With Professor Andrew Perlman at the helm, Suffolk University Law School in Boston recently created the Institute on Law Practice Technology & Innovation. Its purpose: To “study how technology is revolutionizing the practice of law.” The future holds a great deal of uncertainty for lawyers. In a recent roundtable discussion at Law Practice Today, a panel of legal professionals offered their insights about the future of law practice and shared their advice about how lawyers can best prepare and prosper. From harnessing new technologies, to minimizing costs through alternate workspace arrangements and law firm structures, and expanding a firm’s online presence through social media and other avenues of client engagement and management, the practice of law is rapidly changing and as the pace of technological innovation accelerates the legal world will have to continue evolving to keep up. What does the future look like for the practice of law?
Law Practice Outlook
The legal profession is in the early stages of digital transformation. Lawyers of the future who will still be practicing law as we think of it today, meaning trading time for dollars, will be doing so because they are experts with deep subject matter knowledge and experience applying that knowledge to assist a specific group of clients. In addition, new roles will emerge for lawyers with diversified skill sets that address changing consumer expectations. These skills may include knowledge management, data analysis, and process development, among others. According to the legal professionals at Law Practice Today, the industry will see more fixed-pricing based on “best practices” developed by each firm. For small firms, there will be more collaboration with outside third parties to mimic—and in some cases exceed—the capabilities of larger firms. Solo practitioners will also learn to be more collaborative with other solos and other service providers. In smaller, younger practices, we are already seeing that the law practice of the future will be cloud-based, it will facilitate remote work, and many of its repetitive tasks will be automated. The legal experts also believe that more and more firms that traditionally cling to the billable hour model will be shifting to fixed-fee billing practices or alternatively fading away. While some types of work, like litigation, are going to stick to billable hours, many other tasks are better suited to fixed-fee billing. In the age of mass commoditization of services, clients want to know what they are budgeting for and what they are getting when they pay for something.
Here are some of the current trends occurring in the legal industry right now:
Within recent memory, lawyers were the prime sources of legal knowledge and services. Law firms, government entities, corporations, nonprofits and others accessed legal resources appropriate to their needs and their means principally from ‘their lawyers.’ The providers of these services enjoyed a monopoly guaranteed by the system, with competition centered principally within various legal sectors.
Today, we see technology changing traditional ways of providing legal services. This has led to greater democratization of the ‘industry,’ and introduced new competition and continual searching for better and more efficient ways of providing legal services. These trends promise to continue as legal resources and intelligence become increasingly accessible through various technological advances.
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