Legal development

What's next for NewLaw?

technology and AI

    This year, we're celebrating 10 years of Ashurst Advance. A decade in which we have grown from an initial team of 7 based in Glasgow, to a multi-disciplinary team of almost 200 people working across Glasgow, London, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi and Krakow.

    Based on their observations as to how NewLaw has developed over the course of this time, our Ashurst Advance leadership team give us their predictions on what lies ahead for the industry.

    Chris Georgiou, Partner, Co-Head of Ashurst Advance

    Looking at the past 10 years since Ashurst Advance was formed, it is astonishing how far the transformation of the legal services industry has come. What was once a matter of delivering tasks more cheaply through offshoring and nearshoring, has evolved into the professionalisation of a whole new suite of capabilities, and recognition that the delivery of legal services can be significantly enhanced through the expertise of a far more diverse range of professionals than solely legal experts."NewLaw" has come of age, and "alternative" legal services providers are no longer alternative. Hurrah!

    Looking forward to the next 10 years, I'm delighted to say that I can't see that far forward! Which is exciting as when I joined the profession you used to be able to predict the next 100 years in law, the pace was so slow…

    At Ashurst Advance our focus is on driving that change and outpacing it, bringing together legal, consulting and delivery expertise to design integrated solutions to solve our clients' most complex challenges. 

    But what brings me the most pleasure personally is how we are collectively creating wonderful new opportunities for those entering the profession or at earlier stages of their legal careers. We need a much wider variety of skills now than ever before which opens up access to the profession to people from all kinds of diverse backgrounds. And obviously those with a digital flair will be in very high demand. 

    This new breed of legal services professional will literally shape the future of law!

    Hilary Goodier, Partner, Co-Head of Ashurst Advance

    It is almost impossible to read anything on the future of law these days (including this article) which doesn't speak to the opportunities (and threats) of Generative AI. It is going to impact everything from lawyer productivity, to training, to law firm business models and pricing. Over time, it will be as impactful to how we work as the advent of email. In the short term though we must see it for what it is – a tool (albeit a very powerful one) – and not make the mistake (as some have already done) of using it as a replacement for legal judgment and expertise. And while I am not in any way trivialising its importance or relevance to how we work, there is something else, something more existential, that as leaders we need to face into. 

    The rise in geopolitical tensions and the polarisation of our world has crossed the threshold into our boardrooms and workplaces. From the impact on trade and supply chains, to soaring inflation and economic instability to the psychological and physical safety of our people and communities. These issues are real, they are immediate and they are complex. And as business we have a role to play, but it's not the role you might expect. 

    We are global businesses that champion and celebrate diversity. It is not only the right thing, it is the smart thing. We have figured out how to harness diversity to drive results. Yet increasingly the safety and stability of the diversity we, and our people, thrive on is under threat. Tensions that were once only allowed to exist outside the workplace are finding their way inside. We must halt that trend urgently. 

    As I said last year,  kindness starts with each of us. As workplaces and as leaders we can be the change we want to see in the world. And it starts with making our workplaces a safe space for our people. All of our people. Law firms in particular should be a place of tolerance and respectful debate, the place our people can come to find meaning, be recognised and most importantly be safe from the sad realities of our world.

    And so my prediction is that in the face of continued and escalating global tensions, law firms and workplaces more broadly are going to have to double down on efforts to protect and champion diversity, tolerance and psychological safety in all of its forms. It is a moral and business imperative.

    Nathan Bellgrove, Partner, Head of Advanced Solutions

    I am fortunate to have been with the firm throughout its NewLaw journey from before Ashurst Advance was launched in 2013, when we worked in collaboration with an overseas alternative legal services provider. I was a litigation practitioner at the time and it is hard to believe how far we have come! 

    I am now the global practice head for Ashurst's NewLaw capabilities working with the firm's offices across the globe. The changes we have seen over the last 10 years, of which I am reminded every day, are the incredible diversity of our team, including the different skillsets they contribute to provide services and solutions to our clients, and the integration of Ashurst Advance into the work done every day by the firm's many practices across its global footprint. We are constantly challenging ourselves to outpace change and I am really excited about what the next 10 years may bring.   

    Tara Waters, Partner, Chief Digital Officer

    The last decade went by in a flash. In many ways it feels like hardly any time has passed and, frankly, that not a whole lot has changed for legal. Most of the hype and fearmongering never came to bear. 

    While there have been industry-level changes, law firms still remain in a pretty privileged position. However, looking back I can definitely see the evolution of NewLaw and Ashurst Advance – very few of us are reciting that "people-process-technology" refrain any more. The market leaders are focused on end-to-end solutions, integrated systems and augmenting their people with tech. 

