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“It is not the purpose of law to keep lawyers in business”

In his book “Tomorrow’s Lawyers”, Richard Susskind predicts the trajectory of the legal profession in light of Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) and technology advances.

The legal space is experiencing a paradigm shift which will see a dramatic change in the way in which lawyers work. Susskind identifies three main drivers of change, the first being what he refers to as the “more for less” challenge which identifies that it is becoming harder for lawyers to justify exorbitant legal fees as many business people confess that they cannot afford lawyers and often run the risk of working without legal guidance. As a result, in order to remain competitive lawyers, one must shift away from traditional billing methods and devise fee structures that allow them to deliver more legal services at less cost.

The second driver of change noted by Susskind is liberalization which criticizes the legal profession as being a monopoly with restrictive anti-competitive practices and calls for a relaxation of the laws and regulations that govern who can offer legal services. Indeed, there has been an increase in businesses other than lawyers delivering legal services. For example, England saw three out of the “Big Four” accounting firms namely Deloitte, PwC, E&Y and KPMG return to the English legal market. It is therefore imperative that the modern lawyer anticipates this trend and adjusts.

The last driver of change identified by Susskind is technology and its impact on lawyers and the courts. One key challenge for the legal profession is to adopt new systems earlier in order to identify and grasp the opportunities afforded by emerging technologies. Data security, Big Data, Bitcoin, computable contracts, legal help website, document automation, outcome prediction and virtual law firms are only a few of the revolutionising technologies that are already in motion in the legal realm. For example, some firms are using AI to review contracts, conduct due diligence and undertake legal research. Evidently, emerging applications do not simply computerise and streamline pre-existing and inefficient manual processes but innovate and allow us to perform tasks that were previously impossible. The message for lawyers is to not only automate current practices but to innovate and practice law in ways that we could not have done in the past.

As a result of the aforementioned drivers of change, commoditisation of the law through standardisation and systemisation shall increase. On a firm level, global trends have seen lawyers move beyond the traditional business model of solo practice to join professional referral networks or organise law firm networks. This opens up the possibility of important new forms of legal service, and of new jobs for lawyers who adapt to the changing market conditions. If corporate lawyers aspire to be deal brokers, if family lawyers become psychologists and a culture of legal hybrids is formed, lawyers can make themselves invaluable regardless of the changes.

Whilst these advances might seem a long way away for Zimbabwe, in reality, legal work is increasingly global, and tomorrow’s lawyers need to be well versed in technology. Who will prosper and who will be left behind will depend on who adapts best to these revolutionary changes?

Author: Tashinga Bvekerwa