‘Clients or lawyers? Who is driving business model changes in the legal sector?’
Picture the scene – it’s 20 years from now, I’m A Celebrity is in its 39th year, 75% of the country is vegan, and your lawyer is now a collection of microchips and processors providing services whenever needed, 24 hours a day.
Whilst not all of this may sound realistic (and I will leave you to make the decision on that), the recent birth of the legal tech movement brings with it a sense of uncertainty, which hangs over every lawyer in the land.
Will computers at some stage be able to make legal judgements and negotiate like humans? Will clients trust them? And will computers ultimately be given free rein to operate without any human operator watching over them?
Legal tech is only one facet of the changes taking place in the legal market today. While the potential of technology driving efficiencies in both time taken and cost is certainly an attractive and exciting proposition, there is an increasing demand from clients and in-house legal teams that their external lawyers evolve themselves and provide alternative methods of providing legal services. Whether this is a reduction in the traditional hourly rate charging model in place of fixed fees or retainer-like billing structures, or offering their services on a short term contractor basis (charging a personal daily or weekly rate).
The boom in the number of in-house lawyers being recruited over the last ten years illustrates how clients will vote with their feet when they see an opportunity to source legal advice more efficiently, and the recent growth in technology and alternative legal provider structures is a sign of how clients are once again demanding improvements to the way they procure legal services when it comes to both quality and cost.
So at first glance, it may appear like the traditional profession is under siege from both the emerging AI robots on the one hand and clients who are less willing to give law firms the paydays they have been accustomed to. However, there is no smoke without fire.
Any lawyer that has at some point during their career carried out a disclosure exercise in litigation; a due diligence process in corporate; had the joys of proofreading hundred-page documents or processed multiple agreements from simple templates, would have jumped for joy if there was a software tool to cut the job in half, allowing them to jump towards the latter stages of the process or simply allow them to sense check an automated product at the end.
As such, technology almost certainly has its advantages for any lawyer and can make their job somewhat easier and quicker, and their time more productive. Therefore, it's likely to be welcomed with open arms by those on the ground.
Similarly, the route to partnership at seven years qualified is at most (if not all) firms a distant memory, leaving many lawyers in the middle of their careers wondering if the hard slog to partnership and the sacrifices required are really worth it and whether there is an enjoyable alternative to the high-pressure, high-stakes of private legal practice. Many are actually happy to take a cut in wages or partnership prospects for a job and wage that satisfies them and their work-life balance and makes them happy overall.
It is the drive in lawyers like these and the availability of LPC graduates looking for paralegal opportunities, both assisted by new technology that has enabled ABS and alternative legal providers to come into being. It also offers lawyers a different way to manage their career, which allows individuals to have more control over how much they work in any given year and how much pay they want to take home.
In-House Legal Solutions was set up by Brian Noon and Lauren Cannon in 2016 - two ex in-house City lawyers with over 20 years’ experience between them - to provide high-quality and low-cost bulk contract negotiation services with particular expertise in financial services.