updated on 15 September 2020
This is the winning entry from LawCareers.Net’s essay competition in collaboration with LittleLaw.
In 2016 Deloitte predicted a paradigm shift in the legal profession, with the ‘tipping point’ occurring in 2020. Although it couldn’t have predicted the coronavirus pandemic, law firms and alternative business structures alike have been forecasting a big shake-up in the way the traditional legal landscape operates, and this may have an impact on lawyers-to-be. When choosing a future law firm, aside from the obvious factors to consider (eg, the firm’s practice area(s), trainee job satisfaction rates and workplace diversity initiatives), it seems as though now more than ever is the time to start looking at what tech training and alternative progression paths firms may offer in our increasingly digital legal environment.
Future lawyers already know how competitive it is to secure a training contract. There are far more law graduates than legal sector job vacancies, reportedly 28 graduates to each legal vacancy, and the number of trainees being recruited by top City firms is declining – the silver circle were looking to recruit 305 trainees to start in 2011 compared to just 195 to start in 2021. With the introduction of policies such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s 2018 price transparency regulation requiring firms to publish prices for various services on their websites, clients can shop around for the greatest value for money from law firms. This kind of competition means fewer junior lawyers will be paid the big bucks to carry out menial tasks that cheaper temps or faster automation can do.
While firms and legal experts have made it clear that lawyers won’t be replaced by robots anytime soon, automation and the help of legaltech are predicted to reduce legal sector jobs by nearly 40% over the next two decades. On the flip side, Chambers Student reports that artificial intelligence could create an estimated 14.9 million new jobs in the UK by 2027, and top firms are well aware of this, as they are increasingly looking for law and non-law grads with good IT skills. Linklaters’ Tech Legal Outlook 2020: Mid Year Update discusses expectations of a strong tech M&A market, with the lockdown emphasising “the need for continued investment in technology infrastructure.” The covid-19 pandemic has provided proof of concept not just for the agile, remote and flexible working models, but has shown the acceleration of digitisation across sectors from healthcare to education to entertainment. Firms are seeing an abundance of technology-driven business, and there will be demand for more tech-savvy and digitally aware lawyers to be involved in these projects.
There will always be a need for the human touch in the legal profession. If, like me, you are interested in pursuing a career in a City firm, I truly believe that you should be looking at what your chosen firm is doing for its employees in terms of technological development training and initiatives to help expand the technological awareness of the next generation of lawyers. A new mix of skills will be needed among legal professionals, where adaptability and fluidity will be among the top attributes for lawyers as the legal landscape moves to align itself with the increasing commercial, individual and societal dependency on digital services.
Kendal is a non-law graduate commencing the GDL in September 2020. She is particularly interested in legaltech and AI.