"Every man," Voltaire once said, "is a creature
of the age in which he lives." Few, he believed, are able to
raise themselves above the ideas of the time. And herein lies the
challenge for the legal profession in the age of disruption.
Lawyers are meant to deal in certainty. We don't like
So let's consider what we can be absolutely sure about right
now before considering the future: It's tough out there.
As the Australian economy transitions from its reliance on
resources to broader-based growth, uncertainty abounds.
Throughout the ages, however, the legal industry has negotiated
short-term cyclical challenges. Pressures associated with economic
transformation will pass.
But structural forces are shifting the landscape, too. And
adapting requires a new, pioneering mindset.
Globalisation and technology are converging in a way that
challenges orthodoxy. Just as fintechs have challenged the way the
banks operate, NewLaw is asking questions of BigLaw.
This calls for a different kind of thinking — "design
thinking" perhaps, which law firms around the world are
experimenting with to creatively solve some of the challenges
they're facing. Our greatest weapon is our embrace of
diversity: a monoculture kills.
Innovation isn't a word typically associated with the legal
profession, yet in this changing landscape, failing to adapt is the
riskiest strategy of all. New players are demonstrating that
technology is not only changing the way legal services can be
delivered but how it can improve decision-making for clients. And
it's not just NewLaw challenging the models.
McKinsey recently analysed the work activities in more than 750
occupations to estimate the percentage of time that could be
automated by adapting technology currently available.
Lawyers had an "automation potential" of 23 per cent
— one of the lowest scores. Pity the bakers; 98 per cent of
their work can now be done by machines. Yet our profession does
have something to aim for.
Allied to structural changes is the transparency that comes with
greater connectedness. Clients expect quality legal services with
increased value for money.
They have greater access to information, allowing them to
compare options more easily. Most research done before a
business-to-business transaction occurs online. It's a
Law firms at the forefront of change are harnessing technology
and adapting to these demands. Australia's leading independent
law firm, Corrs, is using artificial intelligence to help
businesses make smarter decisions.
Our new joint venture
Beagle Asia Pacific is a case in point. Its software provides a
new way of analysing contracts in a fraction of the time usually
invested, freeing us and our clients to truly focus on greater
insight, shaping strategy.
This technology can digest and identify important elements of
text at about a page per second. That's faster than any lawyer
I know. And rather than being confined to use within legal
departments, the platform can create benefits right across a
Of course, it is not technology itself that is causing
disruption but technologically enabled clients, and technology will
never be able to usurp human connectedness.
This is a universal truth for all professional services
organisations. Those firms that ally client empathy with the right
tools will be the ones that deliver true value.
This requires a human approach to disruption. The two must work
in concert, enabling clients to make better decisions. Adapting
existing technology to improve an enterprise beyond immediate legal
considerations will prove fertile ground. The legal profession can
spend more time focusing on the economic and social issues that
will inform the way Australia negotiates these uncertain times.
The steam engine was designed to remove water from mines. Humans
saw its potential to transform shipping and railways. Some of the
world's most innovative companies from Apple to Disney have
sprung from challenging environments and economies. These companies
challenged Voltaire's assumption — seeing beyond the
Some futurists say we're approaching a tipping point in
which cognitive platforms will outperform humans in the not too
distant future. Will a robot ever be the CEO of a law firm? While
singularity may arrive one day, all the evidence suggests we're
some way from it. I suspect I'm safe for now.
John Denton is a partner at and the CEO of Corrs Chambers
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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