Whilst vacancy levels posted by law firms remain buoyant, the number of training contracts available is being reduced.
Combine this with an increase in the amount of people graduating from law every year and we are left with a situation where the number of graduates far exceeds the number of places available. This leaves many graduates with an uncertain start to their legal careers.
According to the Law Society, nearly 19,000 students enrolled in Law degrees in the UK last year, while only 5500 training contracts were offered during the same period. Up to now the only option for those who fail to obtain a training contract and yet want to continue to progress along the traditional route, has been to take up paralegal work and keep applyingin the hope that the added experience will eventually lead to a training contract and qualification. However, the development of technology and increasing use of it made by law firms may soon offer an attractive alternative.
Whilst LawTech may not yet have won the widespread headlines and plaudits that FinTech has, the possibilities being created are only just emerging and will have a profound effect on the way law firms and the legal profession operate. Take for example artificial intelligence provider Luminance, which has the capability to process millions of documents to identify information relevant for compliance and due diligence, and which has already raised over £10m+.Luminance claims to have over ten of the top 100 firms as clients already would seem to be a drop in the ocean, but it is early days. Much of the work which would have traditionally been performed by paralegals or fairly junior qualified staff is now being automated, part of a new function within law firms, from which a new type of legal and technological expert is emerging.
2015’s ‘The Future of the Professions’ by Richard and Daniel Susskindlooked into where the legal profession was heading. The book’s conclusion was that the obvious next step is the creation of a new para-professional, with a grounding in law and expertise in technology and its applications, coupled with the understanding of how to fuse the two to create a solution. A solution which provides a more accessible and automated way to provide clients with the service they require, and an interesting new career route for legal professionals.
Increasingly law firms are now investing in their own proprietary technology applications and engaging directly with the technology sector to do so. For example, most recently BCLP have strengthened their LawTech offering with the introduction of “BCLP Cubed”: a new data-driven service which delivers cost savings, faster transactions and data insights for in-house teams. Allen & Overy have their Fuse offering to explore, develop and test a range of legal, regulatory and deal-related solutions. Herbert Smith Freehills have their Alternative Legal Services division which seeks to combine legal expertise, process efficiency and cutting-edge technologies to deliver certain types of legal work to a high standard but at a lower price point. TLT’s offering, FutureLaw focuses on developing new solutions to client challenges and they have ring-fenced £500,000 to support the initiative.
Also, in the recent legal industry news, Ashurst has selected 36 FinTech hopefuls for an accelerator launch, and Taylor Wessing has set out a three-year innovation strategy. The direction of travel is clear: the legal profession is moving to create a collaboration between the Lawyers and IT experts to develop solutions which have the potential to break the mould within law.
At a higher level, what does this tell us about how firms will staff themselves in the future?
It would seem that opportunities are there for the next generation of law graduates’ careers to no longer be defined by a binary choice of either winning a training contract or becoming consigned to endless paralegal assignments in search of a that goal, or indeed leaving the practice of law altogether. Instead, for those with a technological bent who can see the possibilities of combining technology with the practice of law (and have the ability to augment their legal knowledge with technical expertise), a new career opportunity will emerge specifically around LawTech.
There is no doubt that future technology will create occupations and changes to the profession that we cannot even imagine now. Even if the traditional route is more congested than ever, for those looking for a career in law who can utilise technology and adapt to the new reality, the future in law is as bright (or even brighter) than ever!
Author – David von Dadelszen, Director Jameson Legal