A lot has been written about the impact globalisation and technology are having on the legal profession. Less written about is the impact that will result from the growing number of legally educated people who will be working ‘client-side’ in corporate Australia.
And, in many ways, I think the rise of the legally educated ‘bush lawyer’ – a person with a law degree but not a practising lawyer who attempts to expound on legal matters – will be one of the largest influencers on the way legal services are engaged.
The numbers speak for themselves.
Consider this: Australia has 60,000 practising lawyers and, according to the Department of Education’s data, 55,000 law students.
While some have argued that the law degree is becoming the new Arts degree (ie a generalist and broad education for any profession), the Australian Financial Review reported that some 66% of these students would still like to practice.
You don’t need to be a genius to work out that something’s gotta give….
Legally-qualified people leading corporate Australia
Because of the limited number of jobs available to them, it’s likely many – if not most – of today’s law students will end up in non-legal roles, despite their current intentions. Many will find their way into the corporate world, working for the clients of the law firms they once hoped to join.
Although for many lawyers, servicing legally qualified clients is nothing new, the sheer number of legally educated people in the wider workforce will create a very different dynamic. Here’s how I see it playing out.
1. Less work for traditional law firms
The quantity of work given to law firms will decrease as legally-educated clients make their own informed analysis of routine legal work, such as reviewing standard employment contracts or assessing consumer law. They may also choose to supplement their own knowledge by using internet-based legal providers that can provide standard documents cost effectively.
2. Better quality work
While external legal providers may get less overall work, the quality of the work they’re briefed on will only get better. That’s because the legally educated clients will be more confident doing the routine work and will only ask for outside help when there’s some degree of complexity.
So, while there may be less work to go around, it’s likely to be more both challenging and more interesting. And that means that lawyers will become even more highly skilled.
3. Great expectations
There once was a time when a vast knowledge gap sat between lawyer and client. That will no longer be the case. Increasingly, instead of ‘laypeople’ reviewing an external provider’s work, advice will be reviewed through the lens of a law degree.
So while the calibre of lawyers is likely to only get better still, so is the calibre of clients. Expect tough questions and even more rigour.
4. Fewer opportunities for juniors
Too many legal graduates for the number of legal roles is one thing. But the lack of career prospects for recent graduates will be compounded by clients’ reluctance to pay for junior lawyers to ‘practice’ on their files.
In fact, that’s a phenomenon we’re already seeing, with some clients insisting that they not be billed for the work of any lawyer with less than four years’ experience.
5. A more diverse legal market
Because the legally educated bush lawyers will be able to make an informed judgement about the quality of the advice they’re paying for, they’ll care more about the credentials lawyer who’s performing the work and less about the name of their employer.
In other words, with a growing emphasis on quality over tradition, the appetite for non-traditional legal providers like Dovetail will only become stronger.