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The future of lawyers - why law firms should not be only about lawyers? This article answers that question.

When the pandemic first hit the world in March 2020 many organizations, including law firms, were forced to start a “new normal”, i.e., going quickly and completely online or being left behind. Thomas Friedman believes that COVID-19 will establish a historical divide - before-corona (BC) and after-corona (AC).1 For the legal profession, adjusting to that urge has been far from easy, but it was impressive how many organizations adjusted agilely to that change and led the movement. Ironically, it may be said that all it took for the legal profession to wake up and embrace technology was a health crisis! This article strives to shed light on what we can learn from the experience and how it can be leveraged and implemented to help the legal sector to thrive in the years to come.

The lawyer’s contribution to business growth and innovation

The legal establishment has long been linked with tradition and rigidity. It may be said that the conventional image of the legal profession as a static discipline should come to an end in the digital age. In 1996, Richard Susskind predicted that the legal profession would adopt emails as the most used means of communication. That prediction caused a great deal of fury within the legal profession in the UK.2

Nowadays, the issue is no longer about the preferred method of communication. Instead, it is more about the core established methods by which the legal industry has long lived. Approaching the new era with the same old-fashioned perspective will not do the legal industry any good but will harm it. The current challenge for the legal industry is to be more flexible and multidisciplinary, and that can be achieved by centering on clients rather than lawyers in the business models.3

In addition, we should see a shift in the way the legal profession operates, replacing the input focus - billable hours - with a more rewarding output focus - efficiency and outcomes.4 The move to the digital age requires attentive, strategic, and agile policymaking and business models. McKinsey predicts “the companies that are going to thrive in the Next Normal -- have fast and flexible operating models underpinned by an unshakeable sense of purpose.”5

Moreover, law firms can benefit from joining professionals from different disciplines that align with providing legal services. Law firms can then expand their role to include legal technology, project management, trademark and patent agents, cybersecurity experts, and legal designers just to name a few.6 Being exposed to these professions and assimilating them into the legal industry can generate favorable outcomes and contribute to expanding the role of the legal profession. According to a report by McKinsey, 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 have not been created yet.7 Another challenge predicted by the World Economic Forum is that the rate of automation will see machines overtaking humans in workplaces by 2025, with machines ahead by 4%, performing 52% of workplace tasks as opposed to 48% being performed by humans.8

Leaders are required to provide their law firms efficient training programs well suited to the technological age and to provide companies with multidisciplinary perspectives.9 Before this can be implemented efficiently, training in skills should go hand in hand with defining their purpose, so that every law firm should question and define its purpose and then implement it in its daily activities.10

Giving workers the feeling that they have a purpose can generate unexpectedly good results.11 Hence, embracing changes fully, producing business models accordingly, and providing training programs that suit the companies' purposes can open more doors for the legal profession, and help the industry reach a wider audience as well.

Impacts of virtual working

Many law firms have been operating remotely since the lockdown started. Also, many online internships are outsourced through internship providers like Forage, a virtual work experience program that provides a convenient high-quality service which allows law firms to reach far more applicants and provide a level playing field for them. The pandemic has forced the legal industry to not only change court practices but to also turn to a fully digital mode. It was urgent, from the outset, to adopt digital means in providing legal services, and law firms always hoped that one day everything would return to its pre-covid status.

Now, more than a year after the outbreak of the pandemic, it is vital for the legal industry to process and reflect upon its experience with the pandemic, as well as envisage how that experience can be leveraged for a more sustainable future for the industry.12

Some would assume, when evaluating the efforts of the legal profession, that the significance of the movement is caused by the unruly force of the pandemic. But this assumption misframes the problem. Rather, we should credit the legal industry's agility and decisiveness in dealing appropriately with the disruptive nature of Covid-19. (The legal industry had been making steady investment in technology throughout pre-pandemic years.)13

Further, the above assumption misses a critical point. The pressing question is whether the change should be a mere reaction, or rather a more strategic and thorough vision. The legal industry has dealt with the moment of crisis in an impressively adaptive way, yet to thrive in the future, the legal industry needs to also think and look beyond the moment.14 The adoption of virtual working in business models can, in fact, contribute to networking and to business expansion.15 A great example of that is Axiom, an on-demand service provider that centers on the customer and simultaneously gives lawyers the freedom to do their work remotely. Therefore, law firms should adopt the digital mode of business as a continuous means of delivering their services, while leveraging and enhancing the existing capabilities of virtual working.

