Law has been intertwined with the evolution of human civilization and social history, with the ancient Egyptian law dating as far back as 3000 BC. English law, which has been a precursor to much of modern jurisprudence, originated much later in the 10th century and has done well. But the legal services industry is in the throes of a profound transformation today. Various factors are propelling this growth, including a new global perspective, advances in computing and changing lawyer-client dynamics.
We are living in a global world. Tom Friedman had published ‘The World is Flat’ in 2005, which stated emphatically that globalization was ‘the next big thing.’ The legal space has not been left untouched by the wave of globalization as law firms have moved legal and countless other jobs across oceans. Globalization has swept the legal space within a short span of time due to the mushrooming of internet, automation of legal processes and developments in data security. As law firms expand their footprints worldwide, globalization will continue to reshape the legal landscape in coming years.
Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO) marks a paradigm shift in the delivery of legal services. The work of attorneys and other legal professionals is being transferred to external vendors within the country of establishment and overseas as legal firms rush to minimize costs and enhance productivity. LPO firms will continue to grow in the foreseeable future as companies gain confidence regarding lingering confidentiality and security issues.
A multi-generational workforce is an unprecedented reality in today’s work environment. Four generations are working in unison, encompassing traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. Many law firms are experiencing a generation gap of more than 50 years as attorneys and paralegals are working beyond their retirement age and a new generation of legal professionals is taking baby steps in the profession. Four generations employed under the same roof present new dynamics and challenges galore. In a related development, the millennial generation has surpassed the boomers and Gen X to emerge as the largest clientele today. The millennial generation is constituted of people born between 1980 and 2000 and estimates suggest that by 2020, millennials will possess spending power nearing $2 trillion.
Virtualization is turning into a norm in the legal space. Virtual law firms have a miniscule physical office and their legal team operates either from home or a virtual law office situated anywhere in the world, thanks to ubiquitous mobile devices and secure cloud-based technologies. Team members often work on a freelance basis and retain a major proportion of their earnings, unlike the traditional legal firms. This alternative method of legal practice leads to decent cost-reduction and healthy work/life balance.
Online communities play a vital role in nourishing the professional lives of attorneys today, helping them to mentor each other and potential clients. For example, car accident lawyers can use the online community platform to guide people about insurance matters. Social media is playing a pivotal role in binding online communities and transforming the practice of law. Social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, are changing the process of recruitment, job search and client interaction in the legal profession. These social media are also doubling up as marketing tools, helping the legal professionals to accomplish branding, advertising and marketing goals. They are also playing a crucial role in customer/client relationship management
The golden age of the legal entrepreneur is here, thanks to convergence of globalization and technology. Advances such as cloud computing, smart phones and social media have redefined professions across the world, and the legal career is no different. An agile workforce, mainstreaming of gig economy and greater human-computers collaboration have been a fertile ground for the birth and nurturing of law firms and legal operations. There is a spurt in lawsuits due to greater awareness of legal rights and grievance redressal mechanisms. No-fee deals between attorneys and clients are enabling low-income claimants to approach courts for resolving conflicts and claiming compensation. A stream of LPOs and other legal service delivery companies have arisen in response to the rising demand for legal services.
Lawyers are losing their sole monopoly on law, thanks to the arrival of alternative legal service delivery models. Clients are seeking legal assistance from non-legal professionals such as paralegal technicians, offshore legal vendors, legal document preparers and virtual assistants. This alternative model would not dent the professional space at the top as the best legal brains will continue to be in demand and command premium professional fees.
Change is a good thing. Legal firms that embrace the rapidly changing environment of rising competition, technological advances and changing sociological dynamics, will face the future with confidence. Legal professionals will have an opportunity to live fuller and balanced lives, working from remote locations, rendering part-time services and taking career breaks as per personal needs and priorities. The new legal environment would also empower the citizens to take control of their legal matters and provide affordable legal services to disadvantaged segment of the population.