Off the cuff of NYE 2019 I made my New Year’s Resolution. I set my sights high and after many years of single parenting and my daughter finally in her teens, I mentally planned for this year to be the one that I spent seeing the world. The amount of time I spent in my lunch hour last year fantasising about having the backdrop of pristine white walls of Santorini was astounding.
Three months into 2020 I found myself being quite relieved that I hadn’t purchased an international flight for that New Year, and now definitely empathetic toward those who have a more spontaneous attitude toward life than me and booked theirs.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it.
In the middle of an international lockdown impacting millions of businesses, as well as jobs and families worldwide, I had a moment to reflect. I realised I had spent very little time planning for a rainy day. I had no idea how quickly my preoccupation would shift from the mesmerising thoughts of which country I simply must visit, to concerns about the stability of my employment and what little I had done in my own time to preserve it.
During this massive shift in the economy and society in general, I have developed a true appreciation for people and businesses that have quickly conformed to this new world of commerce. The interim framework of success has explored what the new business model should look like and has been done at a dynamic pace.
Interestingly though, what seemed like a fast and sharp shift to me has actually been a slow evolution this entire time. I just didn’t realise it until recently. The “daily grind” business spirit that I was taught would provide a stable career future, became considerably less stable than I had envisaged. Granted, I had evolved over the years, ultimately progressing to General Manager within a dynamic Corporate M&A firm. In that time the Management Team dealt with the change imposed on us, resulting in forced refinement and adaptation. However, evolution came to us that much easier when we were the architects of that change. When we looked into the future and navigated a course in the direction of interest. Automation was one of these factors.
The Legal Market
In 2017 the Law Society of Western Australia warned a number of issues will force the legal profession to change the way legal services have traditionally been offered. From an influx of graduates and an increasing unemployment rate, to changes in the technological aspects of practice, the legal profession will need to adapt and change with the times. Also citing acclaimed British author Richard Susskind OBE … “otherwise, lawyers who are unwilling to change their working practices and extend their range of services will ... struggle to survive.”
LSWA estimated that by 2030, 25% of the developed world’s population will be over 65 years old. These statistics mean two things for the legal profession. Firstly, an increase in the need for expertise in elder law, with pensions, financial management and estate planning becoming prominent.
Secondly, it will be important for the ageing population employed in the legal profession to maintain their training and skills to manage in an industry affected by globalisation, deglobalisation and technology. Another increasingly popular feature of legal professional issues is the outsourcing of legal process. In many industries, it is important to acknowledge that roles in which people are currently employed, are shifting and more traditional jobs will be disappearing.
In 2018 Thompson Reuters reported that boom conditions which led to revenue growth and demand were born out of developments such as: The Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry; regulatory changes; major infrastructure projects; and a strong flow of direct foreign investment. On average, headcount increased by 5.0% when compared to the previous year and dispute resolution was the fastest growing practice area of the year by 19.1%.
In 2019 however, Thompson Reuters reported the market saw a contraction in demand for the first time since 2016, infrastructure and major construction created the biggest net impact, partly due to major construction projects underway in the country but the Australian Financial Review still reported dispute resolution practice having a significant revenue growth. With class actions, construction litigation and increased regulatory activity and enforcement being the key driver.
Another quickly evolving part of the legal market is Technology. QUT reports:
“Over the next 15 years, new automation technologies are expected to add between $1.1 trillion and $4 trillion to the economy, according to McKinsey Australia. While McKinsey estimates between 25 and 46 per cent of current work activities could be automated by 2030, this will create new opportunities for workers and companies. Australians will benefit from new jobs, higher productivity, rising wages and economic growth.”
This report is exciting in many respects, but what about the people currently working in roles that are foreseen to be automated in the future? Technology is already playing its part in the profession from document management systems through to PEXA allowing property settlements to take place online. Artificial Intelligence is also making its mark, albeit in a small way at this stage, yet it will evolve at a rapid rate and will be embraced by those law firms wanting to reduce their cost centre and provide them that competitive edge. In January 2020 article in Forbes by Bernard Marr stated:
“Tomorrow's lawyers will be the people who develop the systems that will solve clients' problems. These legal professionals will be legal knowledge engineers, legal risk managers, system development, experts in design thinking, and more. These people will develop new ways of solving legal problems with the support of technology. In many ways, the legal sector is undergoing the digitization that other industries have gone through, and because it's very document-intensive, it's actually an industry poised to benefit greatly from what technology can offer.”
Areas That We Can Continue to Grow
Indicative of this is to reflect on what has evolved in legal practice since you were admitted. To maintain the versatility which the legal market will require, it is abundantly clear that lawyers should be proactively assessing their mix of practice areas. This may safeguard against negative economic impacts stemming from external factors beyond our control. That’s not to say it isn’t important to have expertise in specific practice areas, but you can also run the risk of becoming too niche and missing out on opportunities within your local legal market.
A way of future-proofing your skillset is to ensure you have versatility - not to the point of being a general practitioner - however it may be prudent to have one or two secondary areas of practice which complement your specialist skill. By way of example, a specialist Construction Lawyer is served well in any economic cycle should he/she have both front-end and back-end construction law skills. Another example is that a Construction Litigation Lawyer is viewed as being versatile should he/she maintain an element of their practice in broader Commercial Litigation. Any change forced upon you as a lawyer through evolution and even through inevitable economic cycles is traversed that much easier in the event your skillset isn’t locked into the past or into one financial cycle.
One of the perks of this online world is the ability we all now have to be able to access free information. There are many free online courses and articles that can help provide basic knowledge about technology as well as predicted changes in the legal industry.
Perhaps it is time for you to consider taking an online course to give you some insight into the future of legal practice! At the very least, we provide you with food for thought towards future-proofing your skills and maintaining your adaptability as a lawyer.
We have collected a few courses and helpful links in this regard below:
Australian Financial Review report
Other related articles:
Author – Kirra Gaskell, Associate Client Advisor
Editor – Craig Ashton-Sward, Director & Senior Client Advisor