A new InfoTrack eBook asked 11 industry experts from all walks of life to weigh up what they believe will be the biggest disruptors the legal profession will come across over the next few years, with many conflicting opinions coming to the surface as a result.
The participants included Nick Abrahams, national leader communications, media and technology group at Norton Rose Fulbright; John Ahern, chief executive officer at InfoTrack; Philip Argy, principal consultant at Keypoint Law; Murray Lawson, senior director at FTI Consulting; Claire Martin, head of property at Kreisson; Lachlan McKnight, chief executive officer at LegalVision; Patrick Ng, principal consultant at InPlace Solutions; Dr Grant Shoebridge, principal at Shelston IP; Brendan Smart, general manager sales at Infotrack; Dunstan de Souza, managing partner at Colin Biggers & Paisley; and Mark Vincent, principal at Shelston IP.
Commenting on the findings presented in the eBook, InfoTrack CEO John Ahern said while there was general agreement in some questions put forward to the experts, there was strong divergence in others, particularly when it came to things like artificial intelligence, technology spend and mental health resources.
Among this divergence was what the experts stated as their number one prediction for the legal profession in 2017.
While many cited “continued disruption”, particularly in regards to firms implementing technology to drive core efficiencies, Mr McKnight from LegalVision offered up the opinion that he believes a couple of Australian mid-tiers law firms will “fall apart” in 2017.
“The mid-tier law firm model doesn’t make much sense,” he said. “Eventually one of the weaker mid-tiers will crack.”
Mr Lawson from FTI Consulting also offered a different opinion, saying that he believes 2017 will see more shake-up in the big end of town.
“As some big firms in Australia strive to strengthen their global presence – most recently Norton Rose Fulbright’s slated merger with Chadbourne & Parke which could catapult it into one of the top 10 firms, and Gadens' tie up with Dentons, the world’s largest firm by head count – opportunities are surfacing for bigger local firms that protect and enhance their real Australian identity,” Mr Lawson said.
“The $64,000 question is, do the opportunities outweigh the risks for cross-border firms?”
Another question up for debate is whether the experts think law firms will increase or decrease their spend on technologies that will make them more cost-efficient and client-centric in 2017.
Out of the 11 experts, 10 believe that firms will increase their spending, citing reasons such as “firms have no choice”. However one expert, InfoTrack’s Mr Ahern, offered a different opinion.
“I don’t hear anyone saying we are going to increase our IT budget this year. If they are smart about the cloud, they can adopt some of the newer cloud services at the same cost as what they are spending today,” he said.
Another question put forward to the experts is, whether or not law firms in Australia will embrace the so-called “robo-lawyers” in 2017?
“Robot lawyers will not be embraced,” said Keypoint Law’s Mr Argy.
“Smarter use of technology, especially expert systems, should lower costs and lower risk while improving professional satisfaction by reducing drudgery.”
The experts appeared to offer a similar standpoint to Mr Argy, however many said that while legal robots are no threat to lawyers, the way they are used in the future will "without a doubt" shake-up the nature of the way lawyer work is completed.
The eBook also sheds light on whether or not experts believe the profession will see a rise in collaboration between legal tech companies and law schools to teach new methods of problem solving skills to train the next generation of lawyers.
“No,” Shelston IP’s Mr Vincent said.
“Law schools should remain focused on teaching students about the law. What would be more beneficial would be an increase in the number of law students obtaining science degrees, as opposed to the historically popular arts degrees.
“Technology will become an integral part of legal practice over the next 10 years; people aspiring to be the lawyers of tomorrow should embrace that and select their degrees accordingly.”
However, NRF’s Mr Abrahams had an opposite opinion to Mr Vincent’s sentiment.
“Yes, schools are interested in talking to legal tech firms, but they will have to have a solid product if they want law firms to invest or enter into a joint venture,” he said.
“With 16,000 law graduates coming onto the market each year, a defining characteristic of the new generation of lawyers will be their ability to work with technology.
“The more tech-savvy they are, the better their long-term chances, particularly in firms using social media technology to cut through. But then I’m biased. I’m a technology lawyer.”
Mental health being addressed within the legal sector is also a hot topic in the eBook, asking the experts whether or not they feel confident that the profession is properly resourced to cope with such issues in 2017.
While the majority believe there is no question that mental health is a major issue for the profession, many said law firms should be doing more to redress long hours and extreme pressure on lawyers to encourage a genuine work/life balance.
“Mental health is a real problem in our society and our profession,” said Colin Biggers & Paisley’s Mr De Souza.
“The law firm model attracts people with certain dispositions and insecurities. The nature of our work is hard and with long hours.
“As a profession, we are doing a lot to counteract it, but it’s not enough. Law firms can’t provide a solution on their own; it’s a broader issue for society.”
In conclusion, the experts have been asked whether they believe law firms – small and large – are adequately prepared for a potential cyber attack.
InPlace Solutions Mr Ng said, unfortunately there is no concrete evidence to demonstrate that firms are prepared in this regard.
“Law firms do underestimate the value of the client information they hold,” Mr Ng said.
“Firms can do a lot more and, in some instances, are being forced by their clients to do so.
“In our view, it would be well for firms to open a dialogue with their clients and stakeholders that place concerns around cyber security on the table rather than treating cyber security as an IT compliance exercise.”
However, Shelston IP’s Mr Vincent has a somewhat different sentiment.
“Yes, in most cases [firms are prepared for a potential cyber attack],” he said.
"Firms continue to adapt to modern security challenges, and IT teams seem to understand that they must continually improve, adapt and test their security.”
Lawyers Weekly is in the midst of uncovering what our readers believe are the biggest trends the profession should be looking out for in 2017 and beyond.
We would love to hear your thoughts on what you believe will become the biggest disruptors this year, as well as the challenges and opportunities you believe are on the horizon for the legal profession.