The Future of Law: disappearing legal libraries, virtualised firms and super-specialism

36% of firm’s business models are not fit-for-purpose when it comes to the demands of the future. Pace of innovation faster now than ever before.

SYDNEY 07 April 2014 A new study from legal and tax solutions provider, Thomson Reuters, has revealed what the law firm of the future could look like. And, with disappearing legal libraries, virtualised practices and consumers in control, 2044 is likely to be very different to today.

View our interesting infographic which snapshots the potential look of the Australian legal landscape in 2044 on TR Insight

The predictions form part of Thomson Reuters’ inaugural Future of Law report, which has seen the publisher question more than 100* senior fee-earning legal practitioners among medium-large firms across Australia, to better understand the evolving legal landscape.

Respondents were asked to make predictions on the future direction of their own practice and to share thoughts on how the industry could change in the next 30 years. Key themes emerging include:

Consumers in control
Professionals predicted three main trends in the law firm landscape by 2044; the emergence of more niche and specialsied practices (62%), fewer firms and market consolidation (53%) and a rise in consumers managing their own legal affairs as a result of ubiquitous online tools and information (44%).

Super-specialism
The majority of decision makers questioned predicted that in response to legal services become more commoditised, their own firm would become more specialised (27%) or become highly-specialised (26%) in the next 30 years in order to stay competitive in the market.

The vanishing legal library
The majority of those questioned (44%) predicted their firm’s legal library would ‘virtually disappear’ by 2044, with 10% claiming it would halve in size. This would be down to the increase in digital and online information sources (68%) and evolving information consumption habits (32%), for example, tablets and smartphones.

Coming-of-age of the virtualised firm
While working remotely is already popular, in 30 years’ time this trend is set to dramatically grow, with 24% of practitioners predicting three quarters of their staff would operate permanently outside of the office, and 26% predicting half their staff would work remotely.

The virtualised law firm – with no physical office space – was also a key trend, with 14% predicting all firms, half of firms (27%) or a quarter of firms (36%) would operate virtually.

The study also highlighted a worrying trend; a lack of preparedness for the years to come, with 18% of professionals lacking confidence that their firm’s existing business model was sufficiently future-proofed for them to remain competitive in 10 years’ time, 20 years’ time (32%) or 30 years’ time (36%).
Practitioners agreed that the pace of innovation today is faster than at any point in the last 10 years (69%). There was acceptance that this would continue into the future, with 60% predicting it would be faster still in 10 years.

The role of social media also came under the spotlight, with 20% predicting it would play a ‘very important’ role in terms of driving firm-wide profitability in the future, and 11% saying it would be ‘crucially’ important.

James Boocock, General Manager of Legal Solutions and a specialist in future market trends at Thomson Reuters, said: “The study provides a fascinating insight into how law firms perceive their future and how they see technology driving deep business change in the industry. While to some, these trends may seem scary, in many ways we are already halfway there. The decline of the traditional legal library or growth in remote working for example, are already being driven by increased tablet use and online information sources, something most of us are already comfortable with. And often, future-proofing your firm can be as simple as adopting a sophisticated new practice management or workflow solution.”

*Study questioned 102 senior staff/partners across medium-large law firms in Australia in March 2014. Detailed research breakdown is available on request.

For media enquiries, contact Will Ockenden at will@rinsed.net or call 02 9319 1101.

Thomson Reuters
Thomson Reuters is the world’s leading source of intelligent information for businesses and professionals. We combine industry expertise with innovative technology to deliver critical information to leading decision makers in the financial, legal, tax and accounting, healthcare and science and media markets, powered by the world’s most trusted news organization. With headquarters in New York and major operations in London and Eagan, Minnesota, Thomson Reuters employs more than 55,000 people and operates in over 100 countries. For more information, go to www.thomsonreuters.com.