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From the Law Society

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The future of legal practice

Many of you will have had the opportunity to look through the “Snapshot of the Profession” in the last LawTalk. The statistics show a tremendous change on the horizon for the demographics of the profession: today the average lawyer composite is aged 41.4 years and is male. That is going to change as next year heralds the first time that the number of women solicitors will equal male solicitors. While 88.3% of lawyers claim European ethnicity there are steady increases in other ethnicities and the largest increase is in those of Asian descent.

In a recent seminar, “The Future of Legal Practice”, Australian legal consultant and futurist Terri Mottershead considered the implication of the demographic changes in the profession. Terri gave us a snapshot of the trends in legal practice and future opportunities and challenges for lawyers. The title of the seminar is misleading as most of what she was talking about is not in the future but is already here now. The drivers at a high level are technology and demographics. For the legal profession another powerful driver is the demand for wider access to justice. This, in turn, drives people to look for assistance from places other than the traditional sources – whether that is online or from non-lawyers.

Terri talked about the unbundling of legal services to create efficiencies so that the person most suited to the relevant part of the job at the least cost did discrete parts of the job rather than one lawyer or team doing the whole job. Unbundling involves the lawyer providing limited assistance, usually to a litigant in person, for a discrete part of the job. It is more traditionally described as a limited retainer.

Ms Mottershead saw it, as does Dr Bridgette Toy-Cronin (see article on page 20), as a potential avenue for revenue growth, by tapping into a market of people who can afford some legal assistance but who are currently either going to court in person or not going to court at all. The Law Society has issued guidance on limited retainers (

A recent survey in the United Kingdom of small medium enterprises indicated that only 16% saw a lawyer when they had a legal problem (

This supports Terri’s estimate of an untapped legal market approaching another 85% (of the present market) there for the taking.

Terri dealt with all manner of emerging business models, from “uber law” to online dispute resolution (ODR). She pointed out that the alternative dispute resolution market is huge. Ebay alone conducts 6,000,000 ODR processes a year. Much of this work being done by non-lawyers.

Some lawyers look at these developments and quiver, or phone the President and ask what he is going to do about it. Others are embracing them.

Terri spoke about the Kubler Ross change curve which charts the different stages of individual’s response to change over time – it moves from initial anxiety and fear, through denial, hostility and depression through to acceptance. Those at the acceptance end of the scale are embracing change. They are the digital natives who will be looking to make these new business models work for them.

There will always be new ways of doing business, but at the heart of our role as lawyers remains the notion of the trusted professional adhering to the fundamental obligations of our profession.

Ensuring we keep up with changes is not antipathetic to maintaining the values of the profession. Those values support the reputation of the profession and give us the privileges upon which lawyers services are based. In fact, without lawyers operating according to the ethics of the profession the courts could not properly function nor would there be the important contribution that the organised profession makes to law reform.

It is a matter of embracing the changes but not jeopardising our role as trusted advisors and advocates.

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