The future of legal advice....

and therefore of legal education could be encapsulated in "5E"s.

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Bruce Macmillan on 23/10/17

Yes 5Es - look at the drivers of change and therefore of legal needs and therefore of legal education and the legal technology that services all of this. They are:

E1: Environment - in the widest of senses - the GRIT factors are what are driving legal change both domestically and internationally and at a much more intensive rate than ever before.


Globalisation (and China being the new global empire builder) - in every aspect of our lives - from the food that we eat, the data that we read and the clothes that you wear - almost all of the world will touch you today in a way that could never have been contemplated 40 years ago.

Religion (and Culture) - both at a local, regional and national level - as an explicit and as an implicit driver of change - whether it be Isis, cultural progress and increased religious acceptance of LGBTI* in many countries or Somali local dispute resolution schemes in London etc.

Introspection at a national and at a regional level which runs counter to the trend of much of the last 40 years - Trump, Erdowan, the Basques, the Scots and Brexit - assumptions on all levels  are changing fast.

Technology - Bitcoin, hacking, sexting, virtual worlds - the sad report this week that current teenagers are more depressed than previous teenagers due to technology - then disclosure, records management, online courts (which are much cheaper and more accessible then crumbling physical ones, with translators, barristers etc), AI parking fine resolution - the robot researcher. The world - instantly wikileaked and then out there forever.

So this is as much the context of law, legal education and legal services that lawyers need to understand at the start and throughout their careers,  as knowing why your liability in ancient Rome was different if your cat fell off your wall onto your neighbour's garden urn ... or your dog - possibly even more so!

Leading from this is the second E:

E2: Ethical trends, reputation and law - as many organisations, for some of whom the Bell Pottinger has just tolled, now recognise - ignorance not just of the law but also of what people will tolerate in 5 years time, when your current actions will be harshly judged in hindsight - is no excuse. Just because it is legal now does not make it wise - horizon scanning, compliance, risk definition & management and contextualising business activities and legal needs are ever more the key to good legal advice in an ever more transparent, disclosure requiring culture -e.g. with equal pay reporting and modern slavery.

E3: Encoding - the AI lawyer has been here for years - its just getting a little more sophisticated now. When I was the GC of the Legal Services Board last decade we discovered that, even then some 90+% of wills were being written using logic on one or two software packages, when I was at Gouldens in the 90s we were using OCR technology for ligation disclosure. The difference now is the rate of acceleration of competences which mean that document auto generation, research, drafting suggestions, discovery etc is now genuinely getting to the point where it will soon be preferable and less negligent in many contexts to use technology than to use a human - after all if Doctors are moving to automated health diagnosis we cannot be far behind - and so the skills to set up, specify, programme, run, interrogate and utilise the outputs of technology are now becoming essential for the next generation of lawyers - in firms and in businesses - you might call this Moore's law for law! 

E4: Exceptions - allegedly a major motor breakdown recovery company got some of its lorries stuck because they procured the car version of the sat nav to save money - not realising that the premium for the truck version also paid for information about narrow roads and low bridges... No matter how good a system, new needs arise and not every piece of coding will be got right or produce a clear answer every time. So that, much smaller, community of future lawyers will be the gurus of spotting and rectifying gaps and errors  and dealing with new issues - the sat nav programmers if you like - not the traditional driver/lawyer with his or her A-Z map book of law repeatedly doing the same task over and over - trying to be an artisan in a repeated process rather than an artisan of designing process.

And the last E is Emotion. "Brexit does not compute Mr Spock" as James T Kirk might now be saying. And why not? Because Brexit is principally an emotion, a belief, and a political decision, that the established order and assumptions are no longer the ones that the legislature - or parts of it - wants to pursue in future. And because it does not follow the established order, it is harder to code for, to use machines for, or even for AI or -as one of them has said- Supreme Court judges to absorb quickly and to know how to handle correctly - at least for a while.  So, as ever, lawyers can find most to add value in by helping to provide structure and consistency into times of uncertainty and change

In this context it is worth also thinking about the role of regulation and how that is shaping our jobs, how we work, the technology that we use, and what measures are used for success. It is fair to say that title based regulation is irrevocably on the wane - the future of legal regulation and non legal regulation - such as the likely future regulation of in house lawyers in Financial Services by that sector's regulators - is much more about demonstrable signs of competence at activities - understand, analyse, advise, record, store, train relevantly and check for understanding, have a good client service values etc - so in that emergent world demonstrations of competent training and practice, of auditable tools, processes and behaviour drive ever more to competence marks, good practice standards and the adoption by legal teams and legal businesses of the tools and technologies that are already prevalent in other sectors of the economy.

So as the "5Es" are here to stay and they are at the heart of our current and future practice, training and legal technology needs we had better work out how we are going to respond to them.

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