People 'n' Issues

Meet the law firm of the future

May 18th, 2016
Much like many other industry sectors, legal is being radically transformed by ICT. NERUSHKA DEOSARAN and ROB OTTY believe that those firms that don’t keep up with technology do so at their own peril.
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The traditional model of a law firm is in a state of disruption and the future law firm will be driven by leaders who understand technology, efficiency and innovation.  The legal sector is changing rapidly and will continue to transform rapidly.

The law firm of the future:

➢ has lawyers who understand technology.

➢ promotes an innovative mindset.

➢ has an improved organisational structure and business model.

➢ creates new roles, businesses and functions.

➢ delivers innovative products and services to clients.

➢ is efficient and cost-effective.

The deregulation of legal services in England and Wales in 2011 gave birth to organisations like Riverview Law and RocketLaw that have been disrupting the established legal services industry with innovative offerings to clients in competition with traditional law firms.

The Law Society of England and Wales Future of Legal Services report 2016, mentions the following five drivers of change in the legal services market:

1. Globalisation: global and national economic business environments

2. Buyer behaviours: how clients buy legal services

3. Technology: technological and process innovation

4. Competition: new entrants and types of competition

5. External investment: wider political agendas around funding, regulation and the principles of access to justice

The International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) published the Legal Technology Future Horizons report in 2014 highlighting how information technology (IT) is critical to the survival and future growth in the rapidly changing and highly competitive legal services industry.  IT will no longer only be used to provide back-end support to lawyers but to develop client-facing products and services, as well as to improve internal efficiencies.

As these two industries combine, the challenge for the legal industry is to keep up with the fast pace of change that the tech industry is accustomed to.  The challenge for the technology industry is to understand law firms and identify how technologies can be utilised in the legal environment.  The combination of these sectors also gives rise to opportunities for new roles within a law firm, breaking the traditional hierarchy.  For example, a lawyer who can program would be a valuable addition to a law firm.

The Horizons report shows that artificial intelligence is a potential game-changer for the industry with 88% of respondents agreeing that the checking of content and structuring of legal documents will be performed by artificial intelligence software.  Law firms should innovate by using technologies such as big data analytics to process large amounts of data or by using project management techniques to streamline processes to offer increased value to clients.

Law firms should be developing client products and subscription services in addition to providing the usual bill-by-the-hour advice.

The Legal Services Consumer Panel 2020 Legal Services report predicts that there will be “less involvement by lawyers in many of tasks that until now have made up their staple diet”.

There will be greater self-lawyering, use of online services, entry of unregulated businesses and expansion of services of regulated providers, such as accountants and banks.  The Altman Weil 2015 survey of law firms found that the second largest threat to law firm business, after new non-lawyer entrants, is clients’ use of technological tools that reduce the need for lawyers and paralegals.

“If a business is not reinventing itself to adapt to changing market conditions then it is likely it will go into decline or be taken over by those that are better adapted to the new environment.  This statement is no less true for law firms than for any other business,” Says the Law Society of England and Wales Future of Legal Services report 2016.

At Norton Rose Fulbright, we are developing alternative methods of delivering traditional legal services to our clients, including the use of artificial intelligence applications.  We have a global Project 2020 covering a number of initiatives aimed at modernising our global business for the future.  We have also freed innovative lawyers from billable time to focus on developing and delivering the creative thinking and products our clients expect.

* Rob Otty is managing director and Nerushka Deosaran is senior associate and business development manager of Norton Rose Fulbright. Follow them on Twitter on @Rob_Otty and @NerushkaD

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