Building the future

Posted on May 15th, 2013 by Chrissie Lightfoot

This article was first published in the May 2013 edition of Managing for Success, the magazine of the Law Society’s Law Management Section


Tomorrow’s legal leaders face an uncertain future, with changes already underway to everything from training culture to the competitive environment. So how can they – and all solicitors – equip themselves for the road ahead? Chrissie Lightfoot reports…


Since the dawn of mankind, we have evolved to survive many challenges, radical changes, disruptions and ‘ages’. In the legal world and beyond, we are now experiencing a new Digital Age, and those who want to survive it will need to evolve, too. To quote the futurist Dr. Peter Bishop: “There will be significant change within our tenure within any position within our lifetime for sure, that we will have to learn to live in a new world … it will be new enough that we will be uncomfortable, we will be unprepared, and that we will have to learn new skills and new techniques in order to be successful in that future compared to how we are being successful today, or indeed how we were prepared to be successful when we were in school or training.”

We all know about all the change that’s already affecting us within the profession, including changing regulation, legal aid cuts, increased competition and ever more pressure on the bottom line. But the pace of change will only pick up, and in ways we may not expect. We are already in a world where apps keep lawyers up-to-date (reported on The New Lawyer), 50% of web sales will occur via social media by 2015 (on Mashable), 22% of consumers use social media to find a lawyer (LexisNexis research), and social media sites are the new golf course (on Legal Futures).

Marketing is a new beast in this world. According to research by Hubspot on trends in 2013, marketing this year will be more accountable for revenue generation, more focused on mobile applications, and more ‘human’, with companies developing a personality through storytelling. People from across the business will need to become “inbound marketers”, promoting the business’ products and services, and investment will increasingly focus on online marketing.

Longer range predictions paint a picture of far more radical change. In November last year, renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted that, by 2045, technology will enable superhuman machine intelligences to emerge, and people and machines will become deeply integrated. He believes our brains will extend to the cloud, which will allow us to learn new things at any age. This might sound a little like sci-fi, but the pace of change is more rapid than you might expect; companies like Google are already working on self-driving cars and augmented-reality glasses.

More relevant to us as solicitors is his prediction that computers will, by 2029 – well within the working timespan of today’s younger solicitors – be able to match the intelligence of humans. In October 2011, I predicted in Managing Partner magazine that we might soon see the “iCyborg” taking over our jobs! What is certain is that in the decades ahead, our role as lawyers within this new world is going to change dramatically. We have to start tackling that now, both in our current practice and in how we train tomorrow’s lawyers. But what will those lawyers look like in this brave new world?



Keeping up

To have job security and increase our earning power both now and in the future, we will, undoubtedly and unequivocally, need to boost our value and relevance by continually learning new things. As Peter Drucker once said: “We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change … And the most pressing task is learning how to learn new ideas, concepts, methodologies and technologies.”


But how do we know what to learn, what courses to take, what theoretical and practical endeavours to partake in, and what degrees and other training will position us to thrive in the years ahead?

A good place to start is the 12 Certainties™ outlined by global futurist Daniel Burrus (see These are the trends he believes will transform all of our careers. No matter what our role is today, these certainties will affect us, so the sooner we align our skills to these 12 certainties, the more relevant and valuable we will be to our firms and clients. The 12 Certainties that will transform every career are:

  1. Cloud services and virtualisation
  2. Big data and real-time analytics
  3. Mobile hardware, software, and services
  4. Social business enterprise management
  5. Cyber security and forensics
  6. Intelligent e-personal assistants
  7. 3D web
  8. Connective intelligent objects
  9. Additive manufacturing (3D printing)
  10. Advanced robotics and automation
  11. Remote visual communications
  12. Gamification of education

All of these are technology-based, because it is technology which is most rapidly transforming how we work. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all of us lawyers must become technologists in order to get a top-paying job as a lawyer in the future (although it might help!). It does mean, however, that we have to adapt our current skills so they include a working understanding of these 12 certainties, because this is how we will remain relevant and of value. Andrew McAfee, the principal research scientist at MIT’s Center for Digital Business, puts it plainly: “when the robots rule, we (will) need a guaranteed paycheck”.

We also need to look at how we can build these certainties into the education of our lawyers of the future, so they will be resilient in the face of the change each of them will bring. For instance, the last of these 12 is about the application of gamification to education. Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context in order to engage users and solve problems. It is used in applications and processes to improve user engagement, return on investment, data quality and learning.

To date, gamification has been most widely applied in marketing and as a tool for customer engagement. However, there has also been interest in the application of gamification to education, training and employee productivity. Microsoft has released the game Ribbon Hero 2 as an add-on to their Office suite to help train people to use Office effectively and thereby improve productivity.

In his most recent book, Tomorrow’s Lawyers(2013), Professor Richard Susskind suggests that “lawyers should benefit from existing and emerging techniques of e-learning, which in their most advanced forms can be tremendously powerful. This extends beyond online lectures (which themselves can be useful) to online simulated legal practice and virtual legal learning environments”.

Susskind is alluding to blended learning (the mix of face-to-face and interface e-learning), but there is definite scope for gamification to be introduced into legal education and training in a big way.



The new careers

The traditional way of lawyering is now increasingly being questioned, superseded and / or supported by other ways of operating and delivering legal advice, products and services – I call this the Age of UnLawyering. We are transitioning toward two distinct modus operandi for what, where, why, when and how we serve our clients: face-to-face and interface. In the future, who will be doing the serving may be rather different as well.

