lawyer displacement… fact or fiction?

Legal futures has reported this week on Lord Falconer’s enthusiasm for “delawyering” personal injury cases, embracing the commoditised model.  At legal edge, we’ve been talking to lawyers for some time about this and have coined a different expression – “lawyer displacement” – but to all intents and purposes it means the same thing.

The evolution of the non reserved legal services market and the legislative changes we are in the midst of means that those organisations with cash to throw at the problem have already gone a long way down the road of commoditising their legal processes.  And the by-product of all this commoditising is that lawyers become superflous to requirement for a great deal of the workflow.

“Is my job at risk of displacement?” is a question we regularly get asked.  Well, if there is any element of your daily working life which is repetitive in its nature then the answer is yes I’m afraid.  The culprit of all this displacement is predominantly IT.  There is also a significant degree of legal and business process outsourcing, but the providers of these systems will often have more sophisticated IT systems themselves to allow them to be able to offer their processes at a more cost effective rate than the outsourcer can deliver internally.  This is particularly true of the onshore LPO business models.

So lawyers are feeling the squeeze from all angles.  Not only do we face the very real risk of consolidation of the market place with a significant reduction in the number of firms in operation (only last week our Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke predicted 1/4 disappearing in the post ABS world); but also, streamlining of systems within practices will mean less jobs for lawyers, as they are displaced by IT/LPO systems.

Canny firms are investigating this in more detail now with a two phased approach. Firstly they are funnelling resource into their IT provision; ensuring that their worktypes are being dealt with as efficiently as possible.  And all worktypes can benefit from regular reviews of IT in the process.  Legal Edge have yet to see a case where efficiencies and savings can’t be achieved.

Step two for these organisations is then to be redefining the roles of their qualified staff.  Lawyers are highly skilled, well trained individuals, and it absolutely makes sense to strip out any element of “admin” from their working lives, and allow them to concentrate on the elements of their case work which requires bespoke, technical input.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg.  There are a plethora of roles which are springing up, exploiting the expertise of the qualified staff but in non-traditional roles.  Legal Edge have a paper available on the emerging new jobs in legal practices.  Just get in touch – if you’d like a free copy.

All of these changes in working practices are not necessarily a bad thing.  The trick for law firms is to be embracing the elements which are relevant and can deliver value to their practice.

So lawyer displacement is very much fact, but the jig is not necessarily up.  There are plenty of other roles emerging.  It just requires a bit of lateral thought to reveal them.

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