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INJUSTICE OR NOT – THE FUTURE OF LAWYERS (AUGUST 2022)

THE FUTURE OF LEGAL PRACTITIONERS.

An Attorney, Advocate or the good old Lawyer who fails to use technology would be offering a substandard level of work to their client. Injustice or not?

I fell in love with ‘law’ at the age of seven. My mom was a paralegal and snuck me into Reilly’s Attorneys. They had an office near the Standard Bank building in Cape Town City. I remember seeing rows of desks, a large boardroom through a glass wall, and lots of busy and well-dressed people.

Articles by Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline

The entire experience had an aura of purpose and meaning.

In my early twenties I used my first Lawyer to prosecute an ex-partner who stole a car. Then a few years later another to recover funds from a supplier. My admiration for Lawyers diminished during those experiences. I felt ‘they’ were slow and costly, that their client care and bedside manner was sterile. True or not, this opinion is shared by many. This ‘opinion’ became a source of a business idea. I knew I could use technology to find people needing legal services and elevate the level of customer care.

The challenge was a regular bloke such as myself cannot own a law firm. I needed a partner who was an Attorney or Advocate. As I had done with projects before, I took a few months to plot and plan. I have dabbled in countless projects in my life, but it must be said, and I do so without qualms, that Legal Practitioners are a special breed of people when it comes to resistance to change. Inspite of this, I launched my idea, and I am pleased to share that for a long while I was successful and made a very good income, earning the equivalent to a Managing Partner in a small law firm without ever having studied law. Unfortunately the South African economy really started to slump around 2017-2019, followed by a global pandemic, and then the most influential factor razed its head: disruptive future trends.

It is time to assess the future and ask some hard questions: “What will the legal fraternity be in the coming years?” and “will there be Attorneys and Law Firms in the future?”

In a research article published by Deloitte, they shared the following points:

  • “Within the next 15 years, 52% of businesses (from a study) will consider buying legal services from non-traditional law firms”. ~ A non-traditional law firm is another way of saying ‘a future business that has no Attorneys, but still offer legal services.
  • “Lawyers are no longer the arbiters of legal knowledge. Many clients access the law online without a law degree and are able to develop a complete understanding of basic legal problems. Millennials have turned to Google for information about their legal issue and how to appoint an attorney”. ~ Law Firms are no longer the first ‘port of call’.
  • “Legal information and know-how has not made the client a legal expert.” ~ This does not mean that a client will not try to save some money, and that affects volume of leads and billables.
  • “Lawyers are most efficient at interpreting and applying legal knowledge to a given set of facts, and this is what clients are looking for.” ~ I agree with this point mostly, except I don’t believe people who Google always know what they are actually looking for and I definitely know that Law Firms don’t know how to position themselves on the web to be found first.
  • “All law firms are less differentiated online and generic information cannot meet clients’ specific needs, the use of search to find legal information is declining. People are increasingly turning to social networks that are able to provide more trusted and relevant guidance.” ~ Law Firm’s websites do look similar, offering little to no assurance or trusted ratings. Word of mouth plays a part in who a client decides to appoint as an Attorney, but that discussion no longer happens in person. Legal Practitioners in all their forms: Attorneys, Advocates and Lawyers, need to insert themselves into the new spaces these conversations take place, which are online social spots: not the natural environment for ‘them’.

It was once said that people in the future won’t need Bankers to bank, and today that is true. The legal fraternity will experience a similar fate but it can be mitigated by those who innovate now. A few years ago I was booked by Standard Bank to present to final year Law Students all around South Africa on the subject of if they would have careers in the future or not. The concern at the time was Automation and AI, but there are more trends to consider. In preparation for a meeting coming up soon with my Client and venture partner, I decided to prepare some insights and wanted to share them with you.

