In the beginning…
Once upon a time, well before I decided to pursue a career in law, documents were apparently generated using typewriters, copies were based on something called carbon paper and legal research took place in libraries. I think it’s safe to say that those days are behind us. As we enter the technology era and the digital economy, knowledge of the law, and its application to everyday problems becomes more readily available to anyone with a computer. The need to go and see a lawyer is, nowadays, to a large extent, superfluous – especially for individuals or businesses looking to generate legal documents – services which require little to no face-to-face communications with a lawyer.
Where are we now?
Tony Robbins, quite correctly, observed that “Change is inevitable, progress is optional”, and this rings true for law firms around Australia. The landscape of the legal profession in Australia has, over the last 10 years, undergone a transformation as it adapts to technological innovations making the provision of legal services easier and more affordable for businesses and individuals alike. This emerging commoditisation of legal services has received a mixed reception amongst the firms, as smaller, more innovative legal start-ups welcome the familiarities of technology and, much like a chameleon, adapt to this new environment. On the larger end of the scale, mid and top-tier firms, for the most part, have been more reluctant to change in how they provide legal assistance. This failure, by some firms, to acknowledge the inevitability of change, as Robbins correctly asserts, in both the way legal services are being provided, and the new and progressive business models being adopted by their freshman, tech-savvy counterparts, is just the kind of resistance that these smaller players are banking on.
Shifting styles in practice can be seen across the board. With advancements in technology comes new and heightened expectations on paralegals and legal assistants to manage multiple lawyers dealing with multiple cases. With the commercialisation of tertiary education, those now entering the legal market are competing with 1000’s of graduates and have to maximise the advantage of their Gen-Y tech-knowledge to gain the edge on their competition. Unfortunately for some, finding work in the legal services industry has proven challenging, as many medium to large firms scale back on their clerkship/graduate intake. This has led, however, to a positive diversification of the profession where new types of law-related jobs are being generated as a result, a change that technology has clearly played an important role in. While many of the larger conventional law firms fail to see the benefit of unconventional business models, start-ups are embracing these inevitable changes in the market for legal services and adapting to the shifting landscape.
Advantage is being taken, in particular, by legal start-ups providing online services. As visionaries, ourselves, here at LegalVision, we can relate to the Canadian visionary, Jordan Furlong, who has made his own predictions as to the new law-related roles that are emerging both in Canada and Australia. By combining law graduates penchant for the law with their progressive approach to applying this knowledge, legal start-ups around Australia are advertising roles that didn’t exist 20, or even 10, years ago. Some of the notable newcomers to the array of existing legal services jobs include:
- General contractor – recruitment of lawyers into a panel to accomplish particular objectives or resolve ad-hoc matters.
- Knowledge tailor –creation of tailored documents specifically catered to particular clientele.
- Strategic auditor – risk assessment analyst for organisations, exposing weaknesses in strategic approach, and addressing shortcomings in productivity.
- Accreditation monitor – review of practitioners ‘fit and proper’ requirement to continue practicing, a regulatory assistance role.
- Proficiency analyst – assessment of a company’s in-house counsel for know-how and customer attentiveness.
- Legal physician – provision of cost-effective, legal health examination to individual clientele and their families.
- Informal arbiter – facilitation of settlements via delivery of informal, quick judgments of disputed matters.
As technology becomes more and more an integral part of this changing legal landscape, even larger firms with conventional structures are feelings the pressure of adapting in terms of how they deliver quality service at competitive prices. Whether the dominant economic model of ‘billable hours’ will fade into the history books along with the typewriter is still unknown, but what is certain is that individuals and businesses are looking to these online legal service providers for guidance, appreciating that, by no means, is quality being jeopardised using this, often more convenient, method of attending to their everyday legal concerns.