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A multi-disciplinary vision of the future for lawyers and how they will help code legal apps

Furlong: convergence between legal market and new generation of lawyers [1]

Furlong: legal market will coincide with skills of new generation of lawyers

One possible occupation for future lawyers will be as a computer programmer, writing code for apps or working alongside an independent legal technology provider, according to the vision of a leading futurologist.

As companies move to meet unmet legal need via easy-to-navigate technology products, there will be jobs for lawyers in a future segment of the legal market that will be served by machines, Canadian futurologist Jordan Furlong said this week.

He was positive about lawyers’ future employment prospects, because of what he perceived as a “convergence” between the “multi-disciplinary nature of future legal services” and the “multiple skills and experiences” possessed by the upcoming generation of lawyers.

In a report on the future landscape for the time-travelling lawyer – written humorously in the style of a travel guide and commissioned by Berwin Leighton Paisner’s Lawyers On Demand (LOD) – Mr Furlong outlined his view of the “post-disruption environment” for lawyers who want to find work after the dust settles on current changes in the legal marketplace.

Tools for lawyers to prepare themselves for the new legal landscape – or “what to pack for the journey” – should include thinking beyond lawyers as the primary providers of legal services, expanding your skill-set, being flexible about your future, and maintaining your “professional bearings”.

Sticking with “fundamental principles of good lawyering – integrity, professionalism, care, insight, counsel, and service” – would pay dividends, he advised.

Although the delivery of legal services would come in different forms, there would still be law firms, said Mr Furlong. “Yes, even in the future, we’ll have law firms. It’s not a stretch to suggest that the dominant legal service vehicle of the last two centuries will still be with us a decade or two hence”. There will also be numerous multi-disciplinary combinations, such as “SME advisories that draw upon legal, accounting, HR, marketing, and outsourcing experts”.

There would be “managed legal service providers” employing lawyers for straightforward, routine, mid-level and repeatable legal work, plus a variety of work for “as needed lawyers” for contracts or projects, supplied by providers such as LOD, or direct to “independent… itinerant legal professionals”.

There would be hybrid legal education and training institutions that provide legal services within law schools, he added – perhaps along the lines of the ‘teaching law firm’ planned by Nottingham Law School [2].

As well as more traditional trusted advisers, dispute arbiters, and public interest advocates, roles for future lawyers would include process designers, and the legal engineers detailed by fellow futurologist, Professor Richard Susskind. But there would also be “independent legal technology providers” who seek to build tools available to individuals or businesses who wish “to independently navigate through legal challenges”.

This could mean IT-savvy future lawyers doing coding and programming themselves, said Mr Furlong, speaking to Legal Futures, but as, or more, likely it would be fulfilling roles created by businesses which see a profit in providing the “products or services, or programmes or portals” for members of the public and small businesses.

“Some lawyers will acquire coding skills and be the independent programmer themselves, and others will be invited to assist those who live and breathe this kind of work.”

He concluded that the future was bright for lawyers. “I am fundamentally upbeat about the future of legal careers. A large part of that optimism comes from the multi-disciplinary nature of future legal services and how that coincides with this generation of lawyers coming up.

“We have long since moved past the standard lawyer career template being ‘join as an associate, reach partnership, retire 30 years later with the gold watch’. That’s done. We are well into the era of legal service providers, having multiple employers, numerous career tracks, and many different starts and stops.

“I think it’s that convergence between the multilateral nature of what the market demands and the multiple skills and experiences that this generation of lawyers inherently possesses that leads me to think there is a really good match just waiting to be made there.”

The full report can be downloaded at www.lod.co.uk/reports [3].