“Seismic change” on the horizon, Legal Futures roundtable hears

Report: Figures from leading law firms

“Seismic change” is on the horizon for the profession because of the direction of technology, a Legal Futures roundtable on the law firm on the future has heard.

It was also told that law firms will have to give away “so much more” than they ever have done before in the years to come.

The roundtable, sponsored by LexisNexis Enterprise Solutions, brought together law firm leaders from mid-sized and large law firms around the country to debate what the law firm of the future will look like.

Stephen Hopkins, head of global client development at global firm Eversheds Sutherland, said he was one of those who thought that “seismic change” was on the horizon as a result of the way technology was moving.

“We are going to move much more towards an expertise-based structure. The wide triangles we have got at the moment in law firms are beginning to narrow, because people are only prepared to pay for the expertise, the skills, the experience that lawyers have and applying those to solutions that fit with the client.

“The mundane, routine stuff is moving away from a lot of law firms. It is going to non-traditional law firm providers.

“One of our clients, Sequoia Capital, sold [legal process outsourcer] Pangea3 about four years ago for a significant sum. It is now targeting investment into legal tech start-ups all over the world, because that is where it really thinks that is going to make a big difference in the profession.”

Alison Burdick, director of marketing and member of the management committee at City firm Kingsley Napley, predicted that in 15 years “the landscape is going to look entirely different. I think we are going to be forced to give away so much more than we ever have done before”.

She explained: “Steve Jobs once said that he would never have a focus group in order to create a new product, because the clients never know what they want, and I think that is true.

“We have to predict what they want, and what they want is to know more. They want to have access to content.”

Ms Burdick added that lawyers of the future would need to have “very different skills, because a lot of the stuff that they do will be done in a different way – even judgment is based on track record.

“Just by looking at what you have done before, that can be turned into a process. They will still be selling their expertise, but more the tactics associated with it.

“Most people will be able to get access to what this law is, and they will have more access to the justice system in itself. What they will not have is the experience of knowing ‘This is how these people work’… It will be much more nuanced than just the legal knowledge.”

Nick Scott, managing partner of Scottish firm Brodies, said technology would “bring into sharper focus that what you are buying is experience, knowledge of markets, how to negotiate, when to push a point, when not to, when to litigate, when not to.

“The algorithm will tell you that 80% of those cases end up in a particular outcome. It does not tell you whether to run it.”

John Gould, senior partner of south London firm Russell-Cooke, foresaw more evolutionary change, if perhaps at a quickened pace.

He described lawyers’ expertise in the future as “the ability to solve problems rather than to accumulate know-how and knowledge”.

He continued: “Clients are now substantially doing things that traditionally a law firm would have done. That is not just corporate clients. This is at all levels: many people administer the estates of relatives themselves for example. The client as competitor puts us back to ‘Where is the value added?’”

Kerry Westland, head of innovation and legal technology at national firm Addleshaw Goddard, said: “I think clients’ focus is changing as well.

“We are often asked how clients can use the technology we use. It is not even the in-house teams; it is the frontline business people who want to produce documents on their iPads at the click of a button – documents that would previously have gone through legal, or maybe gone to their outsourced provider.

“Clients are hiring chief operating officers into their legal teams and very much looking at their team as a business. They want different services. They say: ‘Is it easier for me to bring in technology and have my business do it than it is to pay for a law firm to do it?’

“So showing where and how firms can continue to add value is crucial.”

Read or download the full report here.

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