It’s about two years since my first forecast column for Slaw, and as the future is always rising to meet us, I thought I would do an updated version as we approach 2023. Some of my forecasts have stayed the same, some have moved from medium or long term to near or medium term, some are new, and some have been removed, but the forecast isn’t very different than the first one I wrote. As before, I’m interested to see any comments you may have on my predictions or things you think I’ve missed.
Here is my revised forecast looking out from today:
Near term (1-2 years)
Life will become more like it was pre-pandemic, but there will continue to be significant shocks to systems like public health, politics, and financial markets. The legal industry, along with society as a whole, will continue to find its equilibrium following recent shocks with continued changes in priorities away from requirements to be in person and increases in technology.
- Health will become less important as a primary driver of public policy as the pandemic continues to wind down.
- There will still be times when Covid-19 impacts daily life.
- The way that people consider health risks will continue to be different, with particular focus put on risks to particular groups.
- The number of deaths among the elderly during the Covid pandemic will have relieved some of the pressure on long term care / medical system, but there will be less tolerance for neglect of the living.
- Lingering health effects of the pandemic for survivors will be most felt by people who didn’t get treatment for other illnesses during the pandemic and those who were infected who experienced permanent damage.
- Courts and law firms continue to increase remote access.
- Governments watch self-regulating professions more closely and many force change.
- There will be increased pressure for regulation of internet content.
- Privacy law framework both at Federal and provincial levels will be revamped, with possible implications for the distribution of legal information.
- Increased emphasis on legal sector initiatives like regulatory sandboxes.
- Political instability internationally continues in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
- Some sectors will rebound after the pandemic, some go back to something like normal, and some will do worse.
- The stock market was overpriced because of an excess of investment. Now it is undervalued because of uncertainty with regard to the war in Ukraine, energy prices, public health concerns, and increased rates of general anxiety. It will start to go up again soon but take time to achieve parity with levels during the pandemic when there was a glut of excess cash in financial markets.
- Ongoing inflation risks could lead to a crunch where it’s difficult to maintain buying power.
- It will take some time for job market churn to return to pre-pandemic levels.
- The changes to work force dynamics from the pandemic will be long lasting and businesses will continue to struggle to hire staff.
- Relatively small changes in population attributes associated with the pandemic will make meaningful changes to the dependency ratio, which will make services healthcare more affordable.
- Machine learning continues its trend toward increased commercialization / economic viability.
- Data scarcity continues to be an issue for adoption of machine learning in law.
- Increased access and technological development will require data, much of which will still require human effort and insight to develop.
- Improved collaboration applications and social acceptance of collaborative work will continue to encourage the development of open publications in academic and technical fields.
- The digital divide continues to increase (including access to bandwidth, hardware and software, and knowledge).
- There is continued increase in the sophistication of cybersecurity attacks.
- There is a greater push for accessibility, including issues like WCAG compliance, plain language, and rural access.
Medium term (2-5 years)
In the medium-term data-based applications in law will be more widely developed and adopted. Legal regulators will continue to open new business models / technologies. It will not move as quickly as some want it to, while moving too fast for others. Lack of access to legal data will continue to be a limit on adoption of legal machine learning and other applications, but there may start being pushes from the judiciary, bar, and litigants, for more restricted access to legal data as is currently the case in France. The market for high end legal services will decrease in size, especially where they are undifferentiated, in areas of law that don’t change much, and where technology hasn’t been adopted to increase efficiency. The market for undifferentiated legal services will grow, but more of it will be served by innovative entrants using more technological tools. This will increase the overall market size for legal services but will likely still be uncomfortable for some incumbents.
- Effects from Covid-19 will pass and new normal will proceed.
- Public health will be less important as a driver of events and policy.
- More governments will have revised policy and legislation for self-regulation of professions as jurisdictions across Canada follow the lead of BC.
- Governments will look to resolve issues of privacy and access to public but obscure documents like case law.
- Economic inequality will be a bigger political issue and lead to initiatives like tax reform.
- Technology and business model disruption will affect many lawyers’ incomes.
- Changing price points and increased efficiency through regulatory / business model / technology innovation will increase market size further.
- Lawyers will continue to become more tech savvy as the generation used to having extensive support staff retires.
- Millennials will be a larger proportion of working professionals.
- Machine learning will become viable for smaller datasets, which will make it much more applicable to many legal applications.
- More work lawyers currently do by hand will be automated, creating some issues for loss of work and revenue for lawyers / firms.
- Increased adoption of out of the box practice improvement software will increase the productivity and attractiveness of solo small firms, leading to both more accessible legal services for the public and more disruptions in big law.
Long term (5+ years)
The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to be felt, but they will be integrated into the new normal. There will continue to be risks of new pandemics arising from the corona virus reservoirs in bat populations in Southern China. Automation will continue for routine tasks, but in law there will be significant conflict between human and computing needs with the needs for human process, negotiation, and culture ultimately prevailing. Legal businesses will continue to be under pressure, but new approaches to innovation, technology adoption, and business models, will help them become more responsive.
- Will revert to underlying / long term issues such as aging populations.
- Continued risks of pandemics due to endemic viruses in bat populations in Southern China that have already crossed species barriers several times in 20 years.
- The new state of professional regulation will be in place.
- Governments will start to develop more born digital documents which work better in computer applications.
- The Government of Canada has committed to connecting all Canadians to broadband by 2032, but the choke point for access will change, so overall the digital divide will continue to grow.
- The tensions between right and left / rural and urban / social classes will continue to be issues.
- Born computer friendly documents, and a computing paradigm shift in governance will expose limitations on human relationships, negotiations, and politics that cannot have all ambiguity removed.
- Governments will have to initiate policy interventions to address inequality. This is likely to be driven by tax policy and be international in scope and led by the United States with tax havens less able to shelter money under the political pressure.
- AI operators will come into conflict with organized political pressure from populations and elected officials. The power to engage in automation will be limited in some ways.
- Pressures for use of automating technology will continue.
- More tasks and jobs will be automated with less routine work protected.
- Fertility will continue to decline.
- Millennials and Generation Z substantial majority of working people.
- Accessibility of legal data will continue to be a problem, to a large degree because the data required to support some applications is not being created or collected.
- The limits of traditional legal documents as sources of data will be a major limit on the development of AI tools.
- As technology-based innovation continues other sources of innovation such as process improvement, collaboration, and human contact will give more opportunity for those with social / political capital to leverage them.
- Algorithmically generated content and tools will be prevalent, but they will lack insight and new ideas meaning that human insight will be important at a time when editorial departments and other centres of expertise are smaller than before.