Futureproofing Lawyers

By Patrick Grant, ULTRA Project Director – North, University of Law

There is no doubt that the business of law is changing. New ways of doing business, new entrants to the market and a variety of new technologies are contributing heavily to a new 21st century market for legal services. The good news is that, far from being replaced by robots, as some fear; there are now more opportunities in law than ever before.

The changing business

Back in 2002 the bestselling UK newspaper “The Sun” sold around 3.6 million copies a month.  In January 2019 this had been cut to 1.8 million. The increase use of personal tech to read news had reduced its circulation, and sales figures by roughly half. In 1988 British banks had more than 20,500 branches, by July 2018 this had reduced to 7,586. Indeed, it is predicted that by 2024 there will be more people who interact with their bank via mobile banking than those who attend in person.

These huge changes that the media and financial sector has had to adapt to can be explained by Moore’s law, i.e. the idea that the number of transistors and resistors on a chip double roughly every two years. The knock-on effect of this is that consumer electronics have improved exponentially in the last 20 years. This has led to mobile phone ownership, PC ownership and home internet connections in the UK practically doubling in that period. It has also led to massive advances in our technological capabilities.

Tools such as Artificial Intelligence, which is designed to mimic human thinking, have enabled us to produce driverless cars, programs that can search through thousands of documents and make predictions on the stock market or legal cases. It is probably even being used on the side of this page to give you personalised adverts.

The truth is that in many ways we are undergoing a new industrial revolution. One in which technology is changing everything we do, and how we do it, in most cases for the better. The legal profession has undergone some criticism for being slow to adapt to this. In many ways lawyers have not changed the way they work in hundreds of years. Clients attend their offices, receive advice and are sent a bill for the lawyer’s time. This model has worked exceptionally well, the market for legal services in the UK is worth £37 billion and rose by 4.6% last year.

The problem is that in a world where one can send money across the globe at the touch of a button, or consult a doctor or vet on an app for a fixed monthly fee, demand and expectations are changing. The truth is that many things that lawyers do, with the assistance of tech, can be made quicker, more efficient and some may argue much cheaper.

Add into this the introduction of the Legal Services Act 2007 which allowed, for the first time, non-lawyers to run law firms and offer legal services. The entry into the marketplace of the big four accountancy firms is a great example, also the growth of Co-Operative Law. It is not a stretch to conclude that the conditions are now ripe for disruption and change.

New opportunities

Change is not always welcome, in fact sometimes it is genuinely feared. Back in the 19th Century a secret group of textile workers called the luddites devoted their time to destroying the new machines that they felt were taking their jobs away. Two hundred years on though and people still work in textiles, they have simply had to adapt their roles.

The business of Law is adapting too. In 2012 Riverview Law started looking differently at Law. They fixed costs, stopped the clocks and aimed to provide a more straightforward service that looked more proactively at their client’s business using new methods and new technologies. They were acquired by global accountancy firm EY in 2018.

Outside of the more traditional firms, disruptors are going from strength to strength. DoNotPay, a bot launched to help appeal parking tickets, has grown to assist with over 1000 legal issues including small claims, flight compensation and an online credit card to stop people getting charged when they take free trials of new services.  Artificial Intelligence is being used more frequently. It can be used to automate documents, send out invoices and even predict damages.

There are new jobs too, for Legal Technologists and Legal Innovators. Big firms such as Clifford Chance are offering training contracts in legal tech and innovation. In short, these are exciting times that mean a land of opportunity for those entering the legal profession.

Adapting

Futureproofing is all about gaining the right skill set and being adaptable to change. The starting point is that there are no substitutes for an excellent knowledge of the law and excellent interpersonal skills. A working knowledge of the market for legal services is important, learning how people interact with lawyers, why they do so and what their frustrations are, will help you to spot the trends and challenges and rise to them. A working knowledge of tech is advisable. Young lawyers do not necessarily need to be expert coders, but it would be sensible to learn how programming works.  More than anything though the new generation of lawyers are in control of the future of the profession and will have the opportunity to make improvements where needed, increase efficiency and access and maintain a trust in the profession.

You can learn more about all of this at our ‘Let’s Talk Tech and Legal Innovation: A Collaboration Between The Legal Line Up and ULaw’ webinar on 16th July 2020 at 6pm GMT. Sign up here.

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