The Perfect Storm

Manon Sel is a politics graduate and GDL student who won a free University of Law LPC place with her article on how technology will change the legal industry

I recently entered and won an essay competition run by The University of Law, in which we were asked to answer the following question:

Modern technology has developed rapidly and now pervades all legal entities. How do you think advances in technology will further impact the legal profession and practices over the next ten years?

A hot topic in the legal world at the moment, the question reminded me of something Ian Jeffery, managing partner at Lewis Silkin, had spoken to us about at a recent open day at the firm. Addressing us as young lawyers about to embark on our legal careers, he emphasised the importance of the three key drivers of change in the legal industry today; the global economy and the recession; advances in technology and the deregulation of the legal market. 

It was pertinent to me that in answering the essay question, the issue of technology had to be viewed alongside the other two key drivers of change within the legal profession; namely changes in the legal market following the Legal Services Act 2007, and the increasingly widespread pressure to deliver more legal services at less cost.

As the next generation of lawyers it is up to us to face these changes and tackle the ensuing challenges. With liberalisation abounding, economist Adam Smith’s invisible hand is sweeping through the legal profession in the UK bringing with it intense new competition for traditional law firms. This, coupled with the fact that clients including businesses, in-house lawyers and private individuals can no longer afford legal services delivered in the traditional way, presents a very real conundrum.

Everyday the press reports on new concerns regarding cuts to public legal funding and access to justice, the lessening of job opportunities for law students and the rising costs of pursuing claims in the courts.

With these issues in mind, what we have here is what Richard Susskind describes in his book Tomorrow’s Lawyers as “something of a perfect storm”. In Susskind’s own words the combined force of these factors have the potential to drive “immense and irreversible change in the way that lawyers work”.

So what does this mean for the future?

It seems the disruption will be felt most acutely on the supply side of the legal market, forcing law firms and other legal service providers to reformulate their strategies in order to survive.

For the consumer of legal services, these advances in technology and new entrants to the market could herald a new age of affordable legal services – something that would work to address the “more for less” challenge the legal industry faces today.

In the words of Ian Jeffery, in order to survive firms are going to have to develop the capacity to change; develop the ability to listen to new ideas and to their clients; find a strong voice.

New jobs, new employers, new opportunities

So what does this mean for young lawyers to be? I believe we are set to witness a fundamental reformulation of the legal profession’s traditional structures and the result will be many of the current roles and structures becoming obsolete.

Current roles will be replaced by new jobs and business opportunities. While this will be a direct assault on the conventional work of law firms and court lawyers, in turn it presents a great opportunity for future generations to become leaders in what are currently uncontested markets.

Not only will there be new jobs for lawyers, we will also see a rise in alternative employers. The combination of liberalisation of the legal market and advances in technology are likely to produce a new generation of legal employers including global accounting firms, legal publishers, online legal service providers and management consultancies.

Across the board, investors, entrepreneurs and high Ssreet brands are realising that the UK’s £26bn legal market is lacking in efficiency and that great opportunities for offering legal services in new, less costly, more customer-focused ways, are there to be taken.