The lawyer’s role in achieving simplification and speed

Reimagining the future of the legal profession by simplifying it and making it more agile should be central to the focus and development of business models and strategies. Approaching the future with outdated methods of providing and delivering services is a recipe for failure. For an organization to succeed in the race to the future, there should be some inner reforms. These reforms can be addressed and realized by implementing effective measures that simplify and speed up the process of working, communicating and providing legal services alongside prioritizing well-being and promoting collaboration.16 Regarding the possible strategies to properly deal with that, and to bring in more appropriate and effective interaction, the lines of communication must be shortened and timetables established for meetings at the operational, managerial and strategical levels to evaluate progress and address challenges.17

Similarly, in her interview with McKinsey, Caroline Carr states, “Most companies went into the pandemic already having a crisis communication strategy.”18 She goes on to suggest some solutions to this issue and asserts the importance of leaders meeting frequently through wide-ranging channels and clearly conveying their strategy to various stakeholders to address what needs to be accomplished to move ahead.19 This indicates how necessary it is now -- in the age of technology and multi-disciplinary working -- for legal professionals to eschew the temptation of wordsmithing and instead adopt to plain and simplified language. As mentioned, the legal industry should not be just about lawyers, but should also include the extent of required changes in terms of attitudes. Thus, decentering lawyers and centering on clients instead would mean business models can generate faster communication and therefore higher customer satisfaction.20

Additionally, employees love the idea of having purpose and targets,21 and thus performance assessments should be performed, including criteria focusing on speed and efficiency that should lead to prompt bonuses.

Moreover, a profound change should be made for changing the billable hour system -- which promotes sluggishness and inefficiency -- and replacing it with a more efficient method.22 Richard Susskind suggests two alternative strategies. First, he assumes that the efficiency strategy -- through which lawyers find ways of cutting costs of their legal service -- will be adapted in the next few years.23 Secondly, the collaboration strategy, which is assumed to outlive the first strategy, will give clients collectively the right to price certain types of legal services, which can be achieved through advocacy and education.24 The latter suggestion, however, seems to have missed some suitable and more applicable solutions in the digital age, such as platforming legal services, enabling clients to choose services and quoting prices depending on the effort called for and the quality required.

The adoption and use of legal technology

Technology is the language and lifestyle of the future. Even though legal professionals are not required to speak it, they should understand it or at least understand its potential.25 An example of legal technology is the use of blockchain, a platform through which the process of contracting can be speeded up, ensuring a high level of transparency, due to its immutable characteristics,26 and a high level of security, owing to the use of cryptography which ensures that adversaries cannot access the content of a contract.27. By using blockchain, 80% of contract clauses can be standardized via coding, while the remaining percentage, which represents the subjective and commercial terms, is subject to negotiation.28

As seen, the use of technology can free lawyers from up to 80 per cent of the process of drafting contracts and let them concentrate on what really matters. Moreover, using artificial intelligence (AI) can help legal firms enhance and automate tasks and processes, and reduce costs and boost efficiency. The following extract from a report produced by Thomson Reuters can illustrate what AI can do:

AI has the potential to genuinely transform how lawyers in legal departments work. Already, machine learning – a type of AI – is used for legal research and for pilot programs attempting to predict litigation outcomes. AI is helping lawyers automate repetitive types of tasks – like drafting lower-exposure or lower-liability agreements such as non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). AI is also empowering in-house counsel in areas such as predictive coding, by saving attorneys time by using samples of data to identify relevant documents in connection with e-discovery requests. AI software also is automating processes and tasks, such as finding and collecting clauses for review during transactional due diligence.29

Nevertheless, with such great opportunities come great challenges. Hence, adopting legal technology requires a proper cybersecurity system.30 Most importantly, lawyers should realize that to become successful or make needed changes, it is not enough to merely adopt technology without being open and ready to become multi-disciplinary as well.

Conclusion

Competing in the race to the future needs inquisitive minds with a readiness to move agilely. Lawyers, as well as many other professionals, must taste what the future might be like. Being adaptive is different from being strategic. The former can help law firms survive the pandemic, but the latter is the recipe for success in the digital age. The next normal might look, prima facie, as it did in pre-covid times, but the future would most probably require a massive shift. Covid-19 might have been a rehearsal for the legal industry to be well prepared for the upcoming future and realize what needs to be done before the profession can thrive. Thus, the future begins now, and lawyers should sense that and start planning and adjusting to that.

