The future for lawyers: Opportunities and challenges

January 3, 2018

I had the privilege of presenting at the 2017 RODA-OBA Diversity Conference in Toronto. It was humbling and fascinating to listen to the other speakers present. The over arching theme of the conference was, Where we are and where we are heading, and I spoke, as part of a panel, on careers and the future of law.

The legal profession has changed. Although it has been coming for many years, change has certainly accelerated over the last five years at a fairly rapid pace in comparison to previous years. There will be challenges and opportunities for lawyers of the future and below I have summarized the main points I presented on at the conference:

The challenge

The biggest challenge is that the legal profession continues to evolve. Most people don’t like change and tend to resist it as a result. The legal industry has been known to be amongst those that resist change the most and are slow to adapt. Those working within the industry are either burying their heads in the sand and are in denial, or worse, they are not aware of the changes at all. Many are fearful that the end of lawyers is looming, that the profession is becoming ’uberized’, and lawyers will be impacted negatively (similar to the taxi industry). Others in the legal industry are embracing the changes and creating opportunities for themselves and other legal professionals.

The opportunity

With change comes opportunity – an opportunity to ‘redesign’ the delivery of legal services using technology (particularly AI), new processes, project management, outsourcing, and by increasing the collaboration of teams (lawyers and legal support staff) across firms and law departments.

The is an opportunity for lawyers to accelerate their careers by having more junior work, often viewed as training in the first few years of a lawyer’s career, carried out by AI, non-legal professionals, or outsourced. Thereby, freeing up time for junior lawyers to focus on work more typically left to senior lawyers such as: the application of the law, providing better practical advice, developing client relationships and business, understanding the client’s business, and spending more time focused on where they can best utilize their skills.

What skills are required to be successful as a lawyer in the future?

In addition to the need to be technically savvy and have strong project management skills, lawyers in the future will need to have strong ‘soft skills’. Gone will be the days when you can isolate the ‘difficult’ partner from the rest of the firm.  Lawyers in future will have to, more so than today, have high levels of emotional intelligence, including: self and social awareness, strong communication and leadership skills, and the ability to understand people (not only those on your team, but also your clients).

The future for lawyers is exciting, provided you don’t bury your head in the sand and ignore the changes occurring around you, but rather understand them, adapt, and gain the skills that will prepare you to become a successful lawyer of the future.

Dal Bhathal, Managing Partner