The Disruption Of The Legal Industry In The Aftermath Of the COVID-19 Crisis
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As someone who is constantly following the evolution of the crisis across businesses by speaking with clients (in Europe and in the GCC) for extended hours every day, what is clear is that nothing will remain the same after this crisis.
As the war against the virus moves on to different phases across the globe, regardless of the figures we read in each country and the measures in place right now, the seismic wave will be a long one, and life after the pandemic will be different.
Tom Friedman wrote in The New York Times recently that the coronavirus pandemic will create a new historical divide: before-Corona (BC) and after-Corona (AC). So, looking into the sector I work in: how will COVID-19 change the legal industry, and what will it look like in the AC period?
The coronavirus pandemic will likely boost the legal industry revolution. It will propel law into the digital age and reshape its landscape. The entire legal ecosystem will be affected- consumers, providers, academia, and the judicial system.
Clients active in legal tech and legal digitalization processes, including those decentralized blockchain projects that we follow closely, are working around the clock, even in these times of uncertainty, because everyone in the legal tech industry expects products to be ready out there much earlier. The revolution has started.
Remote work and distance learning are a reality now, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. The foreseeable changes that will dramatically affect the legal world can be summarized as follows:
1. A revolution in academia Law schools will have to compete with more accessible, flexible, and quality content offered not only by academic institutions, but by cheaper legal training and learning centers. Most likely, legal programs, and education in general, will transition from "diploma mills" to learning centers for life with a strong community component. From my personal experience in teaching, universities and their faculties have already undergone a thorough rethinking of students’ interaction, but so far, the most prestigious law schools have thought their programs would be immune to such change, and have kept away from distance learning degrees. If the top law schools in the world will not adapt soon, they will be swiped away by the smaller players already out there, and with an almost 10-year advantage.
2. Law firms and in-house departments will be transformed In the AC world, the first thing that is apparent is that differentiation will become even more critical for firms to survive, and so too will the need to collaborate with others in the supply chain. There will have to be more collaboration across firms, corporate departments, and other providers, and the artificial divides separating them will need to disappear. Also, corporate law departments will not be spared. They will no longer be able to rely on insourcing as a solution to do more with less, simply outsourcing to law firms when it makes economic sense. Integration will be paramount, and new paradigms with roles and functions allocated by cross-function platforms will become the name of the game.
3. Digitalization Going digital in the AC world will no longer be an esoteric “cherry on the cake” for fancy law firms or senior management to adopt to show off with special clients. The legal function will no longer be divided into law firms, corporate departments, and other supply chain providers- like, for example, a legal tech client of mine, bridging between code and law, with his company making use of artificial intelligence (AI) to create smart agreements based on the parameters the legal consultants feed into the software. Players like Axiom, FisherBroyles, JUR, to name a few, are thus well positioned to succeed in the AC world.
4. Courts will go digital I was dreading the experience of interacting with local UAE Courts only via teleconferencing. However, my first real experience with such solutions during COVID-19 measures at the DIFC was a success. The judge asked questions, the claimant and defendant took turns in supporting the documental evidence previously uploaded via the eplatform. There were no distractions, but only focused teams dedicated to this litigation process. It goes without saying that this is the pre-history of online litigation, but my personal experience in the UAE makes me feel that everyone is already embryonically well equipped for this kind of interaction. It will take very little time for institutions and firms to invest in the right equipment to enhance remote interaction and ensure a speedy trackable and appealable decision-making process reality. It is just so apparent that inaccessibility, cost, abstruse engagement rules, and protracted processes of courts of the current litigation systems (across all jurisdictions) is not aligned with life in the digital age. The need to accelerate and the urgency to revolutionize are unprecedented.
The framework of the AC legal world is gradually and quickly taking shape. The imminent future has immense challenges and opportunities. Those players who will be willing to adopt soon a learning-for-life mindset and vertical approach will find opportunity. Others that will stay idle or criticize the current state of affairs hoping that things will soon return to the BC world will soon become redundant.
Let us embrace the challenge.