Reduced legal budgets seen as biggest virus challenge

Brennan: Perfect storm

Lawyers have identified reduced client budgets for legal work as the biggest threat to the profession from the pandemic in a new report.

Meanwhile, global law firm Baker McKenzie has announced that it is calling in artificial intelligence (AI) experts to predict future client demand.

The report found that two-thirds of the lawyers it polled ranked “a decrease in client budgets” in top place when asked what they saw as the biggest challenge to the legal profession from Covid-19. The figure increased to 74% among partners and general counsel.

In joint second place, with 42%, came reduced client demand and employer lay-offs, followed by disruption to networking, the need for retraining and legislative changes.

The report, by AI specialists Luminance, highlighted how stressful the pandemic has been for junior lawyers, with 56% of trainees saying that they had at times “felt unable to cope because of stress”, compared to only 10% of lawyers aged 55-64.

One respondent said: “Working from home is not too difficult at the senior end as lawyers act independently, but junior associates and trainees have struggled a bit more as they require support and supervision from the more senior lawyers, and this can be very difficult to do remotely.”

Another said she checked in with her junior lawyers at least three times a day to ensure they were on track with their work.

On the positive side, 60% said working from home had improved their work/life balance, as they were no longer commuting.

In-house lawyers were much more likely to say this (70%) than those working at smaller law firms (25%).

Jason Brennan, acting chief executive of Luminance, said: “As this research details, we are in the midst of a perfect storm in the legal industry, with distributed workforces, heightened client demand and increased downward pricing pressures from clients now commonplace.

“However, the recent advancements in next-generation legal technology means it’s never been so easy to make the case that AI is a fundamental component of every law firm. Indeed, the future of the industry may well depend on it.”

Meanwhile Baker McKenzie has announced that it would be using AI-powered problem-solving technology from SparkBeyond to “predict what kind of services clients will require from law firms, the unseen drivers of client demand and how Baker McKenzie might evolve its business to meet those needs”.

A spokesman said the AI would “bypass human bias and cognitive bottlenecks in problem-solving, generating millions of hypotheses per minute to brainstorm solutions”, fusing the law firm’s knowledge with insights from SparkBeyond’s “rich network of external data sources”.

He said that, applying the technology through its new innovation arm Reinvent, it could be employed particularly in collaborations “across the M&A, anti-trust and IP spaces”.

Ben Allgrove, global head of R&D at Baker McKenzie, commented: “The collaboration will give us unparalleled insights into the future of legal services and what they could be if only we had a wider perspective.

“Understanding these unseen drivers and root causes driving future client demand will allow us to shape the future of our business.”

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