END NOTES

  1. Thomas Friedman, 'Our New Historical Divide: B.C. and A.C. — the World Before Corona and the World After' (The New York Times, 17 March 2020) <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/17/opinion/coronavirus-trends.html> Accessed 1 April 2021

  2. Richard Susskind and Bernard Marr, 'Online Courts and the Future of Justice' (17 January 2020) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0yTLqMpUuQ&ab_channel=BernardMarr> Accessed 1 April 2021

  3. Mark Cohen, 'Covid-19 Is Transforming The Legal Industry: Macro And Micro Evidence' (Forbes, 15 September 2020) <https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcohen1/2020/09/15/covid-19-is-transforming-the-legal-industry-macro-and-micro-evidence/?sh=6c1608e03269> Accessed 1 April 2021

  4. Mark Cohen, 'Are Law Firms Sustainable? It's The Model That Matters' (Forbes, 19 August 2019) <https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcohen1/2019/08/19/are-law-firms-sustainable-its-the-model-that-matters/?sh=d0a92a9628fb> Accessed 1 April 2021

  5. --, 'The next normal: Reimagining the post pandemic organization' (2020) McKinsey <https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/reimagining-the-way-businesses-operate#> Accessed 1 April 2021

  6. Josh Lee Kok Thong, 'What Should the Post-lockdown Legal Industry Look Like?' (The Singapore Law Gazette, June 2020) < https://lawgazette.com.sg/practice/practice-matters/post-lockdown-legal-industry/> Accessed 1 April 2021

  7. McKinsey (n 5)

  8. Anna Bruce-Lockhart, 'Davos 2020: Here's what you need to know about the future of work' (World Economic Forum, 16 January 2020) < https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/davos-2020-future-work-jobs-skills-what-to-know/> Accessed 1 April 2021

  9. Mark Cohen, 'Law's Looming Skills Crisis' (Forbes, 21 May 2019) <https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcohen1/2019/05/21/laws-looming-skills-crisis/?sh=aa31fe7445c4> Accessed 1 April 2021

  10. McKinsey (n 5)

  11. Ibid

  12. Mark Cohen, 'Covid-19 Will Turbocharge Legal Industry Transformation' (Forbes, 24 March 2020) <https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcohen1/2020/03/24/covid-19-will-turbocharge-legal-industry-transformation/?sh=44a728871195> Accessed 1 April 2021

  13. Josh Lee Kok Thong (n 6)

  14. Mark Cohen (n 12)

  15. Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind, The Future of the Professions (1st edn, Oxford University Press 2015) 218

  16. Mark Cohen, 'COVID-19 And The Reformation Of Legal Culture' (Forbes 14 April 2020) <https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcohen1/2020/04/14/covid-19-and-the-reformation-of-legal-culture/?sh=43972f35171d> Accessed 1 April 2021

  17. David Frydlinger, Tim Cummins, Kate Vitasek, and Jim Bergman, 'Unpacking Relational Contracts: The Practitioner’s Go-To Guide for Understanding Relational Contracts' (Vested, 2016) <http://www.vestedway.com/wpcontent/uploads/2016/10/Unpacking-Relational-Contracting_v19.Pdf> Accessed 1 April 2021

  18. McKinsey (n 5)

  19. Ibid

  20. Mark Cohen (n 4)

  21. McKinsey (n 5)

  22. Richard Susskind, Tomorrow's lawyers (2nd edn, Oxford University Press, 2017) 17

  23. Ibid 20-21

  24. Ibid 21-24

  25. Tim Cummins and Rory Unsworth, 'How Technology (in Particular AI) Is Impacting Legal Work and Practice' (IACCM, 21 September 2020) <https://iaccm.wistia.com/medias/l2uf31knkj> Accessed 1 April 2021

  26. Tim Cummins and Mark Beer, 'The Use of Blockchain in Commercial Contracts' (IACCM, 2020) <https://iaccm.wistia.com/medias/3bohzwtwu4?wvideo=3bohzwtwu4> Accessed 1 April 2021

  27. Gary Gensler, 'Introduction for 15.S12 Blockchain and Money' (MIT, Fall 2018) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH6vE97qIP4&list=PLUl4u3cNGP63UUkfL0onkxF6MYgVa04Fn&ab_channel=MITOpenCourseWare> Accessed 31 March 2021

  28. Tim Cummins and Mark Beer (n 25)

  29. Thomson Reuters, 'Ready or Not: Artificial Intelligence and Corporate Legal Departments' (Thomson Reuters, 21 November 2017) <https://legal.thomsonreuters.com/en/insights/articles/artificial-intelligence-ai-report> Accessed 1 April 2021

  30. Lucy Ingham, 'Celebrity law firm hit by “surgical” cyberattack, threatening A-list personal data' (Verdict, 12 May 2020) <https://www.verdict.co.uk/celebrity-law-firm-cyberattack-lady-gaga/> Accessed 1 April 2021

