Organized and edited by John Tredennick with assistance
from Aman Bagga and Marisa Davies.
What will the practice
of law look like twenty years from now? With my own
twenty-fifth reunion coming up this spring, I started
thinking about how our professional lives might change
over the next few decades. At first, I considered contacting
all of the gray hairs, speakers, writers, thinkers .
. . people on the front lines of change in the past.
Then I got a better idea. “What do young lawyers
and law students think the future holds for the profession?
Great changes or more of the same. So, I asked Aman
Bagga, our Young Lawyer’s Division representative,
and Marisa Davies, our Law Student Division representative,
to round up a few of their friends for this next-generation
Virtual firms, internationalization, the end of the
billable hour, cutting-edge technology? I asked our
panel how things might change and what will likely stay
the same? Interested? Some of their answers might surprise
you. Read on to see.
Lalitha Alladi is a second-year law
student at Stetson University College of Law.
Aman Bagga is a Tax Consultant in the
Transaction Advisory Services group at Ernst & Young
Andrew Chiang is a second-year law student
at Stetson University College of Law.
Vadim Daynovsky is a second year associate
in the corporate department of Chadbourne & Parke
Marisa Davies is a third-year law student
at Stetson University College of Law.
Ashley Gay is a second-year law student
at Stetson University College of Law.
Jonathan Goldstein is a first year
associate with Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.
Alyssa Honickman is a second-year law
student at Stetson University College of Law.
Mark Khmelnitskiy recently graduated
from Fordham School of Law.
Victor Levy is a first year associate
in the corporate department at Clifford Chance US LLP.
Katherine Scovin is a first year associate
at Seward & Kissel LLP.
Alexis Wert is a second-year law student
at Stetson University College of Law.
1. What will be most different aspect about the practice
of law twenty years from now? Why?
Gay The most different aspect
of law will more than likely be the use of technology.
In recent years, the advancement of technology (use
of computers, digital aids, etc.) has dramatically increased.
In coming years, it is likely that attorneys will rely
on computers and other technological aids much more
than they do now. The use of technology will more than
likely invade the court room, allow for increased global
communication, and permit attorneys to have contact
with an even greater number attorneys.
Another aspect of technology in the legal profession
will probably be lawyers heavy reliance upon the Internet
for research. Today, people rely more on Internet databases
(Westlaw and Lexis) for research than on books. In the
future, more than likely books will be out-dated and
Internet search engines will take over the mundane task
Daynovsky Tort and other
legal reforms will finally be enacted, taking some bite
from America's litigiousness and thus from the practice
of the P.I. attorneys. Also, an attorney will become
even more of a marketer of his or her services, with
financial pitches per each deal/litigation, auctions
for the lowest bidder, etc. I also think that the sole
practitioner will really not be able to compete as adequately
with bigger firms, and so fewer of them will remain.
Scovin I think twenty years
from now there will not be as much litigation. Parties
will still disagree, but I think most disputes (even
more than now) will settle outside the courtroom.
Levy I think that
the growth in technology will allow menial services
currently handled by lawyers to be done online by consumers
themselves because it will be cheaper. For example,
incorporating a business is something that someone usually
hires a lawyer to do, but the lawyer usually does not
do any of the work, all they do is outsource it. Things
like this I think will in the future be done by cutting
out the middleman lawyer.
Honickman I think that law
practice will be more technological. Lawyers will be
able to send documents much faster via technology and
there will be less face time actually arguing in court.
Chiang Research will be the
most different aspect of law twenty years from now.
I remember one of my more senior professors telling
a story about his wife typing his notes for him. He
constantly hadto retype court documents and other papers
because of errors. This is just one change that technology
has made. Computerized research has enabled lawyers
to access so many documents at their fingertips and
the whole research and writing process is completely
different than it was twenty years before. I have no
doubt it will keep changing in the future.
2. Will the billable hour still be king in twenty
years? If not, what will replace it?
Bagga The billable hour will
still be prominent, but will not be the king it is today.
