Disruption: Why the legal sector needs to get comfortable with being uncomfortable

A blog post by Sue McLean from Baker McKenzie - member of the Eagle Lab in partnership with the Law Society initiative


Disruption occurs when individuals, companies and industries grow complacent to the factors driving change.

Those vulnerable to disruption continue walking down the well trodden path of "business as usual"; resistant, sceptical or unable to shift gears before it's too late.

Today, disruption feels like the new normal. The last decade has brought with it monumental economic events, political earthquakes and a constant flow of business and technological change. But the legal profession has, for the most part, remained in its comfort zone, clinging on to hierarchical structures, the billable hour and relying on people power to carry out tasks which, with a little effort, could be automated.

But the times are changing. The forces of deregulation and greater competition, technological advancement, increased client power, and a changing demographic are forcing the profession to take a hard look at itself. Stephen Hawking said “intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”. Well, the smart lawyers will embrace the challenges posed by these disruptive forces and rise above those who do not.

Innovation has to be centred around our clients and what they need - not what we think they need. It's not about shiny toys. It's about using technology to optimise our services and provide efficiency. It's about giving lawyers tools to focus on what we are really good at - being trusted advisors who solve problems with creative solutions. It's about reimagining the business of law and creating legal products and solutions that give value to our clients.

But if we concentrate solely on LawTech, we are missing a trick. You don't optimise a system by optimising its parts. This current state of flux should encourage us all to take a step back and reassess our organisations more generally. I think that there are profound changes that the profession needs to embrace to improve the service that we provide to our clients and the experience we offer our people. We need to have some challenging conversations about changing the way we staff and price projects, how we collaborate with our clients and business professionals, how we empower our people, how we identify leaders and formulate promotion criteria and incentivise and reward our staff.

In a profession where promotion to partner is getting harder and harder and taking years longer that is used to, how do we provide accelerated development opportunities to our talented lawyers? Although women make up almost half of all lawyers in the sector, why despite all existing diversity efforts do they represent less than one third of partners? How can we accept as an industry that although nearly 12% of solicitors in the profession are from a BAME background, they make up only 6% of partners? We have also got a long way to go in improving LGBT+ and disability and social mobility representation. Some bold change is going to be needed to shift the dial.

I hope the future of law looks and feels different, and I can't wait to get started. Who's with me?

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