May 18 2020

The new future of the legal profession (Part one)

Carsten A. Lexa

In the past, legal advice has been more or less offered in the same way. But this is about to change, because of the changes brought about by digitization. To start a discussion, this article presents, in two parts, 10 prerequisites that future lawyers should have. The focus of the first part is on the necessary mindset of lawyers in the new future; the second part focuses on the processes, tools and organization of the office.

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Fundamentally, in the past legal advice has been more or less offered in the same way. The client poses a question, the lawyer does his or her research, analyzes appropriate judgments, and subsumes corresponding legal regulations. In the end, he or she comes to a legal opinion that can be justified and the client receives a multi-page memorandum, which contains the legal statements in the abstract (“legalese”) language lawyers are known for. Finally, the client is billed based on the lawyer’s efforts and worked hours.
However, this reality seems to be changing. Digitization has not “spared” lawyers. Of course there are different opinions on how the change will look like. As a base for discussion, I would like to present the 10 requirements that I do believe will be placed on lawyers in the future. In my opinion, law students, young lawyers -and, in the end, each and every lawyer- are well-advised to face up to these requirements and to ensure that they acquire the appropriate skills to meet them.

1. Development of digital competences
Ultimately, technology is a tool, so one first of all needs to learn how to use it. It will not be enough to simply read through a few articles on topics such as blockchain or smart contracts. Lawyers need an understanding of the opportunities that arise from the use of technology. Otherwise, the individual areas of digitization are always going to remain abstract and difficult to imagine, and it will be difficult for lawyers to correctly assess any risks, dangers and problems. Ultimately, digital competence means not only competence in the application of software and hardware, but also competence in dealing with new challenges, methods and processes proposed and offered by digitization.

2. Interdisciplinary thinking
In the future, lawyers will no longer be asked to address purely legal questions. This is already the case today as many legal issues overlap with tax, psychological or business themes. But these cross-industry issues will increase. The success of future lawyers will, therefore, depend on how smoothly they can familiarize themselves with these questions not only within the legal areas but also beyond them. This will depend on the ability to communicate with professionals from other disciplines as well.

3. New understanding of risks and challenges
Lawyers used to be extremely good at risk assessment. This was easy when the changes in the actual and legal framework were taking place slowly. However, this is no longer the case. The speed at which changes happen because of advancing technological progress has become so high that framework conditions are rarely so stable that they can be assessed with sufficient certainty. This will present lawyers with the challenge of a new understanding of risk. In the future, it will be necessary to assess risks, even if a situation cannot be fully grasped because actual changes occur so fast that the legal framework cannot keep up with those developments. In this context, it will be important to explain to a client the risks and the consequences of decisions based on an uncertain factual and legal situation, which places special demands on the communication skills of future lawyers.

4. New understanding of mobility
The thinking of lawyers is often shaped by the idea that the client has to come to them. However, this is a fallacy. Clients are getting more and more used to mobile concepts and they want to transfer them to their service providers as well. In the future, it will be normal for a client to contact his lawyer from abroad to clarify a legal question. Likewise, it will be required on the other hand that a lawyer is able to make information and documents available anywhere in the world in a legally secure manner, and on the other hand that he can make himself available to the client, regardless of where the client is or where the lawyer is. What was formerly the physical presence is now the availability - not necessarily physical, but in such a way that the lawyer and his knowledge/expertise is immediately accessible for the client.

5. Thinking in cross-border issues
Even if it only looks a little bit different it at the moment: in the future, lawyers will have to think much more about cross-border opportunities. Digitization makes it possible for products and services to be offered across borders and for companies to be founded and operated online in foreign countries. Plus, more and more countries are realizing that harmonizing legal issues makes their citizens' lives easier, especially as globalization and increased mobility make it easier to find the best legal environment for the citizens. For future lawyers, this means that the concentration on purely national legal solutions, especially in the area of commercial law, is no longer sufficient to provide clients with the most comprehensive advice possible.

[to be continued]

Article author:
Carsten A. Lexa

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