Lawyers and law firms have spent many years preparing long-term transformation plans, as the industry adjusts to advances in technology and working practices. Not many decision-makers, however, could be accused of standing well ahead of the curve. Instead, planning has often been focused on not being left behind by the accelerating pace of change, while many employees and executives dug in their heels, perfectly happy with the status quo.
Then Covid-19 arrived and tore up the rule book. Now, those same decision-makers are struggling to safeguard jobs and contracts internally, whilst also tackling entirely new issues that have arisen due to the pandemic, providing support and services quickly to those that most need it in times of crisis.
For example, the term ‘business interruption’ has taken on a whole new meaning. Insurer Hiscox is navigating uncharted waters as it deals with a class action arbitration claim issued from more than 400 SMEs to address unpaid business interruption claims stemming from Covid-19.
Bankruptcy procedures too, are another area where Covid-19 has muddied the waters. They threaten to swamp legal infrastructure in the US, as vast numbers of companies hit the financial skids and law firms and courts scramble to provide a ‘normal’ service from a remote working model. Content moderation, especially content held by social media giants, is another area which will be awash with legal wrangling over the next few years.
Ultimately, legal services, in all its forms, must be alive to the fact that unprecedented change is upon us, and we need to adapt and transform quickly.
So how will lawyers respond? Most likely, through the adoption of new technologies. More specifically, law firms and in-house teams across the board will achieve a basic level of technical savviness, and some will speed up the implementation and use of more advanced software in areas such as automated contract review, legal research using AI, and even ‘do it yourself’ chatbots or automated self-serve tools for the simplest legal enquiries from customers and helping to speed up deal velocity.
Because resources are more valuable than ever during these difficult times, the more lawyers are tied up on time-consuming but not particularly challenging work, the worse it will be for firms. Companies across the board will use technology to slash the time it takes for processes such as securing a contract or hiring new staff.
New opportunities will arrive alongside new challenges, and the legal industry is no stranger to this. Law firms were already adjusting to the steady rise of in-house counsel for example, as well as large accountancy ﬁrms providing legal services themselves. The drive to bring down costs and increase efﬁciency, thus making themselves more attractive to clients and viable as a going concern, is nothing new. With this in mind, I can foresee a few other specific areas which will come to dominate the legal landscape by 2025.
AI will come into its own
The use of artificial intelligence will undoubtedly increase in the run-up to 2025. Just as use of the Internet, email, and other technological developments became commonplace, within the next ﬁve years the majority of lawyers will be using AI in their day to day work. With AI handling monotonous and lengthy review tasks, lawyers will be free to focus on more complex projects and the key role of advising their clients or colleagues. Given another decade or so AI could well be used as often as basic electronic ﬁling systems. An immediate consideration is therefore the need for ﬁrms to start to employ ‘legal engineers’ and data analytics experts so there’s a qualified hand at the tiller of humans’ artificial colleagues.
It’s important to remember that AI doesn’t make the decisions - it equips humans to make better decisions. To underpin AI, security and ownership of data needs to be clear. The ability to make use of this data needs to be visible and easy, and understanding the migration of this data onto platforms is important to understand before purchasing software to work with it.
‘Salesforce’ for legal teams - the rise of collaboration tools
While the initial upheaval of working from home has for some firms included Internet issues, and missing or incomplete hardware or software, others have made the transition more seamlessly with live working. Using ‘always on’ platforms with login access for both lawyers and the people they advise, communication can happen in real-time. This keeps everyone in the loop, giving everyone access to the information they need at all times. Anecdotal feedback I’ve had, for example, is that clients feel they are saving about an hour a day at the moment through a ‘live working’ model.
I also envisage greater reliance on workflow tools so that legal managers can easily manage their team remotely and efficiently - a ‘salesforce’ for legal teams. These workflow tools will provide the legal manager with an easy way to appropriately manage legal resources relevant to risk in a contract. And with the advent of greater reliance on self-serve tools, the lawyer also gets a means to track what is happening on the contracts for which they are ultimately accountable. These tools provide a dual role by allowing each stakeholder to track deal flow but also allowing the lawyer to track levels of risk. In doing so, the legal manager has an effective way of showing the value their team is offering to the CFO in a way the CFO understands paving the way for the most fruitful budget conversations.
New working practices will be embedded
In five years, it’s likely that all legal teams will be working in smaller spaces, because not all of us will be in the office. In this situation, embedding efficient workflow into our new working practices will be of paramount importance.
Giving remote workers the right technology, with all the accompanying safety and security, will be even more important than ever in enabling lawyers to carry out their day to day work. Lawyers working with highly confidential documents, for example, will need to be able to do so using approved and data-secure software and/or via the company content management system.
Wellbeing software too will become increasingly important, as the likelihood of full ‘back to normal’ office working fades for a while yet and it gets trickier to check in with how employees are doing face to face.
As we make our way through the pandemic, we’ll increasingly see the gaps filled, whether by technology, processes, new ways of communicating, or new equipment. It’s important to remember that often, major advances have corresponded with crisis – be it war, or in this case, a pandemic. Companies want to emerge showing positives- and one way to do this will be adopting lessons learned during the crisis. Law firms and legal teams that emerge will be those that can adapt with agility, and those willing to embrace technology to transform digitally.
Martin Davidson, VP Customer, ThoughtRiver