Legal profession and trends reshaping the global legal industry

03 JUL 2019

Legal profession and trends reshaping the global legal industry

Technology is significantly altering how businesses function throughout the globe. It is expected continue replacing humans in the job market and the legal industry is no exception. We discuss three factors that are important for the legal industry to prosper in an age of disruptive technology.

Last week, the very first legislation on the legal profession in Maldives was passed by the parliament. The law covers almost all conventional aspects and has created excitement within the fraternity for finding autonomy. Soon the Maldives Bar Council will be formed, and authority over the legal profession now vested in the Supreme Court will be transferred to the council. The proposed law will also help improve client experience with the legal service providers and thereby is expected to generate more business.

The market size of the global legal industry is expected to surpass the $1 trillion mark in 2021. It is among the most meticulously regulated industries in any jurisdiction, requiring practitioners to adhere to high ethical standards. Traditionally, hierarchy and paperwork with strict observance of the “four-eyes” principle contributed to driving the organizational structure of a law firm. The advent of legal technology, however, has to some degree changed this practice.

While firms were initially reluctant in embracing technology, lawyers started to develop a positive attitude towards it mostly due to the generational shift in the workplace. The dynamic and tech-savvy millennials who are more demanding and keener for flexibility have been instrumental in the adaptation of law firms to innovation trends.

Recent developments with the integration of technology into legal practice have, similarly, warranted legislators across the globe to consider how best to correspond to the disruption. Although, regulating technology itself has become a near impossible feat – evident from a number of public outcries in different countries last year over individual user privacy and election meddling – the importance of government intervention in legal technology must be underscored.

 

Holding artificial intelligence accountable

Law firms now have the option to subscribe to technologies that can enhance productivity of lawyers. There are a number of software products in the market for practice management, billing, predictive analytics, knowledge management and document storage. These digital innovations help to improve legal-service delivery and quality while keeping costs low.

Apart from the available tech avenues for firms to boost efficiency, there are various web-based products offering downloadable legal documents such as employment contracts. These documents often have built-in artificial intelligence solutions, allowing users to customize the document as per individual requirements. Companies offering such web-based solutions offer them cheaper than traditional firms as they do not have to bear expensive office overheads and employee wages. As such, instead of employing traditional firms there may be a tendency for clients to opt for these companies “Uberising” the sale of legal services.

Legal profession laws ought to ensure that such entities doing legal product-service business on internet are subject to similar regulatory provisions as traditional firms and are required to register with the relevant authority.

It is generally accepted that in the absence of “practical wisdom” – arguably something that is still unique to humans and cannot be captured by computer program – artificial intelligence will not be able to outperform traditional lawyering. This means that at least for now, human judgment is required for the digital firms to function – making it easier for regulators to hold the alternative legal service providers accountable. Identification of individuals responsible for a web-based firm is what is crucial for authorities to take measures to safeguard those who use such services.

 

Legal pedagogy to infuse technology skills

Almost everyone who has ever stepped into a law faculty is familiar with the quote: “law school teaches you how to think like a lawyer.” There is extensive literature on the practicability of this mantra. Some argue that the “doing” process must take precedence over the “thinking” process. The high costs of clinical education, problem-oriented classes, and role playing may be one reason why law schools limit their practical offerings, which are essential for the learning of real-world legal work.

Be that as it may, technology is transforming businesses including legal practice, and legal education needs to keep up. There is evidence that law graduates who demonstrate technology skills have an added advantage in finding jobs. Law teachers may – with expert support, if required – incorporate technology training into their classes allowing students to practice with the tools of trade. The crux of the matter is that to be successful in the coming era lawyers must be able to manage client relationships in cyberspace and the proficiency of this needs to begin in the classroom.

Bar council could play a key role in helping law schools incorporate technology skills into the curriculum. A minimum requirement for basic literacy in legal technology can be set, and graduates who do not satisfy this condition can be required to undertake a course during pupilage prior to admission to bar. Furthermore, professional development courses comprising of legal technology modules could be conducted for those among more seasoned lawyers who wish to thrive in an age of disruption.

 

Regulation of pricing models

One of the important things expected by clients of their legal services is the certainty about the cost. Not too long ago, the prevailing model of pricing was the hourly rate model. This time billing method is extremely risky for the client as it encourages over servicing and tends to reduce the quality of the service. It also creates random cost disparity between clients – for instance when the firm acquires knowledge on a new legislation the first client seeking service will pay for it while subsequent clients get the same benefit at no cost – and discourages communication between lawyer and client.

The more preferred and transparent model is the fixed pricing method whereby clients can enjoy greater certainty in price. This can improve communication since clients will not be charged for every point of contact with the lawyer. The model is also reported to be profitable for lawyers in that the law firms have the liberty to charge higher fees for services that are complex and urgent. 

Proactive steps have to be taken in order to make the legal services more reliable and attractive for the consumers. Even though law firms may be allowed to choose different pricing models, restrictions have to be put in place so as to prevent complaints relating to pricing and discourage clients from resorting to unregistered services.

 

There is a lot of speculation about the future of the global legal industry with some reports focusing on the so-called robot lawyer. The idea of robots replacing lawyers has caused panic within the industry to some extent. However, a study conducted by McKinsey Global Institute has revealed that only 23 percent of a lawyer’s job can be presently automated.

There is no doubt that technological advances especially in the field of artificial intelligence are here to stay, and will only inure to the benefit of lawyers. It might transform the way lawyers work; however, it most certainly will not cause the demise of the legal profession.​​​

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