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What Will Law Practice Look Like in 2027?

  • December 18, 2016
  • Compiled by Sam R. Sasso

As we wrap up another year, we look forward to 2017 and reflect on all that we have accomplished. It’s been 150 years since Canada’s Confederation and 220 years since the formation of the Law Society of Upper Canada; we have come far as a society, and so has the profession of law. In just the last decade we’ve seen paralegals regulated as LSUC licensees (2007), mandatory professional development was introduced (2011) and we’re now into the third year of the controversial Law Practice Program (2014).

We asked seven innovative lawyers to look 10 years into the horizon and predict where they think the practice of law will be in 2027. Here’s what they told us:

“The changes we imagine coming in 10 years will come in five”

The Law Society of Canada, having authorized non-lawyer ownership of entities providing legal services shortly after all regional law societies merged and reconstituted themselves into this single unit, has now published the second edition of its definitive table of legal professions. With the addition of legal project manager, legal technologist and legal accountant to the existing categories of paralegal, Notary and lawyer, the total number of regulated licensees crested over 200,000 nationally for the first time. As a result of significant reforms to adjudication systems across the country, the number of so-called “private practice” lawyers, continues to hold steady at around 20,000.  As generational cycles quicken, the changes we imagine coming in 10 years will come in 5, and the changes we imagine coming in 25 years will come in 10. I’ll let you determine for yourselves to which window my prognostications apply.

-  Colin Lachance is CEO of Maritime Law Book, supplier of the legal research database. A frequent speaker on legal tech and market development topics, Colin is also a lawyer with Momentum Business Law.

"Lawyers will become the driving force for new products and services."

I think 10 years from now is when the practice of law will start to become noticeably different than it is now with the next decade setting the groundwork for the change to come. By then, my guess is that it will be significantly cheaper and easier to search for law and prepare documents; at the same time, I think there will only be about half or a third of assistants as there are now.

There will also be more people obtaining legal services as the significant number of people who want but do not currently receive legal services finally get what they’re looking for – lower cost and more accessible legal services (which are thankfully becoming more common) will be the catalyst for this but which will also filter up to higher cost services. 

I think the biggest change over the next decade will be a shift in how services are provided and the law is taught. Even compared to a couple of years ago, it is much easier and cheaper for a lawyer to turn an idea into a product, such as an app, software, e-book, etc. Lawyers will become the driving force for new products and services. Tools will be built to meet specific needs – such as solving a problem, providing a service, or teaching a principle – and traditional tools will either be adapted or largely abandoned.

-  Sam R. Sasso is an associate with Ricketts, Harris LLP. His practice focuses mainly on commercial litigation. He has been involved in some of the largest directors’ and officers’ insurance cases as well as a number of significant shareholder dispute matters. Sam has authored a free app to analyse directors’ and officers’ insurance policies which has received wide acclaim.

"There will be no lawyer/non-lawyer hierarchy and there will be no room for rock star egos.”

Successful legal practices in 2027 will use a team approach to their operations, much like an F1 race team. A great F1 driver wins nothing without a great team behind him or her; every person on the race team is vital to the team’s success. So too, lawyers in 2027 will be seen as no more important than other members of the team; there will be no lawyer/non-lawyer hierarchy and there will be no room for rock star egos.

The firm will take full advantage of personnel who did not go to law school and have a diverse range of skills that will help the firm succeed. The firm will succeed and fail as a team; in other words, team goals and firm goals will be weighted far more heavily than individual goals. Success will be celebrated as a team and failure will be used, not as a way to point fingers, but as a way to learn how to improve.

The firm will drive a culture of continuous improvement and a sense of experimentation with new technology and processes to make its clients and team members “sticky.” The focus will be on reducing key partner risk by differentiating the firm from its competitors through its service delivery model.

Clients will truly become clients of the firm, rather than clients of a particular lawyer.

-  Mitchell Kowalski is the Gowling WLG Visiting Professor in Legal Innovation at the University of Calgary Law School, the Legal Innovation Columnist The National Post, and the Principal Consultant at Cross Pollen Advisory. Follow him on Twitter @mekowalski.


"I predict that AI will completely replace some of the drafting and daily repetitive tasks."

