The pace of change
At a recent lunch with a group of friends – all of them lawyers – the theme dominating the discussion was the acceleration of the pace of change in our workplace. One colleague with decades of practice to his name concluded that in fact it was the fax machine that had ruined it all for everybody. According to him it had effectively turned lawyers from masters setting the pace (as only they would know when mail and hence quite often critical information was actually received and work could be performed and delivered) into servants, and with e-mail ultimately putting it all on steroids and turning servants into slaves. The rise of General Counsels had then done its part in shifting the power of dictating the terms further but at least that was still a game played with only lawyers at the table. He concluded that where Cravath had then brought this mournful development to its climax and forced the once noble and independent artisanal practitioners into the factories we have come to know as Big Law, technology was still the prime evil and hence all lawyers should be well advised to keep their safe distance from anything that beeps, blinks and does not raise a glass to mark the occasion of a won case. He was rewarded with applause from many his peers but left me thinking that he probably ain’t seen nothing yet.
According to a recent study published by the Institute for the Future (IFTF) in collaboration with Dell Technologies 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 have not even been invented yet. Frank Appel, the CEO of Deutsche Post at a recent conference held in Munich went as far as to say that for the young irrespective of industry and job they have chosen to pursue their professional careers in there is no guarantee that 10 to 15 years from now it will even still exist. If that is only partly true it would seem absurd to assume that this would not impact the legal profession. All of it. In all aspects.
One key driver in this is clearly increasing digitization. IDC recently predicted that by 2022, 60% of global GDP will be digitized. With this, I am afraid that it won’t end with the J-curve of exponential growth of references to emojis in court opinions we have recently seen. What this essentially means is that from the current vertical and purpose built technical solutions slowly making their way into legal practice we will see a move towards more innovation come into play that will solve the specialized requirements of the professional services industries, including legal, in a way that has never been available from traditional horizontal technology providers. New solution providers (and competitors far beyond tech-only players) will come to the table all along the value chain, adding new skills, delivery and pricing models and indeed a new competitive environment to the sector with only few parts of the service spectrum left which will really be protected (or indeed justifiably protectable as rightful access to justice claims might bring down further barriers over time) by privileges.
It seems fair to assume that emerging disruptive digital innovations will trigger a transition from the use of technology as a set of tools in a people-leveraged business model, assisting those people to become more efficient and do more sophisticated work, to it being a core generator of the actual legal work product. Quite obviously this expected transition from core work being done by people assisted by machines to work being done by machines controlled by people will have a transformational impact on business models and as a consequence the last good day for the billable hour probably was yesterday. Even where lawyers will still be more or less classical lawyers all other aspects of our lives – from the way we learn to how we deploy our talent – will change dramatically and technology and expected cultural change will have a lot to do with it. As IFTF & Dell Technologies put it: «The pace of change will be so rapid that people will learn in the moment using new technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality. The ability to gain new knowledge will be more valuable than the knowledge itself:»
Work will chase people
When the (first) industrial revolution required the organization of great numbers of people the only successful model available was the army (and maybe the church) with its pyramid structure which became the blueprint for building the organizational design for companies. As we enter the age of liquid talent where everyone becomes an entrepreneur around his or her unique set of skills and as the gig economy gathers speed and values change these models come under pressure. In addition, we see first strong indications that already in the near future rather than people chasing jobs, work will chase people, as companies will set out tasks to be completed, and then use information technology to match the task with the people and technology that have the necessary skills. Also such skills will be sourced from anywhere in the world as the ties between work and geography dissolve which in turn might also help to overcome today’s misalignment of global talent.
In a world where everything is instantaneously available at one’s fingertips clients expect a better and more modern experience also in professional services. We can also see that a new level of collaboration with firms becoming more transparent about their services to win over in particular in-house teams who are becoming the epitome of the empowered client. This is not a spectre we are attempting to conjure this is a challenge and indeed an opportunity clearly manifesting.
