It is becoming increasingly clear: from conveyancing to commercial law, technology is revolutionising the legal sector. But is this good news and what, precisely, does it mean for the solicitors and lawyers working across the United Kingdom, and, of course, their clients?
According to Deloitte, more than 100,000 legal sector jobs are expected to become automated over the next two decades, meaning that although clients can expect some innovation in technologically sound legal solutions – including artificial intelligence and robotics – the solicitors accustomed to providing services on a human level could be forgiven for feeling nervous about the future of their jobs.
And they would be right to feel this way. More than 30,000 jobs have already been lost largely because of innovations in legal technologies and with Deloitte identifying nearly 40 percent of all legal jobs as being at "high risk" of redundancy over the next twenty years, it would be hard not to at least empathise with your firm's legal secretary if you found him sabotaging its computer systems. It is also hard to tally the situation with the comments of Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who recently bemoaned the UK legal system's "antiquated ways of working, grotesque inefficiencies and snowdrifts of paper".
These fears come despite the fact that there has been considerable growth in the legal sector over the past decade. It is anticipated that by 2020 law firms across the country will have increased staffing numbers by around 100,000 – the Warwick Institute for Employment Research predicts there will be a need for an additional 25,000 legal workers over the next four years – but the fact that most of these jobs have gone to specialist barristers and solicitors coupled with the changing technological landscape means that those in lower skilled and less well paid positions are feeling under threat.
Deloitte says that one way legal services workers can stay ahead of the game is to develop their technological skills. "Our report shows that firms have already identified a mismatch between the skills that are being developed through education and those currently required in the workplace," said a spokesperson. "Employers will need to look for lawyers who are not just technically competent, but who have a broader skill set," he added.
Of course there is a place for technology in the legal sector, particularly in the fields of commercial law, property law, intellectual property law and taxation law; however, it is important to remember that in the more personal areas of the law – for example, children law and divorce law – there will never be any substitute for the human touch.