The “traditionally wide” knowledge gap between lawyers and consumers is “narrowing all the time”, Canadian futurologist Jordan Furlong told delegates at this week’s Legal Futures Annual Conference.
Mr Furlong, a consultant at Edge International, also said that the new entrants to the UK legal market had already achieved something “critically important” by “changing clients’ expectations of what legal services look like”.
He said consumers were becoming more sophisticated and using more powerful resources to access more knowledge “than ever before”.
Appearing from Toronto by Skype, Mr Furlong predicted that the use of legal technology would “explode”.
He said that the “risk and innovation” which characterised new business models in the UK legal services market, could be seen in America in the use of technology.
“There is software that will generate commercially-geared contracts in a matter of minutes, and which can undertake the due diligence process using artificial intelligence.”
Mr Furlong said there were “expert applications” which could take a legal database and turn it into a programme which could answer “complex legal and regulatory” questions. “This technology is here, right now, and being bought by lawyers and clients.”
Mr Furlong called on law firms to “integrate technology throughout their practices”, just as they had once integrated typewriters and fax machines.
He said courts had “already lost” their role as the final arbiter of private legal disputes, and described them as “irrelevant to the vast majority of people and businesses” because they were too expensive.
Instead, he suggested they should take on a new role and provide “quality control” by licensing online dispute resolution services.
He said courts could grant these services some of their enforcement powers, while “test-driving” different systems. “It’s the only way these new providers will get any better,” he said. “Otherwise they will never get the chance to improve.”
Mr Furlong predicted that “mystery pricing” by lawyers would come to an end.
“Pricing will become more predictable and reliable,” he said. “This will be led by non-lawyers, but lawyers will catch up.”
On lawyers’ salaries, he predicted that remuneration would track profitability, replacing the “unrelenting focus” on a firm’s revenue as the most important thing.
Mr Furlong said there was so much more to a successful firm than “rain-making and billable hours”, such as leadership, management and business improvement – and firms would find better ways of rewarding “high-value” work.
By increasing options for their clients and other users of legal services, he said firms would be “improving, widening and deepening the market”, which would also be “the right thing to do”.
He said: “There is a desperately significant need for legal services which is almost wholly unmet, and for the time being we are the only ones who can do anything about it.”
The futurologist concluded: “The walls are coming down. It’s happening already, it will accelerate and I think it’s a good thing – a positive development for lawyers, clients and society generally.”