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The end of the office as we know it

The spectre of robotics has cast a shadow over the law firm office as we know it. But are lawyers fully prepared, asks Chrissie Lightfoot?

The legal office is set to change Profit_Image

In previous articles for The Global Legal Post I have shared with you my insights about re-invention and why it is imperative for lawyers to embrace the requirement to become SocialHuman in order to future-proof their livelihoods from the ‘rise of the machine’. After all, the time may be approaching when we  witness the end of the law office. The question is - are we prepared for this, and if not, what should we do?

New roles and the end of the office as we know it

Due to the ‘rise of the machine’ – cognitive computing, artificial intelligence (AI), avatars, cyborgs and robots–  and as machines become more efficient, productive and intelligent than humans and supersede some traditional roles, it will be inevitable that we may need less ‘pure-blood’ human lawyers ‘on the job’ at the office. As a business owner myself, I believe that the majority of the roles that I envisage, if not in place already, will be so very soon. These comprise: 

  • the legal strategist; 
  • the pricing agent-provocateur; 
  • the value meister;
  • the social collaborator; 
  • the SocialHuman lawyer; 
  • the big data guru;
  • the data artist; 
  • the AI executive;
  • the intelligent e-personal assistant; 
  • the iCyborg lawyer;
  • the robot lawyer;
  • the RoboManager (the robot  lawyer supervisor/manager); and 
  • the RoboTechnician  (the robot technician).

In the majority of cases, these roles could be carried out remotely. We cannot ignore the predictions and trends that one in three established traditional firms in the UK face financial meltdown in the next five to ten years. We are already witnessing this. It has been recently reported in numerous media (originating from the Intuit 2020 Report) that within twenty years 40 per cent of jobs in the USA will be robotised. These are not only blue-collar but also white-collar roles, the realm of the pure blood human lawyer.  Oxford University recently released its report that within 10 to 20 years a staggering 58 per cent of financial advisors – white collar workers - will be replaced by AI machines and/or robots. My view is that what applies to the finance sector can also be destined for the legal sector. 

NewTech

The fact that the businesses of law are increasingly relying on NewTech to bring about legal efficiency cannot be under-estimated or understated in relation to its likely impact, for better or worse. This trend is only going to continue and amplify as we advance into a robotic age with AI technology and legal businesses becoming ever more tightly connected. Accordingly, with all this NewTech take-up, AI in play, avatars, iCyborgs lawyers and robot lawyers in the wings, we need to concern ourselves, and dare I suggest begin planning, where and how we work in the very near future.

Ivory towers

This is going to mean global disruption, displacement, re-deployment and re-invention of the legal workforce with HUGE capital Ds and Rs!  Which begs the question: do we really need the existing kind of location and office set-up – the ivory tower with all of its grandness, including expense (whether in a central CBD, business park or alternative) – that we have traditionally been accustomed to, to serve and produce currently, and in the future, when the stark reality is the resounding moot answer of “NO WAY”?!

These new lawyerly roles, some of which are snapping at our ankles and the rest I envisage are likely to evolve very soon (I’m talking a matter of months and handful of years, not decades; indeed, some already exist) require creativity, imagination and emotional intelligence – the talent realm of the ‘pure blood’ SocialHuman lawyer. They do not require being imprisoned daily and chained to a desk in large bricks and mortar walls.

Location is no longer king

In the past, it was popularly regarded that marketing focused on location location location and that a business’s location was therefore king. However, I would argue that the law office, as we know it, is not the kind of environment required or expected currently or in future. Not only is it time to ‘get naked’, it’s time to ‘get re-located’.  Not only do we need to be creative about who, what, when and why we provide legal services and products, we also need to be fiercely creative about how and where - location from, to and in.  This will mean being creative about our environment of production and service in where and how we work to maximise productivity for ourselves and our employer – the business of law.

What millenials want from work

If you are not yet convinced,  permit me to share with you a selection of articles on the topics. These are What millenials want from work by Henrik Bresman, What work will look like ten years from now by Gwen Moran, and The concept of the Imaginarium - a fabulous scenario of what our future office and work environment may look like by Antony Slumbers. I agree with Henrik Bresman, the author of an article in Harvard Business Review: What Millenials Want From Work, Charted Across the World (Feb 23rd, 2015), who opines “the majority of existing research on current employees born between the early ‘80s and late ‘90s is skewed toward understanding what a narrow, typically Western, population wants.” This means that summations and conclusions based on such a limited sample could lead to “bad decisions (and missed opportunities) around attracting, retaining, and developing millennial leaders in a global business environment,” comments Henrik. 

Time for me

As a result, in order for current company leaders to understand what our future leaders and current employees - the millennials - want at work, INSEAD’s Emerging Markets Institute, Universum, and the HEAD Foundation conducted the largest study of its kind: “Millennials: Understanding a Misunderstood Generation.” They surveyed 16,637 people between the age of 18 and 30, in 43 countries across Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

What the researchers discovered is that millennials strive for work-me balance, not work-family balance. They want time for themselves and space for their own self-expression. Overall, the dominant definition was “enough leisure time for my private life” (57 per cent), followed by “flexible work hours” (45 per cent), “recognition and respect for employees” (45 per cent ) and “convenient work location”. 

Asking the questions

As leader of your law firm today ask yourself: is your office location truly convenient for your lawyers and support staff? Have you asked them recently, if at all? Are your clients bothered? Have you asked them? I know from the majority of studies carried out already that ‘convenience of law firm location’ never ranks high on what clients really want from a law firm; see the studies by Peppermint Technology if you are curious. If no, watch out, for the leaders of your law firm tomorrow – the millenials - have forewarned you how they will ensure their success and the business of law of the future.

Chrissie Lightfoot is author of Tomorrow’s Naked Lawyer: NewTech, NewHuman, NewLaw – How to be successful 2015 to 2045. (published Nov 2014 ), and its prequel bestseller The Naked Lawyer: RIP to XXX – How to Market, Brand and Sell You! (Nov 2010). You can pick up her latest book today by emailing publishing@ark-group.com or call +44(0) 207 566 5792.

Posted by:

Chrissie
Lightfoot

24 September 2015

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