2021 Trends in the Legal Services Sector
Across the globe, industries, economies and disciplines are responding to the fourth industrial revolution–and the legal services sector is no exception. Increased automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and continued technological disruption is fundamentally altering the way we live, work and relate to one another, and with the outbreak of COVID 19, last year, this transition has been accelerated. 2020 saw a lot of law firms increase their digital footprints, reassess standard operating procedures to accommodate remote working and trim unnecessary processes, amongst other changes. 2021 is poised to see a continuation of these trends and a response to the effect of the pandemic on the economic ecosystem. Below are seven trends shaping the global legal industry in 2021.
Surge in Dispute Resolution Cases
2021 is poised to see an upsurge in dispute resolution cases compared to previous years. As a result of the pandemic, potential litigants deferred dispute resolution till 2021, with some studies citing up to two-thirds of potential litigants. Furthermore, several businesses struggled to deliver on their contractual obligations in the past year.
At present, most countries anticipate a second wave of the COVID-19 virus which is likely to lead to mandatory lockdowns the world over. How the court systems and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms respond to this, as well as which dispute resolution option parties choose will sharply define the future of dispute resolution.
Increased Use of Technological Aids
Although, several law firms, legal departments and regulatory bodies have heretofore introduced technology in various forms to their practices, following the events of the past year, it is now close to impossible to be in the legal business sphere without utilizing technology competently. For one, sector professionals who were once reluctant to embrace cloud technology have adopted it as a result of remote working. Still others have introduced processes that help to streamline routine tasks. Most law firms are leveraging on technology to add value, reduce cost and improve the overall client experience; client portals, electronic billing and intranet-based collaborative platforms are increasingly commonplace.
Another area to expect significant change is document automation. Several Alternative Legal Service Providers offer model contracts. And for years law firms have used templates as a basis for drafting documents. It is expected that legal sector stakeholders will utilize automated software solutions which take into account the basic elements of the document required as well as the peculiarities of each case. This can produce in minutes, a draft document for review, saving the hours it would have typically taken.
Last year, several proceedings were held remotely, witness statements obtained virtually amongst other changes in court practice and this trend is on the rise. Intelligence tools like legal transcription technology for court processes, litigation outcome predictors and big data analytical software are expected to be introduced.
Owing to the advancements in technology, clients expect increased efficiency. Going forward, legal service providers will need to adequately evaluate what is necessary to improve efficiencies, improve client experience and adapt to the realities of today’s business environment.
Increased Digital Presence
In the increasing global legal market, it is imperative for lawyers to have an online presence. A law firm without an active accurate legal presence might as well not exist. Law firms without an online presence are expected to establish one and those with existing ones will be looking to expand their reach. Most industry professionals leveraged their websites and blogs as resources for quality content in their areas of expertise. Still others held webinars and vastly utilized social media communities like LinkedIn to maintain contact and share the latest news and updates. This trend is expected to hold fast in the coming years.
Issues around Data and Cybersecurity will remain topical
Data, the petroleum of these times, has become a valuable business asset. There is an expectation that companies will use Big Data tools to obtain insights in their business processes and legal practitioners must become conversant with data creation, its monetary value and its role in business. Furthermore, as data collection, processing, exchange and storage intersect with every aspect of human life, concerns on privacy and confidentiality will remain paramount, as well as discussions on existing data protection laws and how they sufficiently address these issues.
Remote working also exposed the security vulnerabilities in many digital platforms. It was a common occurrence for video-conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, to be hacked during meetings and conferences. Several organisations reported various forms of cyberattacks. The legal ecosystem houses a considerable amount of sensitive information and it is imperative in the increasingly digitalized world that investments in cybersecurity are made. Cybersecurity experts are advising law firms of all sizes to invest in securing their data in 2021 and to include it in future budgets. On the beneficial side, the demand for cybersecurity lawyers and technology lawyers is on the rise.
More Alternative Legal Service Providers
Over the past decade, the number and quality of Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs) have surged and more businesses utilize them. This increasing patronage of ALSPs has affected law firms’ revenue streams however, those firms who quickly adapted their business practices and operations thrived. For instance, several international law firms introduced ALSPs to provide specialized services to clients. In 2021, it is expected that law firms who do not introduce their ALSPs may choose to partner ALSPs to provide cost-effective services to clients.
Rise in Legal Process Outsourcing
Traditionally, law firm hires are lawyers or paralegals. Sometimes lawyers with specific expertise in a practice area or a sector in which the firm is interested. The new age has required a paradigm shift recruitment practices. For one, firms are looking to hire people who are equipped with technological know-how. For another, firms are increasingly hiring non-lawyers. Last year, in Nigeria, most of the larger law firms hired a Business Development Officer. In the coming year, firms are expected to hire fresh talents and perhaps house whole departments that attend to the business end of law practice.
Changes in Employment Law
The Gig workforce has consistently been regarded as an informal sector of the main work economy, with 9-5 workers being regarded as employees or staff of an organization. Prior to 2020, there has been agitation on the whether certain classes of gig workers should be eligible for benefits available to “regular” employees. The events of the past year have begun to blur the lines between the informal subsect and the main workforce as company employees were required to work in similar circumstances to the gig worker.
Currently gig workers account for 35% of the American economy and there is a push to reclassify these workers as employees. President-elect Joe Biden has promised to issue a proposed rule for determining is workers or independent contractor on employees under the American Fair Labor Standards Act.
It is estimated that at least 30% of millennials would demand work conditions similar to the gig economy. As a significant portion of the coming workforce will be filled with millennials, changes in employment law are expected to accommodate this future.
In 2021, there will be significant substantive changes to legal practice with the addition of marketing, innovation, technology techniques. The legal services sector stakeholders will need to remain agile and innovate with the business landscape to build stable and profitable practices.