What Is the Future of Lawyers’ Jobs?

Bloomberg Law recently announced that lawyer jobs are down 15% in 6 months. Recovery is predicted to take years. “Lawyer employment information is hard to come by. But when we analyze the data we have, we find that lawyers have taken the brunt of legal industry job cuts in 2020.”

Interestingly, Bloomberg reports that 2020 employment favours non-lawyers over lawyers. In the United States, “lawyers lost more than 150,000 jobs in the first quarter of 2020, and the decline continued in the second quarter. The result is a lawyer employment level not seen since 2017.”

Bloomberg law predicts that lawyer jobs will return over the next few years. I agree that lawyer jobs will return. However, the jobs may return in different forms.

In Tomorrow’s Lawyers, leading scholar Richard Susskind envisions the future of legal practice. He argues that with the introduction of new technologies there will be a dramatic change in the jobs that lawyers hold. In particular, he predicts a sharp decrease in the number of traditional legal practitioners coupled with the emergence of new jobs for lawyers. Susskind names eight new types of jobs. They are:

1. the legal knowledge engineer

2. the legal technologist

3. the legal hybrid

4. the legal process analyst

5. the legal project manager

6. the ODR (online dispute resolution) practitioner

7. the legal management consultant

8. the legal risk manager

The legal knowledge engineer will “organize and model huge quantities of complex legal materials and processes” into computer systems. These systems will be able to solve specific legal problems, perhaps by incorporating artificial intelligence into large databases.

The legal technologist will build the “channels through which non-lawyers access the law” along with the foundation of legal services.

The legal hybrid will be a lawyer versed in another discipline, who provides hybrid advice. For example, the commercial lawyer who also acts as a strategy consultant, the corporate lawyer who also acts as a deal broker, or the family lawyer who also acts as a therapist.

The legal process analyst will breakdown a piece of legal work into different tasks and will delegate those tasks to the appropriate service provider.

The legal project manager will oversee the delegation of the work broken-down by the legal process analyst. After ensuring that the different service providers completed the work properly and on time, they will “pull the various work projects into one seamless service for the client”.

The ODR practitioner will “advise clients on how to best use online dispute resolution facilities and will be experts in resolving disputes conducted in electronic environments”.

The legal management consultant will provide strategy consulting on issues like long-term planning, legal needs assessment, and organizational structure.

The legal risk manager will help companies avoid legal problems in the first place. “Their focus will be on anticipating the needs of those they advise, on containing and pre-empting legal problems… potential pitfalls and threats to the business.” They will conduct activities like compliance audits, litigation readiness assessments, and analysis of contractual commitments.

In sum, when we look beyond traditional legal jobs, the future for tomorrow’s lawyers looks promising.

(Views are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization.)

Comments

  1. I may be missing the point and clearing not getting the vision, but the list of Tomorrow’s Lawyers appears filled with redundancy and may make “the process” more difficult than need be. In some instances, given the job descriptions, pretty much retains the status quo especially if hourly billing is retained.

  2. P.S. : “[F]amily lawyer who also acts as a therapist” – could be problematic, i.e., conflict of interest. The family lawyer may provide counsel in a manner to alleviate a situation froth with stress and conflict but providing both counsel and therapy may create too much of a power imbalance that may not be in the best interest of the client(s).

  3. Interesting points! I would agree that some of the job descriptions seem similar. However, I think we will see more lawyers move into non-traditional roles in the years to come, and these roles will be similar to Susskind’s predictions.

  4. Given the current economic conditions, as you’ve noted in your column, lawyers may have no choice but to “move into non-traditional roles”. However, if clients and prospective clients who are looking out for systemic reform regard these non-traditional roles as merely a repackaging of the status quo this may result in the end of lawyers.

  5. Mr Susskind left out “stand-up comedian”. I wonder if that was intentional.

  6. When I did family law, I almost always had to act as a therapist. You won’t get most of them through it if you don’t spend some time counseling them.

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