Comment: Deloitte – storm in an (automated) teacup?

This article was first published in the March Legal IT Insider
With its forecasts of a 2020 ‘tipping point’ and around 39% of legal sector jobs lost to automation in 20 years, Deloitte’s February Insight report into the future of the legal sector certainly did a good job of getting itself noticed.
Behind the scenes, there was some confusion over where the substantive evidence is, not helped by the fact that the only reference to the 39% figure was in a diagram on page four, which was unclear even to many with a McKinseyish love of graphs.
‘Developing legal talent: Stepping into the future law firm’ predicts that automation, changing client demands and the rise of millennials in the workplace will significantly alter the nature of talent required by law firms in the future. A combination of retiring partners and a shortage of skilled workers, as well as alternative career paths within alternative business structures, means law firms could find the profession flips into an employee-led market. Spurred on by the quickening pace of technology, shifts in workforce demographics and the need to offer clients more value for money, this transformation will mean that by 2020, law firms will face a ‘tipping point’ and the need for a new talent strategy, with the report finding that “businesses must prepare effectively now so they are not left behind by the end of the decade.”
Peter Saunders, lead partner for professional practices at Deloitte, said: “Our report shows that firms have already identified a mismatch between the skills that are being developed through education and those currently required in the workplace. Employers will need to look for lawyers who are not just technically competent, but who have a broader skill set.”
Responding to the report in his Lawyer Watch blog, director of the Centre for Ethics and Law and professor of law and professional ethics at the Faculty of Laws, University College London, Richard Moorhead said: “In truth, as interesting as the report is, it has not produced new evidence to support the claim that ‘[legal services businesses]’ will need access to lawyers who have a broader skill set and are not just technically competent lawyers.”
Deloitte further suggests that ‘non-traditional’ employees such as project management and data and technology experts may be “transient” and accessed via contractor or partnership models, which firms are less likely to invest in.
But Fireman & Company consultant and market commentator Ron Friedmann said: “Just as firms may need to flex the number of lawyers up and down, so too may they need to flex other professionals. I do not see the logic in treating lawyers as “permanent” and other professionals as “transient”. In fact, a strong case exists for reversing that mindset.”
Subsequent to this comment being published, Ron Friedmann has posted his own blog about the Deloitte Developing Legal Talent report. Read ‘The Future of Legal Talent – Not Lawyers?’