All across industries, we see accelerating change and experts go as far as to say: «Never before has the industry experienced so much disruption. The pace of change is very real, and we're now in a do-or-die landscape. To leap ahead in the era of human-machine partnerships, every business will need to be a digital business, with software at its core […] But organizations will need to move fast and build capacity in their machines, ready their infrastructure and enable their workforce in order to power this change.»
We have no doubt that this is essentially true but at the same time we also know that compared with other industries the legal industry is known for changing incrementally because the tight weave of its mosaic and culture cannot be easily reconfigured or quickly replaced. As such it is gradually but steadily transforming from a lawyer-centric, parochial, artisanal guild to an inter-disciplinary, global digitized industry. In this brave new world lawyers are no longer the sole providers of legal services. In fact law as a business is increasingly supported by legal, technological and business expertise but to date, no single provider has successfully integrated the three ingredients on a scalable basis. A fact which may soon and swiftly change.
The future of the legal profession
Against this background I believe that there is value in thoroughly and systematically examining the dynamics of innovation and changes starting to unfold all across the legal industry globally and to provide an outlook on what the future of the legal profession may look like based on this as well as describe models and strategies to successfully compete in this new world in the following parts of this series. I hope that it will be helpful for those either considering or pursuing a career in legal, in charge of the future of a law firm or working with legal specialists and wishing to improve this collaboration. Despite all the challenges, I firmly believe that we live in fascinating times and that the unfolding technological opportunities will ultimately allow us to deliver better, more efficient and more comprehensive services and solutions and to provide for an enriching and meaningful working environment.
List of references
Institute for the Future & Dell Technologies, The Next Era of Human-Machine relationships. Emerging Technologies’ Impact on Society and Work in 2030 (2017), https://www.delltechnologies.com/content/dam/delltechnologies/assets/perspectives/2030/pdf/SR1940_IFTFforDellTechnologies_Human-Machine_070517_readerhigh-res.pdf (last visited Feb 4, 2019).
Tom Junkersdorf, Wem die Daten gehören, dem gehört die Zukunft, GQ (German Edition, Mar. 2019) at 30.
IDC, IDC FutureScape: Worldwide IT Industry 2019 Predictions (October 2018), https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=US44403818 (last visited Feb. 9, 2019).
Nate Robson, Q&A: Getting Ready for the Emoji Law Revolution, law.com (legaltech news), https://www.law.com/legaltechnews/2019/02/08/qa-getting-ready-for-the-emoji-law-revolution-397-16729/?kw=Q&A:%20Getting%20Ready%20for%20the%20Emoji%20Law%20Revolution (Feb. 8, 2019) (last visited Feb. 9, 2019).
Lawyer Monthly, 5 Predictions for the Legal Industry in 2019 (Jan. 2, 2019), https://www.lawyer-monthly.com/2019/01/5-predictions-for-the-legal-industry-in-2019/ (last visited Feb. 4, 2019).
The Law Society, Law Tech Adoption Report (Feb. 14, 2019), https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/research-trends/lawtech-adoption-report/ (last visited Feb. 18, 2019).
Cambridge Strategy Group, Thriving at the Edge of Chaos – AI, Blockchain and the Law Firm of the Future (2018), https://mailchi.mp/c8a7253a01c3/thriving-at-the-edge-of-chaos-download (last visited Feb. 22, 2019) at 23.
Daniel Tencer, 85% Of Jobs That Will Exist In 2030 Haven’t Been Invented Yet: Dell, Huffington Post (Jul. 14, 2017, 12:57 PM), https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/07/14/85-of-jobs-that-will-exist-in-2030-haven-t-been-invented-yet-d_a_23030098/ (last visited Feb. 14, 2019).
Mark A Cohen, Legal Change: Why Drip, Not Disrupt? Forbes (Apr. 26, 2018, 6:35AM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcohen1/2018/04/26/legal-change-why-drip-not-disruption/#31a626c11fbf (last visited Feb. 3, 2019).