The pandemic has hit the accelerator on changing how we operate in the legal industry.
That means the future of law has come knocking at our door earlier than anyone expected. And it’s safe to say that these new modes of operating have arrived, taken off their boots, and made themselves right at home in our industry.
Welcome to our futuristic present day
As the MD of lawyer marketplace and legaltech consultancy InCounsel, David connects prospective clients with the best lawyers and tech tools suited to their needs. At the heart of this approach is InCounsel’s highly curated panel of some 150 legal practitioners.
And, of course, David’s 10+ years of mapping the legaltech sector.
Thanks to his role at InCounsel, David is seeing first-hand how rapidly technology is expanding the legal landscape – creating many advantages for those in the industry.
“Lawyers on our panel are setting up their own independent boutique practices, as technology has never been cheaper or easier to access.
“And it’s not just the traditional bricks and mortar practices.
“It’s a mix of innovative business models including subscription-based legal services, 100% virtual practices, complex legal products, freelancers and even outsourced General Counsel services,” he explained.
The silver lining of remote working
For David, there’s been a positive outcome from work-from-home orders.
“Technology has enabled lawyers to work remotely and maintain, or in many cases increase, productivity. While also staying connected with peers through collaborative tools.”
Although legal businesses adopted these tools to preserve the pre-pandemic workflow, technology has opened the door to new productivity-boosting and cost-saving possibilities.
“Even within law firms, the increasing uptake and accuracy of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) is steadily reducing workloads.
“We’re seeing tools that can fully automate simple legal tasks, giving lawyers space to tackle more complex ones,” he said.
So what does David see happening in the near future?
“Largely, the next 2-3 years will be a ‘bedding down’ of the technologies caused by the pandemic – normalising remote work, hearings and legal education, and electronic signings.
“However, I’ve heard mixed reviews of lawyers’ experiences with online court hearings, so there’s likely some catching up to do for our legal institutions,” he said.
Other industries hitching a ride
There are concerns AI and automation will replace lawyers’ jobs, especially those at early stages of their career whose tasks are simpler.
And indeed, David believes that in 5-10 years it will be normal to remove the human from the loop for specific work streams, such as reviews of highly standardised contracts.
However, while these changes may reduce the number of lawyers the industry needs, ultimately, it’s not a bad thing. Because removing these mundane tasks will make legal work more rewarding.
So when it comes to the real threats to our industry, David has his eyes elsewhere. He’s noticed other industries claiming their stake in the legal innovation game.
“There are technology platforms in adjacent industries that are disrupting how we traditionally think of legal work. For example, HR and accounting platforms are producing high quality, automated legal agreements to help users manage payroll and payments,” he explains.
“We’ve also seen Amazon enter the legal market, providing IP services to customers – albeit, through a network of lawyers.
“And of course, many other emerging tech companies are disrupting or even cutting out traditional law firms from their bread-and-butter work.
“Are these trends good or bad? It depends on your perspective. Arguably, they’re very good for the consumer who benefits from a speedier and lower cost service.
“But for the legal sector? It means we can’t be complacent. We can’t stick to the old modes of operating. We need to stay vigilant about what’s happening in the industries around us. And we need to keep embracing tech and innovation to stay relevant,” he says.
How to be ripe and ready for a changing industry
David believes several changes need to happen to help the legal sector navigate through the continual and rapid changes we’re seeing.
“First, we need to provide the infrastructure for lawyers to learn about, and act upon, the transformation. This should be done broadly across universities, law societies, associations, large law firms – and of course, dedicated innovation hubs such as the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI).
“Next, provide formal training and pathways for lawyers with skills and interests in engineering, process improvement, design, operations and entrepreneurship.
“Engage more with government and regulators to drive innovation initiatives. The UK and Singapore governments are taking a good lead here.”
And finally, “examine and reduce regulatory red tape – to fill any gaps where digital transformation has outpaced legislation.”
Varied skills have never been more valuable
The post-pandemic legal profession is broader than it’s ever been – spanning across many disciplines.
David encourages new lawyers to look outside the traditional path of being a black letter lawyer.
“Innovation and tech has given rise to a whole batch of new roles such as legal design, legal engineering, project management, legal operations and of course, legaltech.
“If you’ve studied or are interested in different disciplines, you can now apply that to law. There has never been a better opportunity to combine those complementary skills!”
The CLI: A place where change is embraced
When it comes to helping legal professionals understand and harness the innovation acceleration, David believes CLI is integral.
“The CLI plays a critical role. It’s great to have a central place for professionals to connect. They can get the information, infrastructure and community support they need to learn what’s happening – and how to respond.”
Want to read more content like this?
CLI and InCounsel have collaborated on a new series: Legaltech Around the World. Join us to take a global deep dive into what’s happening in legaltech – and hear from the people who are behind it all.
It will kick off in November 2021 and run through 2022. Visit the Legaltech Around the World webpage to find out more.