Tomorrow’s World: What do young lawyers need to know about the future of law?
We all want to predict the future. The long-running TV programme, “Tomorrow’s World” successfully predicted the mobile phone (1979) and artificial grass (1968). But what about the legal market? What will happen in the future? What do young lawyers need to do to prepare themselves? The Bucerius Center on the Legal Profession is a think tank for the legal services market, looking at many different trends and patterns which affect the business of law. Whilst we may not have a crystal ball, we do have Jordan Furlong, Mitch Kowalski and Mark Cohen, legal market experts from the USA and Canada, and so we asked them what young lawyers need to know about the future of law. In a video-conference on 9th October, they shared their views with students on the international exchange program at the Bucerius Law School, and this is what they say…
Don’t build new law on the bones of old law
For at least a decade, legal market analysts have been standing like the grim reaper over the heads of law firm partners: The End of Lawyers, The Death of Big Law, Avoiding Extinction. But the legal market doesn’t appear to have been daunted by these threats (Hartung, M., Ziercke, E. “The Future of Legal Business”). At least half the partners in the top 74 AmLaw 100 law firms took home over $1 million in 2018. So perhaps the business model is actually right? We asked Jordan Furlong, Legal Market Consultant, author of Law is a Buyer’s Market, and well-known blogger. Jordan retells a quote by Richard Susskind: “It’s very difficult to tell a room full of millionaires that their business model is wrong.”
As Jordan explains (watch the video here), the heart of the problem is that the conditions that allowed lawyers to become millionaires are changing. The traditional law firm model was developed to deal with a particular set of market circumstances, and those circumstances have changed. Take for example the emergence of new providers of legal service providers, the increase in alternative fee arrangements, and the drive to use technology to provide solutions to legal problems. Jordan calls this “legal climate change”.
Clearly law firms need to address these challenges, but as Jordan points out, lawyers haven’t been looking very hard, and especially not the millionaires. Whilst Richard Susskind’s problem may well be solved when the millionaires leave the room to enjoy their retirement, the challenge and the opportunities will pass to the next generation. As Tomorrow’s Lawyers think about what the future of law will hold, Jordan offers us a few pieces of advice; (1) identify and retain the valuable aspects of the old model, disregard the rest, (2) the future of legal service provision is multi-disciplinary – the room should not be full of lawyers! (3) finally, do not build your new models on the bones of the old models but in response to the real needs of real people in the real world. You can read the full version of Jordan’s talk at Law21ca: “After the Millionaires.
The Great Legal Reformation has begun: The role of lawyers in legal service delivery is diminishing…
Mitch Kowalski, Legal Services Consultant and author of Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century and The Great Legal Reformation, asks us, “What happens when things are broken?” Often, we are driven to change: There are many examples of this in history, from Martin Luther to Netflix! But what about the legal market? What happens when the legal services delivery model is broken?
Whenever there is a problem to be fixed, operations are springing up to deal with it. Take some very simple examples: DoNotPay, a bot originally created by an 18-year old computer science student to help people contest parking fines in London, New York and Seattle. Or Obelisk, a legal support provider originally founded by an ex-Magic Circle Associate to utilise female talent wasted by law firms. Or Kira Systems, created by an associate and a computer scientist who saw a better way of conducting contract reviews. The Great Legal Reformation is underway, and Mitch provides us with many examples of how problems in the legal services delivery system are being fixed (watch the video here). But more importantly, many of these solutions are not being provided by the millionaires in the room, or even by lawyers. In fact, according to Mitch, the ultimate legacy of the Great Legal Reformation will be the transformation of a lawyer-dominated industry into a service that is merely augmented by lawyers.
The practice of law may be shrinking, but the business of law is expanding: Make the most of that opportunity!
Finally, Mark Cohen, Legal Business Consultant, CEO and Founder of Legal Mosaic and Distinguished Fellow at Northwestern University School of Law reminds us just how broken the legal service delivery system is (watch the video here). The US market may be the largest legal market in the world, but it is far from the most advanced: Shockingly, 85% of all Americans and two thirds of American business cannot afford a lawyer. And not just for small legal problems, but “bet the company” and “bet the lifestyle” problems. As Mark says, “It is shameful that this persists…if I were asked to grade Law’s performance, I would give it a D minus”. Only 25% of GCs who use Big Law would recommend their “go to” firm to another company. But this is where the new operations described by Mitch are coming in. When something is broken, we are driven to change, and this impacts the rest of the market. Take for example LegalZoom, established to fill the A2J gap. In contrast to Big Law, LegalZoom’s Net Promoter Score is 90%.
And his advice for Tomorrow’s Lawyers? Whilst the practice of law is shrinking, the delivery of legal services aka “the business of law” is expanding and lawyers must work with other professionals, machines, or a combination of the two. Being a lawyer today is going to mean something functionally different than it did five years ago. Lawyers need to be able to do more than just law. They need to be able to understand business basics, balance sheets, data and metrics, project management and much more. Law is no longer a vertical silo, but a “horizontal” that permeates everything, just as technology does. According to a recent study by Dell Technologies, 85% of all jobs across all fields have not even been created or identified yet. This presents tremendous challenges and opportunities. Do not rely on your knowledge of the law and having a law degree as being your ticket for a comfortable upper middle-class life. But recognise that there is going to be a whole new class of jobs that will be open for lawyers.
Mark summarises, “I don’t have a crystal ball (if I had one, it fell on the floor and broke when I did Clearspire). We are living at a time of tremendous change. Those who are prepared for it are going to have enormous opportunity. “
In a nutshell…
After answering some poignant questions from the students about the future for young lawyers, here are some of the key points from Mark, Mitch & Jordan’s advice in a nutshell:
- Lawyers are not going to become extinct: Society and clients may be looking at the function of lawyers differently, but lawyers will not become extinct.
- Machines don’t replace lawyers, they augment lawyers: Machines take tasks away from lawyers, not jobs. Your added value is in how you match your skills to your client’s needs.
- You will have to acquire new skills yourself: There are no defined pathways and legal education is still very traditional. You will have to build and leverage your own social media network to find out about legal project management, finance, data and technology.