The legal scene
paralegalson fixed-termcontracts insteadof moreexpensivesolicitors.
This chapter examines the key issues facing the UK legal profession in 2019-20 of which future lawyers should be aware, as well as the cases and mergers that have made the headlines. “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change,” a clear-sighted aristocrat observes in Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard , in what is a simple summation of a vastly complex issue that seems apt for today’s legal profession. In dozens of distinct specialisms, lawyers interact with companies, national and local government, institutions and individuals in almost every area of life, so it is no surprise that wider economic and political issues affecting their clients often have a knock-on impact on their work (find out more in “Solicitors’ practice areas” and “Barristers’ practice areas”). Of these, five key issues are pressurising the whole sector and driving profession-wide change in various ways. They can be divided into: • external factors – technology, the near- collapse of legal aid and Brexit; and • internal issues – equality and diversity in the profession, and changes to the way solicitors and barristers are trained. Tech and innovation Inhis influential book Tomorrow’sLawyersand TheFutureof theProfession s, leading legal thinkerRichardSusskindobserveshowduring the “technological revolution” that swept the manufacturing industryover 20yearsago, manufacturers turned toexternal providers to assembleproductsandpartsat a lower cost using technology. Asadvances inartificial intelligence (AI) andautomationcreate revolutionarynew possibilities (andchallenges) for the legal profession, this trendhas repeated itself.Many firmshaveoutsourceddocument reviewand legal research tasks, plusnon fee-earningpartsof the businesssuchasHRand recruitment. Firms feel pressure tocut costsasclientsdemandevermore competitive feesandaddedvalue, whichhasalso resulted in thewidespreadpracticeof employing
The real challenge for lawyers is todevelopnew, tech-basedways of delivering legal services as technology drives newways of doing the same tasks. Solicitors, barristers and legal executives will still beneeded, but clients inpursuit of cheaper, faster services are likely to sacrifice thehuman touch altogether formany basic legal functions in favour of an automatedoffering. The demand for change fromthepublic is certainly there – in a survey by theSolicitorsRegulation Authority (SRA) released in June2019, 58%of respondents felt that the legal system is “not set up for ordinary people.” Thebiggest barrier toaccessing legal advicewas costs, with68% saying that theywouldnot be able toaccess help because they can’t afford it. TheSRAhas pointed to thecheaper services enabledby technology as away ofmitigating thewidespread lack of access to legal advice. The roleof traineesolicitors is alreadybeing adapted toembrace technology. Junior solicitors and traineeshave traditionallydraftedsimple contracts and revieweddocuments, but this type ofwork isbecoming increasingly automated. Now, trainees aremore likely tomanage the processof referring the initial document review toa thirdparty that does thework at a lower cost, undertakinga secondary reviewof thedocument later.Management skills andanunderstanding of technology –andhowto resolve technical problems –are increasingly important skills. Access to justice This year theUnitedNations (UN) sent its special rapporteur onpoverty andhuman rights, Philip Alston, ona fact-finding tour of theUK. His final reportwas anexcoriatingcritiqueof theausterity policies pursuedby successivegovernments over thepast nine years, which theUNwere told have resulted in “the systematic immiseration ofmillions acrossGreat Britain”. Emphasiswas given to the legal aidcuts introducedby theLegal Aid, SentencingandPunishment ofOffenders
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