What does the future hold for the legal industry? At the most recent Clio Cloud Conference, we asked that question of 13 lawyers and legal industry experts. As one pointed out, it’s likely easier to predict trends 20 years from now than a year from now, but we received some interesting answers nonetheless.
Encouragingly, many answers centered around better service and more predictable fees for clients, more human technology, and overall, the rise of the client-centered law firm. Read on for the top legal industry trends to follow in 2020.
1. The rise of storytelling and blended interactions
“At the Clio Cloud Conference specifically, I have noticed a theme of storytelling throughout all the presentations I’ve seen. I feel like storytelling is huge and is getting a lot bigger.
As far as legal technology goes, I think the trend is people learning to blend in-person interactions with technology. I think a lot of people, when tech was newer, thought it was all tech or nothing. But now it’s more about blending that in-person and personalized interaction with tech is where things are going.”
– Shreya Ley, Co-founder, LayRoots
2. Injecting humanity into technology
“I don’t know if this applies, but I think a trend that I would like to see, and hopefully it’s coming, is just injecting more humanity into the tech that we use. I think we can all get so lost in the tech aspect of things that we forget who’s supposed to be on the other side. We forget that tech is really just supposed to facilitate our communication and connection with the people on the other end. So I think the more human our technology can become, the better.”
– Nicole Abboud, Legal Industry Speaker
3. More money, more of the Big Four
“Part of me wants to say consolidation, but it’s going to be the money flowing into the sector. Whether that money means that people are being bought and combined or if it means new entrants are coming into the market, that feels like the next year for me.”
“The bigger trend is the expansion of the big four accounting firms into the space. They have such a headstart on AI, even though they’re not necessarily practicing law, that my prediction is that the law firms who aren’t into the innovation world now, will be buying innovation from the big four even if the big four aren’t allowed to actually practice law here in the US.”
– Matt Homann, Founder and CEO, Filament
4. Designing better services for clients
“I mentioned I’m actually working on ethics changes, and so I believe in 2020 it will be about designing better services for clients. I think the law firms who do that will see the best growth because the market is huge and ready for that.”
“But my belief longterm is it’s those lawyers and law firms that are ready to truly partner with technologists, operations gurus, legal tech consultants, and paralegals [that will succeed]. I think when the industry becomes open, fully open to providing brand new ways to deliver legal services, we’ll see a major shift for the law firms who are excited about that and not afraid of that.”
– Lori Gonzalez, President, RayNa Corporation
5. Seizing opportunities for alternative legal service delivery
“I think we’ve been hearing for a while about automated services and the risk to attorneys of having a process completely automated without any attorney involved. But I think attorneys are hearing about that less as a risk and more of an opportunity to utilize the possibility of a streamlined—or a different tiers of—service to incorporate into their practice.”
“We know that clients like the conversation that helps solve their problem. They don’t always think they can do it by themselves the whole way. So, I think that’s actually an opportunity to utilize the technology that’s available to simplify and make a process more efficient, but still keep that relationship with the client front and center.”
– Kristin Gaston, Partner, Cascade Legal Planning
6. Using technology to work differently
I do think that it’s the ability to leverage technology that makes all the difference and it is enabling us to work differently and in ways that are better for the clients, better for the lawyers, and better for the world. It’s really a great time to be a lawyer.
– Lori Beight, Partner, Cascade Legal Planning
7. Automating to increase access to legal services
“I think legal aid across the US has been really trying to look at ways to automate simple things because legal aid is so routinely underfunded, and we need to be looking for ways to make these things accessible. The vast majority of our clients need light support and forms, so let’s figure out a way to automate that and get them access as efficiently as possible. Save the heavier-duty resources for more impactful work. But yeah, that’s going to be interesting.”
– Leslie Ginzel, Attorney at Law & Program Director, Beacon Law
8. Pressure for lawyers to compete on more than price
“I think the trend really is just going to be the growing gap between what lawyers used to do being taken over by non-legal providers and the services that really demand a lawyer.” “And having lawyers recognize that that’s a market that’s developing, a market shift that means you can’t keep being the low-cost option. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be the high-cost option, but there’s less and less benefit to be provided on those kinds of simple and straightforward things provided by a lawyer. You can’t adapt and survive with that as your sole differentiator.”
– John Strohmeyer, Attorney & Owner at Strohmeyer Law, PLLC
9. The year of the law firm as a profitable business
“There are a lot of things that sort of compete for that. Let me say, lawyers aggregating their bills will be the biggest trend of 2020. For the first time, law firms will really look at what they’re charging their clients, and how they’re charging their clients. And whether that be, you know, through Clio Grow, or through some of the dashboarding in Clio, or just going through their own billing systems, I think 2020 will be a year where really for the first time it’s easy for law firms to understand their businesses as businesses, in ways they haven’t been able to before. And so I think 2020 is going to be the year of the law firm as profitable business.
– Ed Walters, CEO, Fastcase
10. The democratization of being able to tell computers how to think
“There’s a saying: ‘people always overestimate what will be done in five years and underestimate what will be done in 20 years.’ And so we’re now into one year. So I think it’s safe to say that most of the predictions are going to overestimate.”
“So I really do like this advent of tools like Community Lawyer that are democratizing access to coding, even though they might not say it that way. What they’d say is, they’d say it’s “no coding.’ But the democratization of being able to tell computers how to think, I think, is going to continue to grow. And that’s something I would like to watch for. And that might just be as simple as document automation, but it can be a lot more.”
– David Colarusso, Practitioner in Residence & Director, Suffolk University Law School’s Legal Innovation and Technology Lab
11. The continued relevance of artificial intelligence
“I am really very interested in AI. I think there’s going to be a lot of attorneys, not next year, but in maybe five years whose jobs are going to completely change, and I think attorneys are generally not tech savvy and don’t follow change—or don’t really welcome change. I think a lot of attorneys are going to be caught off guard.”
“Because I’m a transactional attorney, I’m following how AI is being used to interpret and populate contracts. I think this will get more interesting in fields like corporate and in the field I practice in—real estate—with leasing work and other types of documents that are the same over and over. You just have to change the clients and the information.”
“I think the future of that practice is going to change dramatically and it already is, right? They’re already using AI for the financial documents that were born out of the last financial crisis with banking, and they’ve applied AI to read those contracts that all the banks had to agree to, and now to keep track of how those contracts are being implemented. So I just think the future of AI is really exciting for the legal field.”
– Cynthia Morgan-Reed, Founder & CEO, Vanst Law
12. The rise of the data-driven lawyer
“I’ve implemented Clio Grow and it’s opened up the door for me to look at a whole new set of metrics and data and analysis for my firm. And I’ve created all new charts and graphs and Excel spreadsheets and I’m very data driven and I think that the legal industry as a whole is going to continue to be very data driven in every aspect.”
– Crystal McDonough, Attorney and Owner, McDonough Law LLC
13. More predictable fees for clients
“The unfortunate one is the billable hour, and really figuring out a way to give clients almost a flat rate. In a litigation, there’s a complaint stage, let’s say. Then there’s the discovery stage, there’s trials, hearings, motions, and whatnot. So the complaint will cost you $2,000, discovery will cost $4,000, and so on and so forth.
I think that is going to really be a focus, because a lot of small businesses get frightened at the idea of an hourly charge. They all want caps, because they don’t know what you’re doing and you can run away with your bill and hit them with a $100,000 bill. And they’re worse off than when they started. They’re not rich, but they also don’t qualify for legal aid.”
– Abraham Hamra, Managing Attorney, Hamra Law Group PC