Law firms of the future will have fewer permanent lawyers and office space for just the most influential partners, a report published by a web-based practice claims.

The report, entitled The New World of Legal Work, concluded private practice lawyers will increasingly be ‘entrepreneurs’, evolving to compete to join rotating teams of professionals on an ‘as-requested’ basis.

Other lawyers will develop hybrid careers such as ‘lawyer-knowledge curator’ and ‘lawyer-analyst’, serving either fellow lawyers, clients or the general public.

The report was written by Canadian legal consultant Jordan Furlong and commissioned by Lawyers on Demand, an alternative legal services provider started in 2007 by international firm BLP.

Furlong said the key theme to emerge from the report is the rise in ‘agile working’, which will need to be implemented by legal teams and adopted by lawyers. He concluded that with changes in working practices, the legal industry can adapt and catch up with other industries in areas such as technology, division of labour and business process.

Furlong said: ‘What many legal teams don’t yet appreciate is that the efficient deployment of talent and systems to accomplish legal work will not only reduce personnel costs, but also increase efficiency.

‘The pent-up productivity potential in the legal market is off the charts and the employment revolution will play a key role in unleashing those benefits.

‘The means by which legal work can best be done, in terms of productivity, sustainability and effectiveness, will become a primary consideration for legal service providers and their clients.’

Other changes in the legal sector will include:

  • Only the most important partners at firms will remain permanent members of staff;
  • Meeting spaces will replace law offices;
  • Current ‘lawyer work’ re-classified as ‘legal work’ carried out by a variety of performers, not just lawyers;
  • Mid-level tasks given to trained paralegals or overseas lawyers and higher-level work farmed out to teams of independent project specialists reporting to the permanent lawyers or directly to clients.

The report said law firms need to develop a system to accurately identify and develop its future leaders. They will also need to create an internal inventory of skill and performances to help identify talent surplus or deficits.

Independence should also be at the forefront of lawyers’ minds, taking on the instincts and capabilities of an entrepreneur. Self-starters who can build a reputation for value, effectiveness and foresight will be in high demand.

The full report can be downloaded at the LoD website.