I think clients will negotiate more fixed fee arrangements.
This will benefit both the client and the lawyer who
know upfront what the expected fee will be. Other professional
organizations such as accounting firms are turning to
this model for individual questions where the fee is
capped at a certain amount.
Daynovsky The billing hour
will still be around, but practically speaking it will
be eclipsed by the different paying arrangements that
each legal client will arrange for itself. I think that
combination contingency/hourly systems will be very
common (e.g., up to 200 hours to be billed, and after
that only 1/4 of the reward, etc.). Contractual caps
on legal bills will also become more common than they
Davies The billable hour
will still be king in twenty years because it is the
number one source of revenue for firms. Although law
firms collect large amounts of money with contingency
fees, the billable hour is a constant, and I would think
that it brings in more money than the contingency fees.
Therefore, I don’t think that the firms in twenty
years will stray too far away from the billable hour.
Alladi Yes. Billable hours
will still be king in twenty years. A business is nothing
without its clients, and I think billable hours is the
most efficient way to bill because it makes sense in
the following example: Where a client's problem is similar
to another problem the lawyer/firm has worked with.
Therefore, the lawyer has less work to do because a
big chunk of research has already been done. One should
be able to benefit from work already done to maintain
an efficient firm.
Scovin I do not
see the billable hour going anywhere. The only trend
I can foresee is one where clients "employ"
their lawyers and pay them a salary instead of a fee.
Levy Yes, as long as the
structure of compensation remains as it is. I think
on the whole everyone gets paid the same (for level
associates) but it could change to a format where you
negotiate your salary like almost everywhere else in
America. But, I do not think that will happen, and even
if it does it will only happen at the lower-tiered firms.
The top tier firms hire the best talent and something
like that will not sit well with those associates who
generally have horizontal mobility in the workplace
once they get a year or two of experience under their
3. What will law firms look like in twenty years?
Mega firms, virtual organizations, or what?
Honickman Law firms will
be more virtual organizations. Lawyers from around the
world will be able to partner up with other lawyers
for purposes of litigating cases. This will be a great
opportunity for lawyers to reach beyond the boundaries
of their own country.
Levy I think the trend towards
mega firms will only intensify, and it will do so within
the next 5-8 years. I think once the corporate market
picks up again firms will see how they could benefit
from a global presences in major markets and how more
efficient it is for them when the merger wave hits again.
Not to toot my own horn, but I think my firm Clifford
Chance is excellently positioned to be the first mover
in that area and I firmly believe that, due to the increasingly
global nature of corporate transaction, there is and
will continue to be an advantage for a law firm to have
a global presence.
Alladi Huge Mega firms. The
pattern seems to be that firms are growing in size.
I think they will keep growing and become more of a
business where each lawyer will play more of an agent
part for the firm than they will as individual lawyers
with a separate reputation within the legal community.
Goldstein In twenty years
law firms will look exactly as they do now. Lawyers,
unfortunately are not very good businessmen. While the
accountants and consultants are doing an excellent job
branching out to other businesses, lawyers are staying
stagnant in their business model. As a result they will
remain exactly as is. The only difference is that most
law firms will have developed a more extensive network
of both national and international firms to work with.
This is out of necessity, and not necessarily because
they are proactive in their business approach.
The tools used by lawyers will not change in twenty
years. Computer advancement has gone as far as it can
to help lawyers.
Davies In twenty years law
firms will likely look they way they do today, however,
they might possibly have fewer people within the firms.
I think that with the advancement of technology, such
legal professionals, like paralegals, might be replaced
with computer software. I think that the various small,
medium, and large firms that exist today will still
exist in twenty years, as the legal field is so diverse,
and not every lawyer wants to practice in a huge mega
Daynovsky Law firms will
expand in size, on average, and will become even more
international. I doubt they will exist solely "virtually,"
since law is such a hands-on, political, and social
exercise at its core.