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Bruce-Lockhart A, 'Davos 2020: Here's what you need to know about the future of work' (2020) World Economic Forum <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/davos-2020-future-work-jobs-skills-what-to-know/> Accessed 1 April 2021

  2. Cohen M, 'Are Law Firms Sustainable? It's The Model That Matters' (2019) Forbes <https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcohen1/2019/08/19/are-law-firms-sustainable-its-the-model-that-matters/?sh=d0a92a9628fb> Accessed 1 April 2021

  3. Cohen M, 'COVID-19 And The Reformation Of Legal Culture' (2020) Forbes <https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcohen1/2020/04/14/covid-19-and-the-reformation-of-legal-culture/?sh=43972f35171d> Accessed 1 April 2021

  4. Cohen M, 'Covid-19 Is Transforming The Legal Industry: Macro And Micro Evidence' (2020) Forbes <https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcohen1/2020/09/15/covid-19-is-transforming-the-legal-industry-macro-and-micro-evidence/?sh=6c1608e03269> Accessed 1 April 2021

  5. Cohen M, 'Covid-19 Will Turbocharge Legal Industry Transformation' (2020) Forbes <https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcohen1/2020/03/24/covid-19-will-turbocharge-legal-industry-transformation/?sh=44a728871195> Accessed 1 April 2021

  6. Cohen M, 'Law's Looming Skills Crisis' (2019) Forbes <https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcohen1/2019/05/21/laws-looming-skills-crisis/?sh=aa31fe7445c4> Accessed 1 April 2021

  7. Cummins T and Unsowrth R, 'How Technology (in Particular AI) Is Impacting Legal Work and Practice' (2020) IACCM <https://iaccm.wistia.com/medias/l2uf31knkj> Accessed 1 April 2021

  8. Cummins T and Beer M, 'The Use of Blockchain in Commercial Contracts' (2020) IACCM <https://iaccm.wistia.com/medias/3bohzwtwu4?wvideo=3bohzwtwu4> Accessed 1 April 2021

  9. Gensler G, 'Introduction for Blockchain and Money' (2018) MIT <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH6vE97qIP4&list=PLUl4u3cNGP63UUkfL0onkxF6MYgVa04Fn&ab_channel=MITOpenCourseWare> Accessed 31 March 2021

  10. Friedman T, 'Our New Historical Divide: B.C. and A.C. — the World Before Corona and the World After' (2020) The New York Times <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/17/opinion/coronavirus-trends.html> Accessed 1 April 2021

  11. Frydlinger D, Cummins T, Vitasek K, and Bergman J, 'Unpacking Relational Contracts: The Practitioner’s Go-To Guide for Understanding Relational Contracts' (2016) Vested <http://www.vestedway.com/wpcontent/uploads/2016/10/Unpacking-Relational-Contracting_v19.Pdf> Accessed 1 April 2021

  12. Ingham L, 'Celebrity law firm hit by “surgical” cyberattack, threatening A-list personal data' (2020) Verdict <https://www.verdict.co.uk/celebrity-law-firm-cyberattack-lady-gaga/> Accessed 1 April 2021

  13. Susskind R and Marr B, 'Online Courts and the Future of Justice' (2020) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0yTLqMpUuQ&ab_channel=BernardMarr> Accessed 1 April 2021

  14. Susskind R and Susskind D, The Future of the Professions (1st edn, Oxford Press 2015)

  15. Susskind R, Tomorrow's lawyers (2nd edn, Oxford Press 2017)

  16. Thong J, 'What Should the Post-lockdown Legal Industry Look Like?' (2020) The Singapore Law Gazette < https://lawgazette.com.sg/practice/practice-matters/post-lockdown-legal-industry/> Accessed 1 April 2021

  17. --, 'Ready or Not: Artificial Intelligence and Corporate Legal Departments' (2017) Thomson Reuters <https://legal.thomsonreuters.com/en/insights/articles/artificial-intelligence-ai-report> Accessed 1 April 2021

  18. --, 'The next normal: Reimagining the post pandemic organization' (2020) McKinsey <https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/reimagining-the-way-businesses-operate#> Accessed 1 April 2021

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ahmed Muslih Althagafi Is a post-graduate law student at the University of Leeds. His areas of interest are International Investment Law & Sustainable Development, Corporate Governance and Future of Legal Profession.

The University of Leeds is a public research university in West Yorkshire, England. Established in 1874 as the Yorkshire College of Science. In 1884, it merged with the Leeds School of Medicine. It has “36,330 students, the 5th largest university in the UK (out of 169). From 2006 to present, the university has consistently been ranked within the top 5…” (Extracted from Wikipedia.)

Ahmed Muslih Althagafi, A post-graduate Law Student, University of Leeds


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