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Can the legal sector afford to keep its pace with technology adoption?

The Law Society reports that overall employment in the legal sector is likely to decline, partly as a result of “increasing adoption of new technology and new working methods”. Deloitte reports 100,000 legal roles will be automated by 2036. They report that by 2020 law firms will be faced with a “tipping point” for a new talent strategy. 

This is not a surprise. The legal sector is a mature industry, conservative in nature and has been working fine for a long time without technology. This  makes it a great target for disruption by technologists. COVID and the lockdowns have put the industry in the spotlight as the courts, conveyancing services and many other aspects of the legal sector had to go virtual. This is something that before COVID was almost impossible to imagine.

The legal sector is not immune, or simply a bystander, while other industries are being disrupted by technology. From systemisation and automation to completely changing the way the legal sector is working by implementing emerging technologies, the disruption is happening now. 

This evolving change will not only impact how the lawyers (and other legal workers) do their jobs, it changes what their customers expect of them. This will not only change the jobs in the legal sector (wiping out any role that the computer will do a faster and more accurate job),  but also changes how the remaining jobs will be done.  

As a result we will see that the cost of legal services will drop and the industry will shrink to the few very expert people who can solve complex cases, and no it will not create long queues to use their services, as they will be assisted with many intelligent agents (machines) to maximise their capacity. 

More than 28% of people who would like to take legal advice do not do so because they believe they cannot afford it. 

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) reports that over one-third of people who are in need of legal help try to resolve it without actually seeking legal advice. It is also reported automation can bring, firms can take advantage of this large and uncontested market in the near future. 

What will happen to the legal sector soon, is what has already happened to the Entertainment Industry by the arrival of Netflix, Amazon movies, Spotify …

In this transitional period, some firms will be leaders of the change, some will be laggards, effectively creating a winners and losers scenario. Depending on the firm’s ability to adopt new ways of thinking, problem-solving, and working and how agile they are in adapting to the changing times. 

A recent study revealed that almost half (48%) of London law firms are already using AI.

Are you too small to survive this?

To be able to get to the frontline of this tsunami, you don’t have to be an international Law firm with a hefty innovation budget. In reality, being an SME legal firm is a big advantage to make some serious market share expansion in the next 5 years. 

The key to do this successfully is to think strategically about the technology, and not try to shoehorn the latest trend just for the sake of it. Developing the right roadmap, that is objective, data-driven and based on the specific opportunities that your firm has, will put you in the right direction.

At times systemisation and automation will have a superior ROI than the latest emerging technologies such as AI. For example, simple automation of repetitive tasks can streamline workflows making staff substantially more efficient and productive. 

Some basic functions that are time-consuming and normally result in a poor customer experience are  scheduling, invoicing, timesheets, customer relations management. Eliminating some of these repetitive work done by paralegals and support staff can help the firm’s operations reach new levels of productivity while improving the customer experience, resulting in increased capacity and increased market share. 

Doing this right, will put the firm in a position to have a breathing space to tackle some more advanced and sophisticated areas such as the use of AI in document processing, or intelligent upselling of the services, again resulting in another level of increased capacity and increased market share.

It’s a journey. being on the right path, with the right pace, means you will never reach the end, you will just go upwards and onwards.

If you are asking “is it for me”, the answer is “yes”

I don’t think anyone can ignore it anymore, but some firms may decide to “play safe” and take their time, and opt for not changing their established practices or processes. They need to be prepared to be eliminated from the market, maybe not as famously as the way Blockbuster got destroyed by Netflix but does it really matter?  

While there is definitely the threat of being eliminated is real, there is so much optimism to be had too, so much untapped opportunities that can transform the firms who make the right move.

There is an unmet market need for more affordable, faster, and more transparent legal services. 

With the improved efficiencies which can be brought by technology and reduced costs which ambitious players will seek to capitalise on this opportunity and capture a larger portion of the market.

Finally, the Gen-Z is arriving in the job market, as the first generation of “digitally-native” solicitors, the first generation that cares more than all of us for the work-life balance and will not accept the long hours 7 days a week for years to reach the senior level, the generation that is climate change concerned and will not be happy handling hundreds of printed pages every day. With the Gen-Z, the firms that embrace technology will undoubtedly be able to attract the next generation of high-calibre legal experts.