The profoundly human law firm of 2030

Technology will be ubiquitous, but the most successful premium firms will be those that harness human creativity, empathy and insight, and develop deep and trusting personal relationships.

Joel Barolsky & Ray D’Cruz

We believe that the premium law firm of 2030 will be a profoundly human one, where wisdom, creativity and insight underpin the capacity of the firm to solve complex problems for its clients.

The law firm of 2030 is a concept we recently explored at the annual Managing Partners Forum.

We chose 2030 because it’s far enough away that incremental change alone won’t explain the situation, and it’s close enough that the actions of today’s leaders will decisively shape that firm of the future.

Our ‘profoundly human law firm’ theory recognises that corporate law departments will take hold of the legal supply chain and segment work in such a way that the primary focus of the premium firm will be resolving a client’s most complex business problems. The law firms that flourish will be in the transformation business, rather than the legal service delivery business.

Solving these problems will require collaborations that span disciplines, knowledge and experiences. Internal and external boundaries will become porous, as agile teams with deep expertise address clients’ business challenges.

A profoundly human firm seems at odds with ubiquitous technology. But our view is that technology will become more accessible and affordable, and most firms will achieve technological parity. Even emerging technologies will offer only transient competitive advantage.

Successful firms will be those that harness human creativity, empathy and insight, and develop deep and trusting personal relationships. It is this deep level of insight and sensing that will ensure technology merely augments rather than replaces people in premium firms.

Agile teaming will be a core competency. These teams will be flexible and blend internal and external capability.  Alumni, for example, might be seen as a potential talent pool that can be seamlessly onboarded given its awareness of firm culture. Older, semi-retired professionals can also be a talent source.

Accelerated learning will be another core competency. As teams assemble and disband, a strong emphasis will need to be placed on how knowledge is transferred from one project to the next.

The people who crack these complex client problems will be diverse, not just diverse in appearance but in thinking and mindsets too.

Inevitably, firms will need to rethink how they recognise and reward contribution. Sources of expertise and strategic contribution will move beyond the traditional legal roles and partnership model that dominates today.

This will also necessitate careful consideration of pricing, and how firms communicate and capture value. Offerings that blend smart algorithms, analysis of large data sets, human insight and judgement cannot be charged for in six-minute increments.

For some, this new world will be daunting. But as one participant at the Forum explained, the 2030 vision was an assuring one: ‘law firms are already human places’ he said, ‘we just need to get a lot better at what we do’.

We agree. There is disruption, but there is continuity of shared purpose: to love solving problems, to love working in teams and to love the law.

Joel Barolsky is specialist strategy consultant to law and accounting firms. He’s MD of Barolsky Advisors and a Senior Fellow of the University of Melbourne.

Ray D’Cruz is the co-founder and CEO of Performance Leader, a company the implements performance and feedback software for professional services firms.