  • Access to legal services as a human right. I believe in the future we will see some governments providing free technical legal solutions direct to the public. The use of Legal Aid is becoming more popular, and this hurts ‘the’ business, but not society.
  • Courts will become a service and not just a place where legal issues are reviewed. Many simple cases and processes will be moved entirely online. In the office of the Chief Justice in South Africa you can see change with new regulations being implemented to transform the court process into a digital one. In Gauteng Lawyers are obliged to utilise a paperless system to have matters registered and documents uploaded before a case can be heard. Legal Practitioners have the opportunity today to either resist change, or they can be assiduous and brave by becoming trend setters and help develop the ‘new legal norm’.
  • In the coming years, AI and Data will be used by Legal Practitioners and Courts to predict likely verdicts.
  • Legal services will be one of the few ‘things’ world-wide that decrees in cost and the death of the billable hour is near.
  • Law Firms must either offer unique niche services, or a very broad offering. Either way, technology levels the playing field and even the smallest of firms can become a major one.
  • Attorneys must in the coming months pay close attention to online services, the evolution of data, AI and Automation systems and workshop how they might influence their company.
  • Client experience in the future will be extremely important and a priority for Law Firms. How emails are composed, how process and progress are communicated, how care is demonstrated, are all going to be especially challenging for a business sector that has worked very hard at being formal and factual above all else.
  • For Law Firms, I believe there will be smaller offices and most Legal Practitioners will be self-employed, working from home. One of the best consequences of ‘future change’ in the sector will be an improved quality of life for Lawyers which has always been a bone of contention for a sector dominated by long hours with little to no flexibility.
  • Lawyers will share ‘the market’ with ‘non-lawyers’. This will affect the bottom line for billing, and the levels of reverence by customers.
  • For corporate Attorneys, many businesses will increase their in-house legal capabilities using software and ‘non-lawyers’ offering legal related services.
  • Managing partners need to accept that a ‘Law Firm’ in the future will not only include Attorneys and Advocates, nor can it survive by only offering legal services. Law Firms will need to ‘get with the tech’ as a necessity.
  • Any business offering legal services in the future needs to work out how to use technology to gather and sort information, automate documents, as well as the more mundane and repetitive processes. Technology will improve efficiency, transparency and reduce errors. It will free Legal Practitioners time, leaving them to focus on custom client care, something no machine can offer.

Some examples of disruption:

South Africa is lagging behind with several trends. Our Legal Practitioners need to become disrupters before the ‘non-lawyers’ do. The challenge is to learn how to attract and service clients of the future. There are many opportunities today already, here are a few ideas:

  • International Law. As the World becomes an e-World, jurisdiction becomes blurry. New commercial trade agreements will be a niche.
  • E-crimes and e-law. These are massive new sectors in their infancy and so is climate & environmental law, focusing on carbon footprints and carbon budget policy and regulations.
  • Consulting on law that relates to the collection, processing and protecting of data.
  • Legal services in rural communities. If a law firm can overcome the language barriers and the huge open spaces we have in South Africa, it will be a ‘win win’ for all. Paralegals could be ‘the bridge’ to help close this gap.
  • South Africa must address our high level of ‘law ignorance’. There are an anticipated 2500 new law graduates entering the market each year, many of whom will struggle with placements. An e-law clinic might be an opportunity for them and help offer legal information to our citizens, solving two problems at the same time.
  • Legal insurance, subscription services, and the gig economy must all be explored for opportunities.
  • Developing legal software and online services, not only for clients, but also for other Legal Practitioners is another opportunity.

THE ‘ENTIRE HERD’ OF ELEPHANTS IN THE ROOM.

It is widely believed that our Constitution and legal system are suffering erosion. Respect for Law dwindles when our leaders are perceived to be above it. These issues added with many other challenges like the awful job market, the electricity crisis, high crime, lack of housing, poor health and education problems, civil unrest: all set ‘the stage’ for an enormous shake up of ‘what we know’. With the elections fast approaching, can you answer this question? Will we have a legal democracy and republic come the end of this decade?

I know ethical and tech savvy Legal Practitioners will be an essential ingredient in the future of any country that claims to be a state of Law and order.

Articles by Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline

This means only one thing, Legal Practitioners need to become e-lawyers and upskill themselves. The other option is to partner with a savvy trend and technical partner who can bring innovation to the Law Firm, so while the lawyers prepare for court and work on client care, they can rest assure that things like cloud servers, chatbots, AI, Industry 4.0, Automation, Web-marketing, e-trends, e-money, blockchain, data processing and e-security are all receiving their due attention.

~The END

Who is Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline?

Jean-Pierre is a South African Serial Entrepreneur, Published Author and Change Champion who has worked in over 300 types of industries in some capacity or another. His own online businesses have generated millions of Rands and involved sectors including Law, Web & App Development, Events & Entertainment, Property, Technical Services, Media and Tourism.
He has travelled to over 50 cities World-Wide, and is extremely active as a Business and Environmental Technologist.
Jean-Pierre is often asked to be a Guest Speaker on any variety of the many subjects he continuously studies and writes about. 

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