Smart use of technology and a flexible workforce will be at the heart of future law firm business models, analysts have predicted. And those relying on technology simply to automate their processes and cut down staff numbers will fall short, conference delegates heard.

Peter Saunders, partner at accountancy giant Deloitte, told today’s Westminster Legal Policy Forum the legal profession will reach a ‘tipping point’ in 2020 after which working practices will be completely different.

‘Within 10 years we will see some radical changes to how legal services are delivered,’ said Saunders, who last year co-authored a report into developing legal talent.

‘Attitudes amongst the next generation are changing. Only 42% of law graduates aspire to be partners in law firms. Seventy-one per cent of millennials expect to remain with their current employer for the next five years.

‘Successful firms will be the ones that don’t fight the tide but embrace it and alter their business model to take advantage.’

Saunders said while many experts point at the accountancy profession as one to emulate, he sees the legal profession copying changes in the advertising and media sectors.

‘That has moved almost exclusively to a freelance model where you draw on your pool of people to deliver projects and then they are off.’

Speaking at the same conference, economist James Mancini from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development urged firms to embrace greater unbundling of services.

‘There is a gradual recognition there are more and more tasks that don’t necessarily require a fully qualified professional lawyer,’ he said. ‘This process has been led in a lot of ways by the firms themselves when they use low-cost outsourcing models whether their clients are aware of it or not.’