The International Bar Association (IBA) has just published the first products of its work on the future of legal services.
I know that hardly a day goes by without another doom-laden report about the robot ready to take over your job, but this one is different. The first magnificent thing that it does is to collect in one place all the research on the future of lawyers that can be found here. Well, nearly all of it. The work has been driven by automated search tools (more on this below) and so it is determined by strictly mechanical parameters: English language, for instance, and certain databases. Nevertheless, it is a wonderful resource, available to all, and I hope it will be used.
The first result should be to slow the production of any more reports on the future of the legal profession. If you are thinking of producing one, please stop and consult the IBA’s database first. You will almost certainly find that someone has already covered the ground. The only purpose of writing something from now on is to cover new ground, based on the research already out there.
Doubtless because of the automated nature of the search and search terms, there are some unusual gems alongside the expected material on blockchain and artificial intelligence. For instance, there is a study on the decline of the lawyer politician in the US Congress, which explores the consequences of the decline from the mid-19th century (almost 80% of members were lawyers) to the 1960s (below 60% ) to 2016 (less than 40%). This is fascinating but hardly central to the future of the legal profession.
Another of the principal outputs is what is called ‘global categorization of change factors driving the future of the legal profession’. Here is more automated work, collecting data from searches and search terms. Again, it is magnificent. If you want to know what is driving change across the legal profession, and not only in terms of the usual technological innovation, it is here. You do not have to sit around with your partners or council members with a blank white sheet and have a brainstorm – do not waste your time. Begin with the IBA’s comprehensive list, which is handily provided in a PowerPoint presentation, and work from there (tinyurl.com/ycvm4bqt).
The IBA report has divided change drivers into six different areas, which cover six slides in a mass of small print. There is material on skills mismatch and educational reform, globalisation and the shift of economic power, regulatory innovations and gaps – nearly everything, in fact.
The ‘nearly’ comes about once more because of the method of the research, which is automated with predetermined search terms. So, in the countries most cited for change, China appears 61 times and Australia 121 times (Australia is the third most cited country in the world). Really? Is Australia therefore going to be so many times more important than China in the future of legal services? I doubt it.
This blip comes about because Anglo-Saxon academic commentators (the ones who would have cropped up most often under the parameters of the search) regularly discuss the consequences of Australia’s maverick changes to legal services regulation, which have had little impact beyond some countries in the common law world. Therefore, Australia keeps appearing. China’s ‘Belt and Road’ strategy, on the other hand, which deliberately targets the bars located in the many and completely various countries across its path, is likely to have a much more major impact.
As with the useful list of existing research cited above, so with the material on change drivers: there is no value put on anything and little sense of the importance of one thing over the other. It is all just listed and grouped. Does the fact that blockchain is cited in only 4% of the material searched mean its future importance is similarly negligible? I doubt it. I do not suppose the IBA thinks so, either. It is difficult to tell then the purpose of informing us that it was listed in just 4% of research, without any context, discussion or conclusions.
This is only phase one of the IBA’s work. There are phases two and three. In phase two, the IBA’s taskforce will identify what the association can do to enable its members to cope with change. In phase three, there will be research to determine tactics to help IBA members deal with change.
The work so far is excellent. Its shortcomings arise because of its methodology. I trust that the IBA will now put in the work to determine the value and priorities which are currently missing from its comprehensive lists.
Jonathan Goldsmith is Law Society Council member for EU matters and a former secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe. All views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Law Society Council