The biggest headline in recent lawyer news: the robots are coming and lawyers are first in line for the automated chop.
Rapid advances in technology are making human lawyers redundant. According to Deloitte, 114,000 legal jobs are likely to be automated in the next 20 years.
But hold onto your wigs and gowns. Despite all the doomsaying and hand wringing about the DEATH OF LAWYERS, this is not the most important shift within the legal industry. The real change is less a robot revolution than a millennial rebellion. Yep, the future of work is not shiny and metallic. It’s human, it’s stylish, it likes avocados – apparently – and it doesn’t want any of your 9-5, no thanks.
Millenials want a work-life balance that’s actually in balance. 45% of millennials see flexibility as more important than pay. They want choice over how, where and when they work, the option to work irregular hours as it suits them and from places other than the office.
Thanks to technology, remote working is increasingly possible. With almost ubiquitous wi-fi, the rise of 5G connectivity, cloud computing and improved online collaboration platforms, offices can become virtual and tools like Slack make staying in contact easy.
Remote workers are on the rise. Might lawyers be allowed to join their ranks?
You probably don’t imagine lawyers as ‘digital nomads’ – the 21st century buzz-word for workers operating from trendy co-working spaces with top-quality espresso on tap, dashing off to a few projects before heading out to [insert cool and quirky hobby here]. Law is associated with long hours, stuffy offices, top-buttons and ties, and, let’s face it, exhaustion.
But flexible and remote working is not just for start-ups. While legal practice is known for being a stickler for tradition, today, in order to attract talent and meet the demands of millennial professionals, law firms are embracing remote working: Morgan, Lewis & Bockius have announced plans to allow its associates in the U.S. and the U.K. to work remotely up to two days a week. Jackson Lewis and Baker McKenzie have also launched new flexible work programs.
Plus, virtual law firms are becoming a thing (we should know). Armed with an array of legal tech, lawyers are able to work from around the world, enjoying flexibility and independence. What’s more, without the overheads of a normal office, these firms enable solicitors to offer lower rates than competitors and also allow them to adapt to clients’ needs, meeting them outside of work hours if needed, or even hot-desking in their offices. Encouraging productive long-term relationships, this client-led model offers a refreshing change to lawyers who always have one eye on the clock – and gives remote lawyers a competitive edge.
Yes, disruption has arrived and it looks pretty damn good.
Not only does remote working allow competitive rates and more flexible lawyer-client relations but with remote workers in general showing higher levels of productivity, and well being, it’s really win-win for everyone.
It’s not so surprising. Consider it. Who would you rather have representing you? A lawyer with an endless commute, working endless days, who’s constantly exhausted and has no hobbies because Law Is Life? Or a lawyer who calls you, cheerful and energetic, from his remote office by the seaside, and who also has time for his hobby of wood-whittling, or his grassroots charity rehoming abandoned puppies?
And increased flexibility doesn’t just mean remote working. This is the era of the gig economy – short-term contracts and freelancing. 5 million British workers currently form the gig economy, working for Generation Y platforms like Uber and Airbnb.
And, as mad as it sounds, the legal industry is not as different to Deliveroo as you might think!
Today, many companies have found that a permanent in-house legal team is either unaffordable or unnecessary. Step forward: contract lawyers. Lawyers who arrive, work for as long as needed, then leave, puzzles resolved, hurdles surmounted.
The benefits of contract lawyering are vast. Firstly, variety: opportunities to work for different types of businesses, from a not-for-profit to a big corporate. Secondly, it offers a seductive alternative to climbing the law firm ladder, which, all things considered, is one shitty ladder. Hours spent alone filing through big boxes of documents, that elusive partnership far in the distance, reminiscing about when you used to have a life!
With freelancing, although your income may be more sporadic, you’ll get that life back. You’ll be able to choose your workload and working week, according to the needs of people rather than the demands of targets. It’s a tempting offer, especially for millennials who, according to Deloitte, are less interested in money and more interested in people, diversity and flexibility.
So, how to lawyer in a world of cloud computing, the gig economy, and, at some point, robots?
What’s clear is that we are all individuals. Yes, even that guy. We work differently, we slack differently, we leisure differently. New technology allows us to embrace this diversity by crafting our own schedules, and the legal industry is recognising this. While women were once sneered at by male bosses for asking for flexible work options, today this bureaucratic, impersonal and hierarchical legal culture is being shown the door. Stepping into its place is a more tech-savvy, youthful, dynamic, diverse and flexible law firm model. A model that allows a bespoke and accessible client-service. And a model that allows lawyers to work in a way that capitalises on their personal strengths and enables them to work according to their overall aspirations.
So, are you ready to surrender your 9-5, sweaty commute and mediocre packed lunch? Can we dream of a future where lawyers will be seen out and about, working from parks and coffee shops, travelling the world, and fulfilling dreams? Just you watch this space.
Cora Harrison, January 2019