Six months into 2020, the legal profession has taken emergency measures to face a global crisis, has gone through an unexpected digital transformation and is just now assessing the situation to plan for the future. The road we take can either be a unique opportunity to reshuffle the cards and rethink the way we work or to set aside the past few months and get back to the old ways.
Inspired by the RSA’s A Blueprint for Good Work report, LegalGeek’s The Uncertain Decade and Ari Kaplan’s virtual lunches, we look at future trends and models that will impact the delivery of legal services for years to come. One or more of these forces may be instrumental in shaping sustainable solutions for our current major legal industry issues.
#1 Value-based legal services
Since its earliest days, legal services have had a strong focus on continuous improvement to deliver the highest possible value to the client but that value was often hard to quantify or qualify. Unlike other professions, law has never really adopted peer review systems and the use of metric-linked incentives for legal services providers, except in some areas of B2C legal practice. The billable hour and profit per partner have long been the golden standards of success but that is changing.
In large legal teams, general counsel have passed the procurement baton to chief operating officers responsible for data-driven quality improvement initiatives across all levels of business – including legal. Every aspect of legal services delivery is increasingly subject to quality and cost assessments. Economic rewards (getting invited to a panel) and penalties (falling off a panel) are also becoming more tied to those assessments. Alternative legal services, with remote or flexible legal services models, or legal tech solutions have shifted from being bystanders to trusted partners in a global industry.
Economic consequences have kicked up a notch as the fee-for-service model gives way to value-based services. While success was more often measured by the number of hours billed or clients served, it will shift to a measure in terms of the economic growth and legal goals of clients.
There will continue to be a drive to find more innovative and effective value-based analytics, automation and reporting. To make a sustainable shift to value-based legal services, legal services providers will need to develop deep and substantive understandings of the foundations of client data, legal issues and services delivered. For new entrants to the market, that will mean breaking down the formidable barrier of decades-long law firm-client relationships to access the data.
#2 Tech-driven personalisation
While the delivery of legal services once followed a boutique protocol for every client, law is moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach and in some areas, is heading toward unique, personalised service delivery based on highly individual situations and conditions.
Companies increasingly require cheaper, faster, more efficient legal services customised for them. Process mapping, machine learning and AI are among the advances that make this possible. Deloitte confirmed this trend, predicting in 2016 that 39% of all legal tasks would be automated by 2030, which is good news as most of these tasks were either repetitive or mind numbing, with humans bringing little value to the process.
As fitness trackers monitor our health, it is not so far-fetched to imagine internal business health trackers measuring the smooth running of contracts, low litigation rates and irregular spikes in the need for legal services. Combined with predictive risk analysis and regulatory tools, data science could help identify future legal needs and the best models of legal service delivery for complex transactions.
At this point in the legal forest, two paths diverge: do we compete with emerging systems or do we build them? Hopefully, the second path will prevail. That means that new lawyers will need to understand data analytics as well as soft skills such as EQ, collaboration & cultural awareness. Rather than looking at the end of lawyers, new trends would reimagine the legal industry for the digital age with a more customer-centric approach.
#3 Society-driven legal services
After decades of money-driven growth, the coronavirus crisis shook the very foundations of our consumer society and purpose crept in as a pillar of future growth. This type of model envisages a future of responsible stewardship where all legal professionals, business or practice, should be focused on the best outcome for their private clients as well as for society.
There is a place in the legal landscape for lawyers who service vastly-underrepresented areas and more opportunities for career paths that will help people. Whether the end goal is access to justice, diversity & inclusion or the climate crisis, there is a tremendous opportunity for future lawyers to create the apps, or to help the creator of the app by giving them use cases, to address a societal need.
In this empathy-driven model, the legal profession has an opportunity to better serve society and come back to its ethical roots. It will also open up its door to a new generation of non-legally-trained legal professionals. Some of the smartest new legal services are designed by people who are not lawyers. They are in the business of helping people and the difference in emphasis is huge as the rise of these services is completely consumer-driven.
There are opportunities in adversity. Something as simple as putting more services online, allowing clients to generate forms, a mix of self-help and lawyer review will all improve access to justice and society. Future approaches will need new tools that connect people to potential resource assistance options, provide a means for follow-up and use analytics to determine success.
#4 Customer experience
Lawyers as a profession had a very insular culture outside of a more diverse ecosystem. Now, lawyers are one part of a team, with the client as the final decision-maker in setting and achieving their own goals. This power shift will break down business silos, with a legal industry open to new models and newer ways to doing things.
As general counsel and legal leaders play a larger role in their own legal services decisions, providers will be increasingly focused on improving the customer experience at all levels. It’s becoming increasingly clear that a satisfied client is also an engaged one and studies have linked client engagement to better outcomes and lower costs.
Lawyers will also be able to align and collaborate with the industry as law merges with data analytics, engineering, or computer science. Where traditional lawyers have been about input and bespoke labor, legal professionals are about output, scaling and legal efficiency. They will be led by a more customer-centric approach, with a heightened effort to solicit and use client feedback and responses. This means not just “asking to ask,” but asking with the intent of making real change.
These major trends in the delivery and operation of legal services will have big impacts on the clients and legal teams of the future. One thing we can be sure to expect is a continuous evolution toward connecting across the legal system, with clients at the centre.