A recent Legaltech News article (available here) provides an interesting summary of some of the technology changes coming to the legal profession. The article also predicts a battle between big law firms, corporate legal departments, and tech companies to seize the legal market amidst this technological disruption. And as is often the case with articles discussing the impacts of technology on old industries, the author eventually asks, "What About the Lawyers?" The consensus, at least according to the experts referenced in the article, is that lawyers will still be needed, but the nature of their work will change. Attorneys will need to be more adept at understanding the business and using their own data to improve operations.
But that has probably always been the case, at least if you imagine what an ideal in-house attorney or General Counsel (GC) looks like. Effective GCs must understand the business they are serving if they are going to be successful. And they use both the breadth and depth of their experience (or anecdotal data?) to demand better results from their team. So, it shouldn't be surprising that we would expect GCs to understand their business moving forward.
What is different now is that we have the tools to actually track, manage, and leverage data (or experience?) that simply wasn't possible a few years ago. William Mooz of the Institute for the Future of Law Practice makes this point, "In-house law departments have tremendous data assets flowing through their operations that they do not use to the fullest extent." Exactly. And that necessitates a lot of repetitive (and expensive) work on the part of junior attorneys. But imagine an in-house team being able to take advantage of every single routine and/or strategic decision that they have made in the last five years. Attorneys should be able to reference the results of such actions and then make more-informed decisions on the matter in front of them. The routine decisions can then be handled (nearly) automatically and the strategic decisions become based on data and/or experience, rather than guess-work.
Of course, such a system would have the potential to drown the attorney in data, so attorneys, product designers, data scientists, and machine learning experts will need to work together to build something that works without overwhelming the user. That's why it is unlikely that big law firms will be the ones to figure this out; they don't usually have the cross-technical experience to both bring that team together and that product to market. Instead, it will be technically-proficient teams consulting with capable in-house attorneys that are going to win the future of legal services.
This is not to say that big law firms will cease to exist. There are huge incentives for GCs and CEOs to outsource the most high-stakes legal work to high-priced firms, as no one ever gets fired for their decision to hire Cravath or Wachtell when the fate of the company is on the line. But as more routine legal work can be handled competently through the combination of in-house talent and technology, big law firms will capture fewer of those dollars. Instead, businesses will be able to do more despite spending less. And that makes consumers the real winners of this future because every dollar saved on legal can go towards new research or customer service.