Bagga Law firms will follow
the same path as banks where there are large international
banks, regional banks, small community banks and virtual
banks. Clients are different and their needs and expectations
vary so law firms will cater to all types of clients.
For large firms, there will be an increase in law firm
mergers. To service large international clients, law
firms will try to be a one-stop shop. To do this they
will need to expand, especially internationally, which
will lead to international mergers. Even regional law
firms will need to have some international presence
and will partner with firms in countries where their
clients want to conduct business.
Despite the increase in mergers, the small firm will
not disappear. Just as some people prefer the personal
touch of the community bank, some clients want personalized
service from their law firm. In addition, as people
get more comfortable with technology, there will be
some firms that do their entire work electronically.
4. Will computers replace most of what lawyers do
in twenty years? If so, how and what will be left for
Honickman Yes, computers
will replace lawyers. The computer will be able to take
depositions and research certain cases with a click
of a button.
Khmelnitskiy I don't think
computers will replace the most valuable portion of
what lawyers do, which is the analytical capacity to
examine existing or potential claims and suggest solutions
to address those claims. Lawyers will always be necessary
because lawyers are trained in the "rules"
of conducting legal affairs, and law schools are fairly
efficient in engraving the adversarial mentality and
ability to "think like a lawyer." Until a
generation of students decides to change the existing
system, lawyers will play an important consulting role.
As far as the role of technology, computers will strip
lawyer's job to the bare minimum of analyzing, wording,
negotiating, and other activities that currently require
direct analytical capacities. I envision that contracts
and wills will be drafted by clients, who will check-off
provisions that apply to them, similarly to how people
select properties of a desired vacuum cleaner. Technology
will also make the flow of information much easier,
which will lead to greater role of lawyers in reviewing,
analyzing, protecting, and otherwise working with documents.
E-mail is already becoming a very sensitive subject,
where very few laws and regulations have been developed
and lawyers enter the unchartered waters of protecting
and/or disclosing e-mail records. Technology will make
it easier for lawyers to do their work, but add additional
issues, for them to deal with.
Chiang I do not think computers
will replace lawyers in the future. There are a lot
of intangibles to the legal profession a computer simply
cannot do. Just as it is difficult for an appellate
court to understand all the dynamics of a case through
the transcripts, there are certain things lawyers as
people will always contribute to the process that cannot
be replaced by computers. In fact, I think computers
have made the lawyer's job more efficient. Although
researching through books is just as important as researching
through the computer, the computer has made research
much more efficient. It is easier to go through many
different sources on your screen than to lug around
eight different books on your subject matter.
Alladi I think that computer
programs will replace tedious document creation. I expect
programs to be created where once the lawyer types in
certain crucial information, it will automatically draw
up a contract. However, that will not, and should not,
eliminate the work the lawyer must do looking over the
complete document to make sure mistakes have not been
made by the program (as every computer program has its
Bagga Lawyers will not be
replaced, but their duties will change. Instead of the
lawyer doing all of the work, clients will increasingly
do some of the preparations using computers. Lawyers
will still be needed to make sure everything is done
correctly and no issues are missed.
Daynovsky No, computers will
not make that much impact as far as replacing human
legal thought. Reasoning and offering sensitive solutions
to a client’s real problems is solely within the
purview of the human mind. The computer will, however,
play a bigger role than now. It will be able to evaluate
a few distinct possibilities/alternatives that are arrived
at and fed into the computer by a human.
Levy Maybe in the lowest
segments of the legal services market, where there really
is not a need for a lawyer due to the mundane nature
of the transactions
Davies I do not think that
computers will replace lawyers. However, I do believe
that they might replace some of the firm staff, such
as paralegals. Although computers helped in the advancement
of the legal field, I do not believe that they will
ever replace lawyers. For one thing, people still like
to have human contact with others, and also, not everyone
puts absolute faith in technology, because there is
always that chance that something will go wrong. Also,
I do not think that it would be good practice of the
firms in the future to replace lawyers with computers.
