applications have supplanted the work altogether. Law firms have had their entire business models challenged, and automation (along with blockchain technology) threatens to automate even more work away. As the technological wave continues to impact the law, many people are looking around for answers and wondering what exactly to do.
On a recent episode of the Beyond Billables Show, we talked to Andrew Mellett about the evolution of legal careers, how his firm Plexus Legal has leveraged technological tools, the improvement of legal management operating systems, artificial intelligence and the skills lawyers of the future will need to develop. Listening to the episode is a great place to start. But beyond that, let’s take a closer look at some of the ways technology is affecting legal careers.
Continued legal outsourcing
In recent years, the legal industry has experienced a global paradigm shift in the delivery model for legal services. This model transfers the work of attorneys, paralegals and other legal professionals to external vendors typically located overseas. Outsourcing may not be the newest trend, but it’s likely to increasingly ratchet up as other technological tools make the legal space even more competitive. The connected, globalised economy is here, and this relocation of labour is but one side effect.
Technological workarounds and solutions
If you stop for a moment and consider the success of companies like LegalZoom or Rocket Lawyer, you immediately see another way that technology can have an impact. These online services have developed the ability for consumers to create their own legal documents and forms. Both companies clearly note that they’re not really lawyers or law firms, but that they empower people to achieve the same deliverables that many law firms do. Wills, contracts, incorporation, bankruptcy filings – all of these are things that current AI technology can handle; and new companies have zeroed their business models in on these areas. LegalZoom isn’t even all that new. Founded in 2001, it’s simply one of the first and best-recognised versions of this trend. Going forward, law firms increasingly have to deal with a new style of challenger.
Increased computing power
In the coming years, the available computing power is likely to continue growing, perhaps doubling or tripling in the next decade. This increase in power will likely drive current lawyering technologies such as document automation, decisions engines, e-discovery tools, communication and collaboration tools, legal research tools, and legal expert systems to new heights. This proliferation and increased clout of tech-based legal solutions mean that lawyers will be able to add plenty more functionality to existing tools and also probably have a good deal of tasks coded out of existence.
The surging popularity of NewLaw
What is NewLaw? It’s a phrase coined to describe essentially anything that departs from legal orthodoxy – or the ‘old approach’ – to practising law. NewLaw has everything to do with flexibility, creativity and alternative modes of thinking. NewLaw tends to represent a departure from the billable hour paradigm. Platforms have been built that allow lawyers to work on their own schedule, and an increasing number of NewLaw firms are offering flexible, technology-infused, human-friendly work environments to appeal to a new generation of legal professionals. Marque and Bespoke are pioneers in this new style of business formation and practice. Both are worth taking a few minutes to check out.
Online processing and applications
Issues like divorce and immigration used to provide a lot of work for attorneys. They still do, but technology is nibbling around the edges. DIY divorces are now an increasingly prevalent trend. Divorce can be an extremely lengthy process, with arbitration amounting to paperwork shuffling back and forth between each side’s representation for months or even years. This can now be done online in a matter of weeks, and at a substantially lower cost. Immigration is another example. In the wake of Brexit, millions of EEA citizens had their legal statuses in the UK thrown into jeopardy. The government piloted a programme to allow these people to apply for an extended stay via an online portal. No lengthy paper application led to a drastic reduction in the need for administrative people and immigration lawyers.
What does it all mean?
There is an essentially endless list of ways that technology is changing law careers – the above is just a scratch on the surface. But here is what we do know: It is a very good time to be a consumer of legal services. Technology has created clients who expect far more from their solicitors. In today’s market, clients demand lawyers who provide seamless service, transparency, premium quality and progressive billing policies.
On the flipside, being a lawyer in today’s world is increasingly complex and challenging. New work is being created constantly by globalised markets, but the competition for that work is higher than ever. Existing traditional law firms may be swallowed up and become dedicated teams working for even bigger corporates. There is a lot of uncertainty over how technology will truly change the law. Questions remain over what will happen to the old-school law firms and it’s yet to be seen how generational value differences will play out.
It’s also an exciting time that offers a huge opportunity for innovation. For the people who understand technology and business alongside the law, now is your time to shine.
‘In times of turbulence, the biggest danger is to act with yesterday’s logic’ ~ Peter F. Drucker
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