Considering a career in law? You’ve chosen one of the most exciting times to enter the industry. The legal profession is undergoing a paradigm shift, which means you’ll launch your career in a new legal landscape.
The legal sector has named this shift NewLaw – a non-traditional approach to providing legal services that has seen law firms embrace technology, customer experience (CX) and alternative pricing strategies. It’s a movement that’s accelerating in Australia, with in-house legal departments spending more on NewLaw firms in 2017 than in previous years.
We spoke with three NewLaw experts about how these key trends are changing the business and practice of law, and what you’ll need to thrive as a legal professional.
Trend 1: Use new technology to manage mundane legal work
The tech-takeover of routine legal tasks has begun. A Deloitte study found that around 114,000 jobs in the legal sector are likely to become automated in the next 20 years. Instead of junior lawyers and paralegals manually extracting data from page after page of information, machine learning algorithms will more cheaply, efficiently and accurately do the work.
According to Lachlan McKnight, CEO of commercial law firm LegalVision, the benefits offered by technology aren’t just related to productivity and profit – they’ll also save lawyers from mundane tasks.
Advances in technology are going to make the job of a lawyer much more interesting. Lawyers will be liberated – spending more time understanding their clients, working on complex non-automatable types of work, and collaborating more with their teams,” he says.
Future legal executives will also have to choose legal technology for their firm. A 2017 report found that many of Australia’s larger law firms have dedicated legal technology development teams and are creating their own software applications for client and contract management. Worldwide, close to 800 companies create and sell new technology specifically for the legal market.
With smart contracts, cloud computing and big data likely to influence NewLaw in years to come, becoming tech savvy is mandatory. Pair it with commercial business acumen and you’ll be a step ahead, advises Lachlan.
“Be at the forefront of technology, but only invest what you can afford to lose in real moonshot development.”
Trend 2: Make clients the centre of your legal world
You mightn’t imagine that the customer service skills you learnt during your first part-time job will pay off in a law career. But according to Carl White, Founding Director of CXINLAW, NewLaw has created a buyers’ market in which exceptional client service is essential.
“Buyers have never been so attuned to their experience of service. The best firms are person-focused and ask, ‘Have we treated you in a way deserving of your loyalty?’ They see the world as clients do. It’s what NewLaw is all about.”
Likewise, Lachlan believes future lawyers will succeed if they can communicate regularly and effectively with clients.
The ability to speak to clients, empathise with them, and quickly analyse what they need is critical. Many lawyers still rarely communicate with clients, because they focus on drafting and reviewing documents. Much of that work will be taken over by technology, so the lawyers who survive are going to be those with the best client skills,” he says.
As a lawyer-in-training, the way forward is to develop superior emotional intelligence and a genuine commitment to client relationships. You can use this mindset to create top-quality experiences for your legal clients at every point of their customer journey.
Trend 3: Agree on legal pricing upfront
Instead of billable six-minute blocks, NewLaw providers are adopting pricing that’s agreed to before the work is done. For John Chisholm, Founding Director of John Chisholm Consulting, the contrast between NewLaw and traditional pricing models is stark.
“Time-based billing was detrimental to clients and our relationships with them, and led to a range of negative consequences. Lawyers were assessed more on their hours recorded than anything else. And firms had a ‘slowest horse wins the race’ mentality, with little incentive to improve turnaround time, or to innovate,” he says.
By contrast, NewLaw’s move to a ‘timeless culture’ benefits clients and lawyers alike.
Most firms say the advantages are greater price certainty and piece-of-mind for their clients, improved relationships and shared risk. Increased profitability is also cited, as is the fact that clients who agree their fees upfront have a tendency to pay quicker.”
To make NewLaw’s upfront pricing model work for you, you’ll need to let go of any misguided ideas about hoarding work and clocking time to make your mark. Instead, you’ll do well to develop soft skills like collaboration, curiosity and the cognitive flexibility to think up creative, client-centred solutions to problems.
Advice to law graduates: seize NewLaw with an open mind
While rapid change in any sector can be scary and challenging, Carl, John and Lachlan are confident about NewLaw’s potential.
“Successful NewLaw businesses are experiencing super-charged growth, confronting new challenges every month. No day is ever the same. My firm belief is we’re changing the industry, bit by bit. That’s what I love about it,” says Lachlan.
For John, the idea that the law firm of tomorrow will look vastly different from the law firm of today is a source of optimism.
“More than ever before, the opportunities afforded to NewLaw players bring genuine innovation, hope and longer-term sustainability for our profession. For the truly innovative, the risk-takers, the tech and commercially savvy, the opportunities are limitless,” he says.
Carl agrees: “What excites me about the brave new world of law is that it’s a new attitude or approach, more than a skill, that’s required. To take full advantage, graduates must adopt an open, adaptable and, if possible, entrepreneurial view of their career possibilities. The sky is the limit.”
Be part of the legal paradigm shift – apply now to study La Trobe’s Juris Doctor in Semester 2, 2018.