In 10 years, the practice of law will have evolved dramatically, driven largely by clients who are seeking different ways for lawyers to provide services and alternative fee arrangements. In 10 years we will see much less hourly billing as lawyers are required to develop new fee structures that provide clear value and more certainty for clients.  On the internal side, technology will be more advanced.  Artificial Intelligence will replace much of the mundane work that is currently conducted manually as technical solutions will be far less expensive.  In fact, I predict that AI will completely replace some of the drafting and daily repetitive tasks.  AI will also be used for decision-making and to predict litigation results. Analytics will be mined and lawyers will have a better understanding of client needs and services.  Lawyers will spend more time providing strategic advice.  Finally, the days of the big corner office will be gone due to escalating real estate costs. We will see more open space and hotel style solutions as it becomes accepted that lawyers can work remotely, not just sitting at a desk in an office.

- Susan Wortzman is the President of Wortzmans, a Toronto law firm offering legal counsel and strategic advice on e-Discovery and Information Governance. The firm’s clients include law firms, corporations and government agencies.


"The ancient doctrines of champerty and maintenance will finally be buried."

Paper briefs in courtrooms will be a distant memory. Diversity will no longer be an issue for discussion. Technological innovations that have emerged in the recent past such as Artificial Intelligence will be common place in certain areas of law. Lawyers will have a sharp eye on effective business management, and will be trained on the business side of their practice from day one.  The hourly billing model will be close to dead and the ancient doctrines of champerty and maintenance will finally be buried. Litigation funding will be a tool widely used in Canada by clients and law firms to manage the cost and risk of litigation (but we need to say this).

- Tania Sulan is the Chief Investment Officer and Naomi Loewith is an Investment Manager with Bentham IMF, the Canadian arm of Bentham IMF, an Australian company specialising in the funding of commercial litigation. Between them, they have 10 years of litigation funding experience, 20 years of commercial litigation experience and are called to the bar in 4 countries. At least one of them is a self-professed luddite.

"High-quality personalized legal advice will remain expensive and outside the reach of most individuals"

In 2027, the practice of law will look much the same to outsiders as it does in 2016. There will be more avenues to get detailed legal information for consumer-facing law like landlord-tenant, criminal, and family matters. However, high-quality personalized legal advice will remain expensive and outside the reach of most individuals. Spiraling law school costs, high cost of living in population centres, and lack of alternative business structures mean that personalized service (of the type required for litigation and certain transactional matters) will remain expensive. 

From the inside, however, the profession will look different. The Big4 professional services firms will continue to gnaw away at the mid-market for corporate legal services, notwithstanding that ABS will continue to be verboten. BigLaw firms will be forced to either amalgamate to scale up to the size of professional services firms, or, if they can, move up the value chain to specialize in sectors they can dominate - like large cap M&A. The effect of technology won't be readily apparent to outsiders, but insiders will note that much work will be automated resulting in fewer junior lawyers and assistants, and fatter profits for those who can rise to (or remain at) the top.

- Sahil Zaman is a co-founder of Closing Folders Inc., a technology company that builds the world's most widely adopted online legal transaction management system. Sahil is a former soldier, former corporate lawyer, and former financial analyst, but he thinks his current gig will stick.

“There will always be room for smart lawyers working as tireless advocates”

It’s impossible to know with certainty how the business of law will change in the next 10 years. I’m reminded of Yankees legend, Yogi Berra who said, “It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” However, we are seeing changes happening today that I think will impact the future of law in Canada:

  1. Dramatic rise of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) -- The challenges, costs and delays in managing civil litigation across our country will grow. We are seeing the earliest stages of ODR being piloted in Canada and elsewhere today, like the solutions promoted at Consumer Protection BC. In 10 years, ODR will be commonplace.
  2. Access to justice will be challenged -- Unrepresented litigants will force governments to consider how the court system is accessed. From simple litigation to complex personal injury litigation, from family law to criminal defence and everything in between, the rise in unrepresented litigants will oblige the Bench and Bar; as well as all levels of governments to rise to the occasion, taking bold and courageous steps to address access to justice for all Canadians.
  3. Rapid advances in technology will disrupt law – Artificial Intelligence is creating buzz and excitement in legal circles, and with good reason. Computing power will be exponentially greater in 10 years and technological disruption is already happening across many industries in Canada – including the legal industry with the influence of the Cloud. Legal teams who prepare and plan today will thrive in the future.

I am certain of one thing 10 years from now: there will always be room for smart lawyers working as tireless advocates and providing solid, sensible legal advice to the public. Great lawyers doing important work will always have a place in Canada.

-  Peter Carayiannis was the founder and president of Conduit Law Professional Corporation, now Deloitte Conduit Law LLP. With extensive experience in business development and as a legal advisor with a background in corporate law, Peter works hard to help his clients design and implement legal and business strategies.


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