Nowadays, legal provision and primary skills fall into four areas:

  • IT-based – commoditised;
  • artificial intelligence (AI);
  • advocacy; and
  • judgement.

AI can be defined as the intelligence of machines, where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximise its chances of success. In legal practice, the most common applications already in circulation are e-discovery, digital forensic procedures and big data search, particularly in relation to civil litigation matters and legal research.

Arguably, the first two areas above have superseded the ‘grunt work’ traditionally carried out by trainees and junior lawyers; paralegals and / or junior lawyers now oversee and utilise the ‘machine system’ in order to maximise productivity. The last two areas, however, are associated more with associate level and upwards. This means we are transiting toward three kinds of lawyer:

  • the unemployed lawyer;
  • the support worker to the first two areas – there is no need to be a qualified lawyer; and
  • the ‘super lawyer’, with a high-end intelligence quotient (IQ) and emotional quotient or emotional intelligence (EO/EI) to work on the last two areas above.

AI is here, now. But, it could evolve in an extraordinary way in the next two decades to the extent that advocacy and judgement will also become the realm of the machine in relation to IQ.


Meanwhile, in Tomorrow’s Lawyers, Susskind predicts that legal markets will be further liberalised, leading to an entirely new range of legal roles, which he calls:

  • the legal knowledge engineer;
  • the legal technologist;
  • the legal hybrid;
  • the legal process analyst;
  • the legal project manager;
  • the online dispute resolution practitioner;
  • the legal management consultant; and
  • the legal risk manager.

Many of these will mean broadening our domain of expertise, not just in the areas of legal advice we provide, but also in our business development ability, business advisory ability, market expertise, project management ability, strategic consultancy, and even organisational psychology, using high-end intellectual capital and emotional intelligence.

Competing with the machines

So if the machines are already hot on our heels, and may soon be cleverer, as well as more efficient, than us, how can we possibly compete? I believe that a key differentiator in our successful evolution and in the alignment of machines with man will be the ‘humanisation’ of lawyers.

As AI evolves further within legal provision and service, our ability to simply be human (a social creature) and naked (our authentic self with lawyerly intellectual capital, empathy, passion, emotion and high EQ/EI), will become even more important and valuable.

In a deeply fragmented and technological legal world, it will be our EQ which differentiates us where top-level results are concerned. EQ is externalised in soft skills – communication, empathy, body language – which are frequently used in business development and client relationships.

In light of all this, I believe that the biggest challenge for lawyers and legal education is to embrace what I call “psycho-lawyernetics”.

Back in 1960, Maxwell Maltz wrote Psycho-Cybernetics. He went beyond the “closed system” of the “science of psychology” and sought answers concerning human behaviour in the fields of physics, anatomy and the (then) new science of cybernetics. He proposed that: “any good plastic surgeon is and must be a psychologist, whether he would have it so or not. When you change a man’s face you invariably change his future. Change his physical image and nearly always you change the man – his personality, his behaviour – and sometimes even his basic talents and abilities.”


With a plastic surgeon, the sphere of influence is the man’s face; with a lawyer, it may be his divorce, his business interests, his intellectual property. But what brings the lawyer’s approach into the same realm as the surgeon’s has been summarised by futurologist Dr Patrick Dixon: “the future of law will be driven by emotion”. He believes “what clients want in the future is advice based on emotion”.

Legal education and training has already begun the transition in accommodating business development skills and other ‘soft-skilling’; including marketing, sales, branding, public relations, social media, social networking and entrepreneurial schooling. It’s happening now at the College of Law (UK), other universities and law schools in the UK and internationally. There’s also an abundance of external trainers, coaches, educators and consultants supporting and supplying all of the above to the legal industry.

However, psycho-lawyernetics is fundamentally missing (and of necessity) as a core lawyerly skill in the continual legal education and training (in both theory and practice) in the present and certainly for the lawyer of the future.

This is partly because lawyers tend to favour a more analytical approach at work than an emotional one. Part of the Myers Briggs approach to psychometric testing looks at their decision-making approach – either thinking (organising and structuring information to decide in a logical, objective way) or feeling (organising and structuring information to decide in a personal and values-oriented way). In the general population, men slightly favour the thinking approach (57%, versus 43% for feeling), while women strongly favour feeling (75%, versus 25% for thinking). However, the majority of solicitors of both sexes – 81% of male  legal advisers and 66% of female ones – favour the thinking approach.

The problem is that emotion / feeling drives customer behaviour (and always has, even if we didn’t recognise it); customers buy due to their emotions and justify with logic. And there is no business of law, and no need for a lawyer, without the customer.

Logic should tell us lawyers that if we genuinely wish to understand our clients and thereby persuade them to buy from us, we need to change our behaviour and train ourselves to take a more feeling approach. After all, it’s highly unlikely that the client will.

I therefore urge any ambitious lawyer who wishes to make and / or maintain a life-long career in the law to embrace a deep(er) understanding of psychology. More importantly, legal education and training providers must build this into the fabric of their educational programmes; otherwise, the teaching of business development, entrepreneurial and soft skills will be in vain.

Inevitably, for us lawyers to survive in this Digital Age, this Age of UnLawyering and potentially iCyborg lawyering, we must begin by changing (or simply improving) ourselves – our behaviour, our approach, and our knowledge. It’s going to be a real challenge, but if we get it right, at least we will be a little better prepared for the journey ahead.

Chrissie Lightfoot


The Entrepreneur Lawyer

Author of The Naked Lawyer: RIP to XXX – How To Market, Brand & Sell YOU!



Please do feel free to comment on this post. I’d love to hear your thoughts…



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This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 15th, 2013 at 8:29 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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