Is the law firm of the future a company?

If you could design your own law firm, what would it look like? The next generation of lawyers have been designing and describing the “Law Firm of Tomorrow” and pitching their ideas to a panel of experts. What does their law firm look like? Who will work there? How will it be organised? Here is a snapshot of just one of its features: it’s a company.

For over three years, the Bucerius Center on the Legal Profession has offered students on the international exchange program at Bucerius Law School the chance to look into the future. On the “Law Firms of Tomorrow” course, students learn the basics of law firm management, as well as gaining insights into the evolving legal market, legal technology and design thinking. At the end of the course, the students are asked to design and describe their own “Law Firm of Tomorrow” and pitch their ideas before a jury of experienced legal market experts. The students are encouraged to be creative, innovative and rebellious!

Whilst some ideas may be regarded as “predictable”, for example, work-life blend, family friendliness, diversity, mentoring, feedback, and career options, other ideas are highly original. One of the many interesting themes emerging from the findings is “the end of the partnership structure, and the beginning of the company”. Here is a snapshot of what of what this means for the Law “Firm” of Tomorrow.

 

A Voice for Everyone

Tomorrow’s Law Firm will have shareholders and a board of directors. There will be regular meetings of all employees, town halls, and one-lawyer-one-vote mechanisms, so that all employees will have an equal say in the important decisions of the firm. The management board will be elected every 1-3 years. Clients will belong to the company, not the partner. All employees will receive shares in the company as part of their payment package. One of the key reasons given by the students for organising the Law Firm of Tomorrow as a company was to introduce equality and to remove the partner-associate divide. From the students’ perspective, a company is a more democratic and transparent mechanism than a partnership for allocating power within an organisation. This impression originated from the perceived lack of transparency around the election of associates to partnership and the fact that partnership meetings took place “behind closed doors”.

 

Professional Managers

The Law Firm of Tomorrow will be run by a professional management team, with expertise in the key disciplines such as finance, operations, human resources and, of course, technology, as well as having independent non-executive directors. Furthermore, Legal Project Management has a pivotal role to play in Tomorrow’s Law Firm. Not only will Legal Project Managers be a necessary part of every team but will actually take the team-lead. In many cases the Legal Project Manager will allocate work, analyse lawyers’ performance and make improvement suggestions. The Legal Project Manager will also be the main contact point for the client.

 

A Tech Organisation

Technology is at the heart of Tomorrow’s Law Firm and facilitates a number of important processes. Firstly, internal communication is improved through instant messaging, knowledge sharing, work allocation, secure cloud storage and remote access. Secondly, client-facing communication will be enhanced through client platforms with informative videos and knowledge sharing, chatbots, instant messaging, video calls, holograms, real-time matter management, automatic transcription of conference calls and online payment systems. In addition, Technology will help the Law Firm of Tomorrow to achieve excellent service by using data analytics and client feedback to analyse lawyer performance. Fourthly, by standardising tasks and employing AI where possible to allow more work to be done automatically, Tomorrow’s Lawyers seek to make their firms more efficient. Ultimately, Tomorrow’s Law Firm will rely heavily on analytics to help it predict how much a matter will cost and thus reduce the need to use the billable hour as a pricing mechanism.

 

Bring in the Experts

Not only lawyers will work in Tomorrow’s Law Firms, but also economists, journalists, scientists, business consultants, technology experts, sociologists, tax advisors and accountants. Tomorrow’s Lawyers envisaged lawyers working side-by-side with other experts in order to solve the client’s problem in a holistic way. After all, the legal problem is just one of many problems from the client’s perspective. As many of the students’ models leveraged technology to deliver a service which was not solely legal advice (for example, a matchmaking platform, or an App) this meant that, in the Law Firm of Tomorrow, lawyers will be in the minority.

 

Tell us what you think

The Law “Firm” of Tomorrow has many qualities, and many of them can be possessed by a modern-day law firm. However, as the organisational structure of choice was a company, we wanted to find out more. As part of the Bucerius Center on the Legal Profession’s 9th Autumn Conference on Managed Legal Services, we joined forces with TalentRocket and Legalhead in order to find out more about the expectations of Tomorrow’s Lawyers, and what the Law Firm of Tomorrow should look like. The results will be published early next year. If you have not yet done so, you can still take part in the joint survey (in German) at Next Generation Survey or write to me directly at Emma Ziercke. Tell us about your vision for the future: what your Law Firm of Tomorrow looks like? All submissions will be kept anonymous. We’d love to hear from you!

 

Emma Ziercke, Bucerius Center on the Legal Profession

 

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Emma Ziercke, Bucerius Center on the Legal Profession

Hamburg