Being a lawyer is about networking and meeting people,
and obviously a computer cannot do such things, therefore,
cannot help bring in business for the firm.
5. Will the trend toward internationalization of law
firms increase over the next twenty years? Will it engulf
even the small firms?
Wert I definitely see the
internationalization of law firms increasing over the
next twenty years. It will either engulf the small law
firms or put them out of business. I think it will become
sink or swim for most law firms over the next twenty
years. When it does happen the law school curriculum
will have to change so lawyers are trained with the
appropriate skill and knowledge required to practice
Chiang As far as internationalization
of law firms is concerned, the only thing that I can
see changing is the requirement of multilingual lawyers.
Americans can no longer be ignorant of other languages
simply because our country is so large in size. The
demand for multilingual lawyers is very present and
we should learn from the Europeans who have addressed
this problem all along because of their geographical
situations. As far as subject matter is related, I don't
believe small firms will have to adjust their areas
of practice to include international law. There will
still be issues of personal injury, workers' compensation,
and other areas that are common to people in general.
Honickman Yes, I think internationalization
will take over firms. The small firms will virtually
Daynovsky Yes, absolutely.
Most bigger firms (more than 70 attorneys) will have
at least two international offices. Small firms (less
than 30 attorneys) will remain local and cater to their
own local community.
Levy I do not think the trend
toward internationalization will engulf the small firms
because they can still specialize in the things they
do well. But, I think most transactions that require
a need for multi-border legal advice will be done by
international firms. Small firms that want to stay in
this market should expand either by internal growth
Davies I think the trend
might continue in the future, however, I think that
it will consist of the medium and predominantly large
size firms merging together around the world. I do not
think that it will engulf the small firms because like
stated earlier, people still like human contact, and
this will keep the small firms alive in the future.
Bagga Since business is global,
those lawyers that practice corporate law will need
to have an international presence. In order to provide
services to their largest clients, firms will merge
or have agreements in place with international firms.
Even regional firms will need to have some type of work
arrangement with international firms. This will lead
to more legal networks where firms working in America
will have resources available to seamlessly service
their clients in other countries.
Scovin As with the trend
in consolidation, I think the trend toward internationalization
will also increase.
6. What technology change (existing or coming) will
most affect law practices? Why?
Levy The full implementation
of a digital economy. We have the capability now, but
getting the majority of the country on that level I
think will further make the economy more efficient.
Also I think the increase in the education level of
the American population will spur the need for legal
services because that human capital will be doing something
using their mind (likely in services areas) and that
in turn will require legal services.
as opposed to face-to-face meetings, will become commonplace.
Both litigation and deal war rooms will become much
more technical as technology (such as document scanning,
research capabilities, financial tools, etc.) gets more
advanced. The most effective change is difficult to
Wert I think book research
will be obsolete and on-line research will be the only
way to research. I think most law practices will rely
heavily on the use of computers to do most of the work
around the firm. Technology in the courtroom is spreading
rapidly and I think it will change the way trials are
Bagga Technology will have
the biggest effect on the legal profession on both the
corporate level and the consumer level. On the corporate
level there will be an increased shift to completely
electronic filing. As technology becomes easier to use,
courts will require that all case documents be filed
electronically and corporate adversaries will want electronic
versions of files to save printing and shipping costs.
On the consumer side, software will change the function
of a lawyer. Lawyers in the future will review documents
after their clients first prepare a preliminary version.
The work balance will shift from one where the lawyer
does all the preparations to a model where customers
do some of the groundwork and the lawyer reviews the
Already there are many legal programs that help the
average person fill out legal documents using a “check-the-box”
method. This is similar to taxes, which can be completed
either by hand, by using software or by using a professional.
Some legal documents will initially be created using
software by selecting clauses that a person wants to
include in the document. Lawyers will then earn their
fee by reviewing the document for completeness and by
offering advice to make sure all the issues are covered.
My thanks to Aman Bagga and Marisa Davies for recruiting
our panel and to the panal for their thoughtful answers
to my questions.