Automation in the legal sector.

April 25, 2017    Sarah-Jane Osborne     ,

Last year saw countless headlines about the expected loss of jobs due to automation in the legal sector.

Deloitte’s Insight Report predicts that 100,000 legal jobs will be at risk of automation with the arrival of new workplace technologies and artificial intelligence systems by 2020. The report expects 39% of jobs (114,000) in the sector will be automated in the long term as radical changes unfold within the profession.

This tells us that, much like many other sectors, technology is changing every facet of our lives and is increasingly encroaching on knowledge economy jobs too.

For the legal sector this certainly presents some concerns, but perhaps more importantly it identifies opportunities for innovation and business improvement as lower value aspects of work are automated and expensive minds are freed to concentrate on the aspects of law that will earn reputation, secure clients and deliver innovation. This certainly seems to be borne out in the statistics which say that while 31,000 jobs in the legal sector have already been lost to automation, technological innovation has actually created 80,000 new jobs, most of which are better paid and with a higher degree of skill.

This seismic change in how work is undertaken and services delivered will require legal firms to revisit their talent management programmes. The war for talent and the difficulties faced when trying to attract the brightest and best in a competitive market are well documented. The potential to offer candidates the opportunity to concentrate on the most stimulating aspects of the profession, rather than the repetitive elements, stands to help attract the best candidates, as will offering workplace environments that are supported with the technology that can deliver truly flexible working and systems innovation.

The legal sector’s technology revolution has been a gradual one of course and in recent years it’s been more comfortable with and accommodating of the move to mobile working, with collaboration technologies and electronic filing among other things.  While these things have many benefits in relation to people, process and space, perhaps the most interesting opportunity is in relation to how it improves the client experience and service delivery too.

We now live in a world where data has infinite value – it’s big business and understanding its potential is the key to improving processes and driving technological change. Analytics play an increasingly important role in high performing organisations and used properly can deliver growth, efficiency, and effectiveness. Some law firms have already seized on this opportunity and are using volumes of contract information, case histories and other data to create greater business value. A London personal injury practice uses automation to forecast outcomes and advise when to settle a claim, saving unprofitable man-hours and increasing the turnover of successful cases. Other firms are making use of virtual assistants to help with the planning of diaries and other routine administrative tasks.

With such change on the horizon it’s vital that forward-thinking legal practices start to consider how the future might look. As technology continues to change it will impact on the skills and expertise a practice needs to thrive. Identifying those skills now will inform the right approach to recruitment, retention and talent management and will help to determine whether your practice needs transformative change in order to survive or whether refining processes and investments is enough.

While the full ramifications and opportunities of automation aren’t yet fully understood one things is clear, the most successful law firms will be those where agility is engrained in their business ethos so that they can cost-effectively flex and change as market conditions and client needs do too.

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