The year is 2025. The legal system was transformed by COVID-19 and the profession reflects that
“We are not going back” is a common refrain from lawyers. But if we are not going back, where are we going?
This question is what many lawyers have on their minds as governments roll out vaccines. One year ago, if you told me that we would no longer need to use fax machines, we would file court documents online and all lawyers would be working from home, I would have said that’s not possible. And yet, here we are.
The question for all of us is what happens next? Some say lawyers will go back to their offices and things will operate as they did pre-pandemic. But what about the massive changes to global business and the impact of digitization on the profession? How will this new cyber-efficiency influence future legal jobs? Consider three different kinds of lawyers in the year 2025:
1. Non-partner track associate. Meet John. He spends part of the year in Toronto and part of it working remotely from Florida to get out of the cold. John decided that working 80 hours a week at a law firm was not for him early in his work life. As a non-partner-track associate, John saw the benefit of working in a large firm with its infrastructure and its diversity of clients but wanted to have the flexibility to pursue his other passions.
After the pandemic, when it noticed an increase in employee happiness, the firm pursued a remote-first work environment, where working from home was the default. Office space remains for employees who need it. The firm has built up a robust remote working infrastructure. With this investment and commitment to maintaining a remote working culture, John has the flexibility to work wherever he wants.
2. Director of legal operations. Meet Sadia. Sadia works for a technology company where she manages and oversees its law department operations. She has as much seniority as her colleague, the general counsel, and together, they execute the legal strategic roadmap. Sadia also co-ordinates the department’s legal technology roadmap and IT system implementations and optimizes the company’s financial management, outside counsel and vendor management. In addition to a law degree, Sadia has a certificate in project management and a master’s in data science.
Sadia is laser-focused on data and, as such, her team has developed key performance indicators to measure group performance. As the director of legal operations, Sadia has overseen the shift from a central repository of contracts to the deployment of a company-wide contract lifecycle management system. This CLM system assists with authoring, negotiations, approvals, storage, monitoring renewals and contracts compliance. The system has increased sales and decreased the cycle time from contract creation to implementation. Sadia’s team reflects a new normal in the legal industry where lawyers work on multi-disciplinary teams with data scientists, technologists, law clerks and contract administrators.
3. ODR mediator. Meet Henry. Henry is an online dispute resolution mediator for the Ontario Small Claims Court. Court Online Dispute Resolution is a digital space where parties can resolve their disputes. This platform walks the parties through the mediation process and provides step-by-step instructions on uploading their documents and setting out their issues for the mediator. Once the parties complete these initial steps, the court assigns Henry to the case. He reviews the parties’ uploaded materials and prepares a welcome message for the parties to introduce them to the mediation process. His message includes a reminder regarding the online etiquette and confidentiality of discussions. Henry then uses the messaging system and organizes Zoom meetings for the parties to start discussing settlement.
Although Henry would prefer to meet the parties face to face, the CODR system’s improves access to justice; thus, its benefits outweigh a physical meeting’s advantages.
The practice of law is changing. These post-pandemic positions are already emerging in the legal space, helped by a plethora of document and workflow automation. With this change and use of technology, data scientists and technically skilled people will need to supplement future legal teams. Lawyers will need a whole new set of skills for the future, and we need to determine how we can build those now.
The pandemic has been a rude awakening for some lawyers. Instead of waiting for the next disruptive legal moment, it may be time to embrace and build for the future law practice and legal jobs.
Monica Goyal will be a featured speaker at the LegalTech Summit Canada on June 29.