As tech revolutionizes businesses as diverse as transportation, banking and healthcare, is there an industry that is effectively "tech proof?" Naming the industries that have been reinvented by technology, one has remained conspicuously unchanged: The law.
A recent Wired article posited that these barriers are institutional, asserting, "...the lawyering business itself is set up in a way that resists efforts to move fast and break things..." The article offers examples such as competitive, proprietary tools held by law firms and a lack of tech in the courtroom as disincentives to innovate.
To a certain extent, this makes sense. There is no doubt a barrier to innovation in the courtroom; we are a long way off from juries using iPads to take notes in arguably the law practice's most crucial arena.
However, there are many indications that the legal industry in fact is ripe for disruption. Here are 3 reasons why a legal tech revolution is just around the corner.
1. Law Firms Will Not Reign Supreme Forever.
A key premise in the Wired article is the fact that most legal work is conducted by law firms, which cannot capitalize or share profits with non-lawyers, making them resistant to investment. While this is true, law firms may not reign supreme for very long. The freelance workforce has grown to a 40-year high, and the legal industry is not immune to this trend. Technologies allowing lawyers to work remotely and self-sufficiently mean the virtual law firm is inevitable and more talent will be empowered to strike out on their own.
While law firms will by no means ever disappear, legal practice may become quite rarified in as little as five years. Ironically, the future of law may look a bit like the distant past, more resembling Abraham Lincoln's time, in the sense that clients large and small will interface with a single lawyer, procuring counsel on the basis of individualized expertise rather than brand name. This decentralized environment will be far more receptive to investment, one of the key calling cards for tech innovation.
2. A Changing Workforce Will Demand Disruption of the Status Quo.
In today's attention-strained environment, people's time is becoming increasingly valuable. Millennials entering the workforce, mindful of the detriments of overextending themselves in their work, are not necessarily setting their sights on being made partner of their firm by the age of 35. In fact, Ernst & Young's Global Generations survey found that lack of work flexibility is cited as among the top reasons millennials quit their jobs.
The values of living a balanced life are becoming standard across all industries, and this bears out in demographic trends. The same EY survey found that close to 80 percent of millennials are part of dual-income couples in which both work full time, up from 73 percent of Generation X and 47 percent from Baby Boomers. Additionally, today's fathers report spending more time with their kids than their fathers before them, according to Pew Research. The new generation of lawyers will embrace technological advances if it means they'll be able to spend more time on themselves, with their families and living a healthy lifestyle.
3. Clients Are Demanding Innovation.
The time saved through widespread adoption of technologies will not only translate into greater satisfaction by a younger, more wellness-conscious workforce, but also among clients. As the impact of tech on lawyers' efficiency becomes gradually more apparent, clients will expect more transparency about the procedural work that is not necessarily reinventing the wheel.
For example, visual mapping technology currently in development can create intuitive schematics of massive bodies of data. Lawyers will be able to tag logs to certain cases and relate the progeny of a case to a legislative action. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will streamline repetitive search and form-based tasks, as well as due diligence. Once these tools become part of the legal vernacular -- and they will -- clients will come to expect them, and the industry will have to adopt them quickly to remain competitive.
Billable Hours Don't Matter
Which leads to the marquee point of the Wired article, that lawyers will be deterred from innovation, because more efficiency means less billable hours. While this is true, it is more of an indication of the flaws of the billable hours model than anything else. As the legal industry moves in a more diverse, decentralized direction, where a wellness savvy workforce will trade solely on their expertise and a tech savvy client base will demand innovation, perhaps the billable hours system will go the way of the powdered wig as a feature the law left behind.