A new world of legal work – agile lawyers and smart machines

Jordan Furlong, Law21, has authored a new report in collaboration with Lawyers On Demand, “The New World of Legal Work: The Changing Rules of The 21st Century”.

The report explores the new world of legal work with a transition to more automation and better work processes, and new concepts such as “agile lawyering”:

“The coming legal market will still require competent, ethical, hard-working lawyers to solve problems and create value for clients. But lawyer employment is going to acquire some new characteristics. It will be:

  • Agile, requiring flexible availability and multiple short-term engagements.
  • Technology-enabled, using tools that automate or streamline repetitive processes.
  • Multidisciplinary, delivered in conjunction with other professionals and trades.
  • Creative, invoking rarely used skills and talents that, as it turns out, we actually have in abundance.”

Please read more summaries from Jordan Furlong’s study here: “The agile lawyer will rise as permanent, full-time, salaried employment vanishes” and “The future of working in law: ‘agile’ lawyers, entrepreneurs and smaller firms”.

In light of Jordan Furlong’s prediction it is also interesting that Gartner recently released a report on the future of the legal industry, “Gartner Legal IT 2020 – Smart Machines and LPO Radically Disrupt Legal Profession”, which is forecasting significant changes to Legal IT and to the legal industry.

Many of the disruptions discussed are well underway, as also described by Jordan Furlong, but according to the Gartner report, there are new dramatically disruptive effects arising from the accelerating adoption of legal IT.

Actually, the mere fact that Gartner is focusing on legal IT pinpoints the importance of the topic and the technology shake-up that awaits for the legal industry. A change many BigLaw firms seem unaware of, or ill-prepared for, according to a new analysis by Brian Inkster: “BigLaw is so behind the legal IT curve”:

“Apparently cloud is “probably the future for legal”. Probably! It is undoubtedly. But it is clear that BigLaw is way behind SmallLaw/NewLaw on that front. It is, however, recognized that the problem is that BigLaw has invested heavily in non-cloud based technology and needs to “sweat their expensive IT investments” before they can justify a move to the cloud.”

In the article “After BigLaw and NewLaw, here comes MicroLaw” Professor John Flood of Westminster University points to the fact that one of the key problems with BigLaw is inherent in its name it’s big, and large organisations are hard to change. “A key dilemma with BigLaw is that in essence it is a set of interlocking networks that both vie and compete with each other. The result is that fission is common, and fusion is less so. Its main form of remuneration-profits per equity partner – enforces short termism and low thresholds of loyalty.”

Jordan Furlong similarly points to the “pent-up productivity” that many law firms don’t yet appreciate:

“What many law firms don’t yet appreciate – but soon will – is that a more modern and efficient deployment of talent and systems to accomplish legal work not only reduces legal costs, but more importantly, also increases productivity. The pent-up productivity potential of better infrastructure, workflow, and employment systems in the legal market is off the charts, and the employment revolution… will play a key role in unleashing those benefits.”

The need for Big Law to catch up with NewLaw is also evident from recent law firm collapses such as Heenan Blaikie and others reported in our post “Learning from law firm failures” and the increased transfer of legal work by corporations such as British Telecom to NewLaw firms like Axiom. A NewLaw firm that has already recognized this is radiant.law, with an explicit focus on processes and technology to provide better value and price certainty (fixed prices). Alex Hamilton, CEO and founder, recently wrote about the firm’s use of document assembly to close high volumes of commercial contracts faster, “Document automation is legal rocket fuel”:

“We have found that document automation is one of the biggest contributors to allowing us reduce average contracting times from weeks to days. Document automation is the perfect way to start freeing up legal resources. The first drafts often don’t need legal review before being issued (completely removing legal from the critical path), because the output is controlled. And even where legal input is needed, it takes less time as it can be focused on just the particular areas of concern. In this age of “more for less”, aren’t there better things that you could be doing than tailoring first drafts of commercial agreements?”

The use of productivity tools like document assembly and process-focus is well in line with the conclusion in both Gartner’s legal IT report that smart machines will radically disrupt the legal profession and the study by Jordan Furlong that legal work will be technology-enabled, using tools that automate or streamline repetitive processes.

“A new world of legal work is coming, whether we welcome it or not.”

The question is how we respond to it.

Here are some further recommended reading on disruptive technology and legal tech innovation: