Law is among the oldest professional sectors in the world, and until recently, changes in this industry were quite minimal and slow to come about.
However, following the turn of the 21st century, and certainly within the last decade, the field has seen some major progress in a very short period of time. In particular, the years since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic have seen a great deal of change across society, with much of this influencing the ways that law is practiced.
So, what are the main changes that we are seeing within this industry? Below, we’ll explore just some of the differences that are most likely to arise in the future of law.
In many quarters, there have been ongoing debates about the ways that most legal professionals charge for their time.
The ‘billable hour’ remains the most common approach. As the name suggests, this method sees legal professionals apply a price tag to each hour they work.
The approach is common practice throughout the industry, as it makes the calculation of working hours and pay more straightforward for legal professionals.
However, one downside of charging by the hour is that it makes fees less predictable, potentially alienating clients by making budgets harder to manage.
There are further problems with this approach. For example, for those who wish to earn more, the only available approach is often simply to work longer hours – which means that their work-life balance is negatively affected.
In response to the pitfalls of the billable hour, many firms now offer fixed fees, or assign costs to their tasks that are based on the perceived value of the overall outcome of a case.
With more and more firms now turning toward a more heavily client-focused approach, and with the world of employment as a whole beginning to prioritize the wellbeing of workers, hybrid billing models may well be on the way.
This will see a reduction of pressure on lawyers to overwork themselves and may make the costs of legal aid more predictable and affordable for clients.
The American Bar Association recorded a 3% rise in the number of people of color working as lawyers over the decade up to 2020.
While the industry is still not very diverse, access to education within the sector is gradually improving. This means that it is likely that the number of non-white professionals, women and individuals of other genders and demographics will continue to rise in future years.
One element of progress that offers a greater number of opportunities for would-be lawyers to access legal training and education is remote or online learning.
For example, those who wish to train to enter the field of law may now attend an online juris doctorate program. The online course on offer at Cleveland State University allows students to train and study at their own pace while handling the other duties and responsibilities in their life without the stress and pressure of a ‘full-time’ course.
It also makes legal education more geographically accessible. Learners will not have to relocate or live on campus, which, in many cases, makes training more affordable.
This flexibility means that we are likely to see the demographics of legal experts adjust gradually over time to better reflect the wider population of the US. This will then open the door to a range of specialized careers that would have been far less accessible in the past.
Many professional sectors are seeing huge adjustments to their methods and practices due to the rise of technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.
Dylan Brown, writing for LexisNexis, explores a number of technological changes and advances that are beginning to change the legal industry as we know it.
From chatbots that are available to answer basic questions and queries at any time of the day or night – freeing up lawyers’ time to focus on more specialist matters – to the use of cloud technology to notify clients of progress in their cases in a transparent manner, automation has the potential to streamline matters significantly.
It seems likely that the relatively new field of ‘lawtech’ will continue to grow, offering opportunities for individuals who wish to specialize in the management and application of legal technology.
Indeed, most lawyers will need to develop a good understanding of the technology that is now entering their sector in order to compete with those only just entering the field.
Self-employment and remote working
Due to the rise of readily available, user-friendly technology that is accessible and affordable, it is likely that more and more legal specialists will opt to work on a freelance or self-employed basis.
The benefits of self-employment include flexibility and a greater level of autonomy, as well as a larger number of opportunities. This means that employment in the once highly competitive field of law is likely to become more accessible.
Of course, as a result, there is a potential threat to the quality of service that will be available. However, the same technological tools that will enable lawyers to work on an independent and individual basis are likely to improve the ease and speed with which a great deal of quality work may be undertaken.
The above are just a few of the examples of the ways that law is likely to change in the coming years.
Naturally, there is an undercurrent of concern that the rise in automation will threaten the jobs of ‘human’ lawyers, replacing them with AI.
However, with AI technology as it currently stands, the nuance of client representation and the sensitivity required by certain cases remain beyond the capabilities of technology of this kind.
As a rule, the changes that we have mentioned above simply offer greater accessibility and flexibility within the legal industry, which will hopefully lead to a greater number of opportunities and a more manageable workload for future lawyers.