    In the years to come, we will all be on tenterhooks waiting to see if the hype of Generative AI settles and whether/how the legal market landscape changes in response. At the same time, we continue to grapple with the long-lasting effects of the pandemic, which in my view, requires a redesign of the workplace and huge cultural shifts within legal firms. Those of us in the NewLaw space are used to being at the forefront of change, but the future looks much more uncertain than it has in past years. We simply can't predict what is awaiting us around the corner. I, for one, welcome the uneasiness—I'd be bored without it!

    Linda Grace, Director & Practice Head, Ashurst Reach

    10 years ago flexible legal resourcing had only just hit Australian shores, following the success of the expanding UK flex market. The challenge was bringing clients along the journey of what flex could be and the benefits it could offer. On the talent-side, flexible legal consulting was relegated for parents returning to work or those (generally women) seeking part-time hours. 

    10 years on and the legal flex market has flourished globally. It has become a growing and rewarding career path for both part-time and full-time lawyers who want to diversify their experience with interesting work. Our clients are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their workforce planning using flexible staff to weather uncertain economic conditions and to meet changing business needs, such as bolstering specific specialty areas for shorter term projects. As we brace for continued talent shortages and economic headwinds, I expect to see these trends continue in 2024 and beyond. 

    Alex Fortescue-Webb, Director, Legal Managed Services

    Over the last ten years we've seen legal managed services evolve from a relatively novel, people focused concept, to a mature set of solutions that rely much more heavily on technology. That evolution has been steady, rather than explosive. But now, as with so many areas, we're being told Generative AI is going to completely change things.

    I believe  we are going to be disappointed compared to the hype. We'll see a fraction of the adoption and impact we're being told to expect. But I would also say that  we will see a larger incremental change in use of tech, certainly in managed services, than we have seen cumulatively over the last decade. While most substantive legal work won't suddenly be done by Gen AI (even with a heavy human overlay), many discrete tasks almost certainly will. This on its own will be transformative for the speed, and perhaps cost, to deliver definable, close ended activities like completion of diligence checklists, extraction of specific contract data and summarisation of positions across multiple documents. I feel the more general work a lawyer does is too reliant on context and the correct weighting of similar (but subtly different) scenarios to be replaced by AI for now.

    Tae Royle, Director, Client Solutions APAC

    2024 will be the year of Generative AI. It will be a rollercoaster year, with expectations peaking as Generative AI tools become generally available to lawyers on their corporate networks. This will be followed by a plunge into disillusionment as professionals wrestle with the vagaries of a system that drafts beautiful prose, untroubled by reality. Slowly lawyers will learn to corral and tame the system's creative impulses, and climb the long slope to enlightened usage. We will be alternately surprised, delighted and bewildered. 

    The role of individuals responsible for quality control will become harder. We will learn new techniques to validate content, scrutinising sources and challenging claims. CLEs will be directed towards developing AI literacy, ensuring lawyers understand the strengths, capabilities, limitations and biases of systems steeped in vast amounts of internet sourced language. Collaboration between IT professionals and lawyers will deepen, resulting in more transparent and reliable AI models. By the end of 2024, we will all have a more nuanced and balanced view of the Generative AI, as a powerful tool to be used wisely and responsibly in fulfilling our legal duties to our clients and to the court. 

    Jen McCormick, Director, Advanced Solutions EMEA/US

    It's difficult to talk about any topic that will likely be more transformational for NewLaw over the next few years than the rise and increased adoption of Generative AI. 

    As someone whose role is focused on leading teams of experts to deliver legal work and improve process efficiency, for me, front of mind is how we prepare our people for the change.

    Significant training and upskilling will be required to prepare our teams for the new opportunities that Generative AI will bring. This will include a deeper knowledge and understanding of the technology to identify the right use cases, the capabilities, risks and limitations. We will also need our people to develop the skills or enhance existing skills to formulate the right queries and instructions to avoid ambiguity and obtain accurate and relevant outputs.

    However, more than anything else, it’s important that our teams embrace the change that we anticipate Generative AI will bring and be willing to collaborate in a new and exciting way in order for us to continually improve how we deliver legal services for our clients.   

    Anita Mirchandani, Director, Advanced Solutions APAC

    It is without a doubt that Generative AI has arrived and is making waves in the legal industry. In addition to aligning on the role of Gen AI, there will be a focus on technology as a whole and its role as an enabler in the delivery of legal solutions. 

    The issues faced by clients are often not neatly broken up into buckets of legal, commercial, risk and compliance issues, and we need to respond to our clients' needs holistically beyond just the provision of legal advice. There will be an increased demand in legal managed services and legal consulting as clients look to their advisers for cost-effective end-to-end solutions through the use of technology, as well as a need for certainty and consistent results. Technology will not be the solution in itself; the challenge lies in how we leverage it to better serve our clients and how we use it as a practice to optimise and find new and better ways of working.

    The information provided is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to.
    Readers should take legal advice before applying it to specific issues or transactions.

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