This is a new post in a whole series on the Legal Tech Blog, dedicated to interesting books for those, who would like to understand where the legal industry might be heading and which forces might drive changes. All books presented in this series will explain why legal service providers will work differently in the future. This time, the book “Tomorrow’s Lawyers” by Richard Susskind will be presented. Please enjoy.
Part Three – Prospects for Young Lawyers
New Jobs for Lawyers. In the years to come, Susskind predicts, that conventional lawyers will not be as prominent in society as today. Clients will not be inclined to pay expensive legal advisers for work, that can be undertaken by less expert people, supported by smart systems and standard processes. At the same time, as systems and processes play a more central role in law, this opens up the possibility of important new forms of legal service, and of exciting new jobs for those lawyers, who are sufficiently flexible, open-minded, and entrepreneurial to adapt to changing market conditions.
However, two kinds of traditional lawyers will still be in play for the foreseeable future. When work cannot be standardized or computerized, and bespoke service is unavoidable, clients will still call upon their expert trusted adviser. There will also be a need for an enhanced practitioner, a skilled, knowledgeable, but not deeply expert lawyer, who will not be asked to deliver a bespoke service, but, enhanced by modern techniques of standardization and computerization, will work further to the right-hand side of the evolutionary path. The enhanced practitioner will often act as a legal assistant to the expert trusted adviser, for those tasks, that require a lawyer, but not necessarily a costly specialist. Yet again, the market will only have appetite for these kinds of assistants or associates when their legal experience is genuinely needed.
On the other side, there will be a promising range of new opportunities and new careers for people trained in law. New jobs for lawyers will flow quite clearly from the arguments and claims laid out by Susskind. These jobs will be, to name only a few:
- legal knowledge engineer
- legal technologist
- legal hybrid
- legal process analyst
- legal project manager
- legal risk manager
When legal service comes to be standardized and computerized, talented lawyers, maybe called legal knowledge engineers, will be required in great numbers to organize and model huge quantities of complex legal materials and processes. The law will need to be analyzed, distilled, and then captured as standard working practices and embodied in computer systems. The result of this might be, for example, an online legal service, or it could be that the law is seamlessly embedded in some broader system or process.
The practice of law and the administration of justice have both become massively dependent on information technology and the Internet. When legal service becomes impractical or unimaginable without IT, it is vital to have experienced and skilled legal technologists, who can bridge the gap between law and technology.
Lawyers of the future will also need to diversify to stay in business. If it is accepted, that traditional service will become less common, then Susskind expects lawyers to extend their capabilities by becoming increasingly multidisciplinary. Many lawyers already assert that they are insightful in neighboring disciplines, and already act, for example, as strategists, management consultants, business advisers, market experts, deal brokers, organizational psychologists, and alike. The legal hybrids of tomorrow will be formidably schooled and unarguably expert in related disciplines and, in turn, will be able to add considerable value to the legal services they offer to clients.
The legal process analyst will have the job of analyzing a piece of legal work, subdividing the assignment into meaningful and manageable chunks, and identifying the most appropriate supplier of services for each. This task requires deep legal insight and experience. This individual will often be employed within an in-house legal department, rather than at a law firm.
Once the work of the legal process analyst is done, the deal or dispute, that has been decomposed and prepared for multi-sourcing, will not look after itself. To ensure the success of multi-sourcing, the legal market will require what is called the legal project manager. It is his or her job to allocate work to a selection of appropriate providers, to ensure they complete their decomposed work packages on time and on budget, to control the quality of the various packages, to oversee and supervise the output and delivery, and to pull the various work packages together into one seamless service for the client.
The legal risk manager will focus on anticipating the needs of those they advise, on containing and pre-empting legal problems. Their preoccupation will not be with specific deals and disputes, but with potential pitfalls and threats to the business.
Parts of these job descriptions are already incorporated in a few positions today. Nevertheless, these jobs are not those, that law students generally have in mind when embarking upon law school.
Who Will Employ Young Lawyers? It is quite likely, in Susskind’s opinion, that many of these new roles will be offered by a new range of employers, who will work in quite different types of legal businesses. In addition to law firms, tomorrow’s employers will be:
- global accounting firms
- major legal publisher
- legal know-how providers
- legal process outsourcers
- legal leasing agencies
- new-look law firms
The Big 4 global accounting firms (Deloitte, KPMG, PwC and Ernest & Young) will play a more prominent role in the legal profession of the future. This prediction by Susskind is backed by the Economist, which has already proclaimed the attack of the bean-counters.
Two of the largest legal businesses in the world are legal publishers, Thomson Reuters and the RELX Group (formerly Reed Elsevier). These commercial giants have evolved from the production of conventional print-based publications to the provision of very large and popular legal databases. But they have also diversified over the years and are clearly ambitious and acquisitive in the field of legal technology, legal knowledge engineering, and online legal services.
The legal know-how providers will make a range of services available to law firms and in-house lawyers. These services will include legal research and updates, market intelligence, the provision of standardized documents and practice notes, know-how, checklists and flow charts.
Perhaps the highest profile of the new, emerging, and alternative legal providers are the legal process outsourcers (LPOs), businesses, that undertake routine and repetitive tasks such as document review in litigation and basic contract drafting. Typically, these businesses have established bases in countries in which labor costs are low.
Another rapidly emerging setting for lawyers are legal leasing agencies, the best known of which is Axiom, an international business, founded in the US, that offers an alternative career path for lawyers, who do not wish to be employed by conventional law firms or in-house departments. For lawyers, who want the flexibility to work perhaps six months of the year, such as those with young children, Axiom provides a home of sorts. They have built up a large pool of temporary lawyers, who are prepared to work on a contract and project basis. The charm for the client being, that Axiom’s lawyers can be placed within their organizations to meet urgent demands, but will tend to cost about half of what the equivalent in conventional law firms would cost.
In addition, new-look law firms are also emerging in the changing times. They do not seek to replicate the pyramided profit structure, to bill by the hour, nor to work within the expensive city buildings. Instead, they keep their overheads low, encourage home working, have flexible resourcing models, use IT and knowledge management imaginatively, outsource their back-office functions, employ paralegals, and all of this enables them to charge clients less and yet remain profitable.
Questions to Ask Employers. Young and aspiring law students, who apply for a new job and want to find out the firms position regarding the work of 21st-century lawyers, could ask the following questions, prepared by Susskind, when they face the inevitable query of “Do you have anything you would like to ask us?”.
- Do you have a long-term strategy?
- What will legal service look like in 2035?
- What are your preferred approaches to alternative sourcing?
- What role will IT play in law firms of the future?
- What is the formal process by which your firm monitors emerging technologies?
- How do you evaluate the potential of new technologies for your practice areas?
- Do you have a research and development (R&D) capability?
- If you could design a law firm from scratch, what would it be like?
This simple query can prompt all sorts of physical reactions, from nervous giggles to disparaging grunts. Interestingly, if you meet with alternative providers in the legal marketplace, such as legal process outsourcers, legal publishers, or large accounting firms, then you will detect about them far greater appetite for change, far greater excitement about the future, than that evinced by mainstream law firms in their often rather lackluster response to shifting market conditions.
Digital immigrants, who presently shape the policies and structures of the legal professions, will possibly see a dark and dour future for the traditional practice model. Or as Susskind quotes Clay Shirky: “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution”.
For digital natives his book is sparking with optimism, true to the motto: “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”. The group of legal practitioners, able to adapt to the changing circumstances, will find their places as tomorrow’s lawyers. The rest – those who move slowly or not at all – may not. The choice is yours.