After the turbulent year of 2016, we are all hoping for more certainty and perhaps a more peaceful year to follow. Are these hopes going to be fulfilled for legal professionals
Firms Will Invest in Legal Technology
Although it is essential for every lawyer to be risk-averse and cautious about any changes, the legal profession has now been in constant transformation since 2008. That, one would argue, is enough time for even the most stubborn and traditional law firms to adapt and bring in new technologies. This trend is significantly influenced by the rise of alternative services providers, who can provide better financial value for the client and more flexible arrangement for the lawyer. With companies keeping a lot more work within their in-house teams, law firms suddenly need to compete fiercely to retain and win new clients. As their profits allow them to take up this challenge, the use of technology as described below will be on top of the agenda.
Development and Adaptation of New Legal Technologies
Blockchain, Chatbots and more AI…if you struggle to understand the meaning of the first three (or at least two) words in this sentence, don’t worry, you are not alone. The types of technologies that are available to us to make the business run more efficiently are expanding. While blockchain is a data structure that makes it possible to create a digital ledger of transactions and share it among a distributed network of computers, chatbot is a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet (have you got your very own Alexa yet??). Moving on from automation and e-discovery platforms which discard the need for a huge amount of paralegals to review thousands of contracts, in the new year we might be able to trade with our clients more transparently thanks to blockchain, and allow them to deal with the simpler legal tasks (i.e. parking tickets, housing applications,..) much faster through chatbots.
As a result of everything being available online, law firms and in-house departments will start looking at cybersecurity even more intensely than they currently are. Although the Ashley Maddison data security breach was damaging to many families, can you imagine what would happen if all the confidential data stored in law firms’ systems are leaked?
Lawyers to Become More Tech Savvy
Who would have thought that after spending your university years shut in the library and fighting off fierce competition to get that training contract, the worst was yet to come! it is required that you as a lawyer, need not only be a legal AND commercial advisor, but also a tech ninja. Can this profession get more demanding? New generations of lawyers (especially in the US) are going to start taking technology courses within their legal qualification to be able to lead the revolution in the industry.
Consolidation in the Market
To move away from the joys of technological progress, let’s talk about the general market conditions. With the massive three way merger between CMS, Nabarro and Olswang last year, experts predict there is more to come. Whether it is due to Brexit fears, protection from the ever more aggressive increase in US law firms accessing the City legal market or simply due to the firms not performing as required, we can expect more consolidation.
The B word has become the definition of 2016 in the UK. With all the uncertainty it brings to the country and its services sector, lawyers will definitely be kept busy in the years to come. Whether it is helping the Government to review laws and decide which ones are to be kept or advising business clients on the renegotiations of their contracts, the legal profession is likely to be flourishing in the short-term. What is, however, worrying, is the long-term view of the economy potentially shrinking or going into recession. Clients might decide to leave the country if they lose their passporting rights. As such, beyond 2020, tough times might be ahead for the legal profession.
Despite the FTSE’s relative stability post-Brexit, the economists predict the major hit related to Britain’s decision is yet to come. And, as it goes in times of economic uncertainty, litigators and regulatory specialists will have full hands while areas such as real estate might slow down.
Happiness, Health and Well Being
As it is becoming more and more difficult to attract and retain great people, employers are generally encouraged to incentivise their employees more. With the competition from alternative legal services providers, law firms and in-house departments can’t simply rely on their stellar reputation and a good salary package with private insurance to keep the best lawyers on board. The millennial generation is defined by the fact they want to feel valued, be challenged and they don’t particularly wish to remain at one firm for the rest of their lives. As such, showing your employee lawyers that you care by providing excellent training, quirky benefits and really appreciating their efforts will be a key to retaining the best talent in 2017.
Part time and Contract Lawyers
In the past, freelance lawyers were mostly hired to conduct more low level tasks where the law firm or in-house legal department didn’t have to trust them with high quality work – they were afraid that contract lawyers don’t care as much as they don’t have loyalty or ambition to rise within the firm. Nowadays, however, the millennial generation does not look for a law firm for life anyway and as such, the difference between the two is not that great. High quality lawyers are keen to go into contracting to enhance their work life balance. As a result, they are happier and more productive than lawyers who have to work long hours every day in order to get that promotion. In the new year, it is predicted that a lot more lawyers will decide to embark on this journey.
Remote working is generally considered to be a good thing for the lawyers and for the firm/company. It makes employees more loyal and productive, they feel trusted and they can get a little more autonomy over their working lives. However, several companies such as Yahoo pulled the plug on remote working. Why? They felt the employees lost interaction with the team. This problem might be easily resolved with structured rules and the assistance of the above mentioned technology. As such, it is more likely that remote working options will increase rather than decrease for lawyers.
All in all, year 2017 in the legal market is looking as consistently disruptive as all the years following the 2008 crisis. On the positive side, not all change is bad and we can confidently hope for a brighter future.