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With a new decade upon us Dana Denis-Smith, CEO at Obelisk Support, takes a dive into the future trends of the legal profession.
As the year ends and we head into a shiny new decade, my thoughts turn to what the next ten years may hold for the legal industry. As Obelisk Support identified earlier in 2019 in the report, Back to the Future: Reshaping Law Firm Culture, established law firms are facing a perfect storm of pressures from competitors, alongside demands from clients and next-generation employees, pushing them towards faster-paced innovation in areas such as technology, working environment and diversity.
Here are some of the key trends to be aware of:
Against this backdrop, I believe 2020 will see the start of a rise in all-women shortlists for senior partnership and in-house roles, as the industry takes action to correct the lack of gender parity at senior levels. A bold prediction, but increased inclusion of a more diverse set of lawyers and leaders will be a vital ingredient in unlocking innovation in our industry, and firms in particular will need to reinvent their working practices in order to make change happen faster, or risk being left behind.
Next year, I believe the legal sector will also see the further rise of lawyers going it alone, following the loosening of restrictions on practice by the SRA and the increasing demand from clients for alternative legal service provision. The benefits of working for yourself are considerable; greater flexibility to set your own hours, freedom from the bureaucracy and structure of a law firm and the ability to have greater choice over the work you do. With the millennial and digital native generations demonstrating less loyalty to employers and having greater awareness of the importance of their mental health, more and more lawyers will make this choice.
We will also see the tech conversation turn from AI to Au-I, as the industry gets over its ambivalence towards automation and builds a future where technology augments, rather than replaces, human effort. Too often I hear lawyers, particularly in-house, say “The technology isn’t there yet, it can’t do everything I need”. No, and nor will it until lawyers start to use it in earnest as part of their day-to-day work. Increasingly technology companies are accepting the fact that integrating new tools into the existing technical ecosystem is the best way to help lawyers augment their skills and increase productivity. Vendors who are smart about enhancing tools like Microsoft Office that lawyers already know and love are gaining traction. Whilst they might sound less exciting, the tools that concentrate on speeding up and adding to the services lawyers provide today are laying the foundations for more dramatic technological innovation tomorrow.
Finally, this will be the decade that will see lawyers learn to love data and overturn the common perception that they deal in words, not numbers. Commercial clients tell me time and time again that they need legal advice that is reliable, backed up by in-depth understanding of their business, strategy and their risk profile, delivered at pace and in concise language that doesn’t need translating for commercial colleagues. In order to compete with their peers in the worlds of consultancy and accountancy, lawyers need to feel as confident with operating stats, revenue figures and quantifying risks for their clients as they are with drafting lengthy advice. This will require new training content and experiences for junior lawyers, which we are already seeing in the Magic Circle. More established lawyers will need to be prepared to invest their own time and money in business education and continued learning. The sector loves to talk about adding value; now we need to put that into numbers, not just words.
For the sector in the UK, preparing to weather another year of Brexit uncertainties, the immediate challenge is to find time to design and build for the future. The pace of business decision-making will only grow faster, the risks grow greater – investing time now in the plans and people that will help the industry reinvent itself to meet these challenges is essential.
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Dana Denis-Smith is the CEO and founder of Obelisk Support, a legal services provider offering flexible legal solutions to FTSE100 and law firms with highly-skilled lawyers. Obelisk Support was listed as one of the fastest-growing businesses in Europe in 2018 by the Financial Times.
A TedX speaker, Dana regularly speaks at industry events and in the media on gender equality, entrepreneurship and legal technology. In 2019, she was recognised by the Legal 500 for Outstanding Achievement in Legal Services and in 2018, she was voted Legal Personality of the Year at the LexisNexis Awards
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