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The Singapore Law Gazette

Redefining the Legal Profession

We are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution where the rise and evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), additive manufacturing, robotics, cloud computing, and other advanced technologies are transforming businesses, industries, economies and completely revolutionising the way we work, live and think.

Today’s new technologies bring new opportunities to enhance work performance, and have given rise to the ‘augmented workforce’ where people and machines work side by side to drive business value. Yet, research indicates that business leaders are unprepared to navigate this new world of work.

According to Deloitte’s Readiness Report, only 14 per cent of senior executives are highly confident in their ability to harness the changes associated with the modern digital age. Despite 86 per cent reporting that they are doing all they can to build the right workforce for the future, only 25 per cent are highly confident that their workforce has the skills required.

Radical change is needed for business leaders to prepare their organisations for the new realities of work. It has been estimated that 57 per cent of all jobs across the globe are at risk of being automated within the next five years.

The Changing Nature of Legal Work

The legal industry is no exception. While the legal profession has already undergone significant change, we can expect to see more profound reforms in the next decade.

Deloitte forecasts that approximately 40 per cent of jobs in the legal profession could be automated in the coming decade, with the most significant impact on work performed by legal secretaries or assistants. One American study revealed that AI software is able to achieve 94 per cent accuracy when reviewing a sample of non-disclosure agreements, as compared to 85 per cent accuracy when testing 20 corporate lawyers.

As it is, an AI powered chatbot developed by a Stanford law graduate has helped more than 100,000 people resolve disputes regarding parking offences. E-commerce giant eBay relies on its online dispute resolution platform to manage thousands of disputes every day. There are also available technology platforms that completely automate divorce proceedings. Blockchain smart contracts promise to revolutionise Contract Law. Legal services, such as mediation and litigation advice, are increasingly becoming capable of being delivered through smart technology platforms. Significant progress has been made in the use of AI powered algorithms to predict legal outcomes which, in a number of instances, have proven to be more reliable and faster than human lawyers to perform activities such as e-discovery, contract review and document assembly.

In Singapore, a 2018 survey conducted by the Law Society of Singapore reported that 72 per cent of decision makers in law agencies agree that there is a need to increase technology adoption.

The recent collaboration between Singapore’s Ministry of Law, the Law Society of Singapore, Enterprise Singapore and the Infocomm Media Development Authority, to launch the Tech-celerate for Law programme, providing law firms with funding to adopt technology solutions, is testament to the level of commitment and investment to future-ready the legal profession in Singapore.

The Collective Intelligence

With automation seemingly able to perform some human tasks better than humans actually do, does that mean more workers will inevitably be displaced and become irrelevant?

The reality is, the effect of cognitive technologies is merely one aspect to this digital revolution. In fact, the proliferation of new technologies will create new, unprecedented opportunities, where workers and business leaders must think of new and different ways to harness the best of what human talent can do, with the extraordinary capability of exponential technology, to further improve productivity, profitability, brand and culture.

To be successful in navigating this era of change, we need to redefine work to create valuable human-machine collaborations, shifting our understanding of work from task completion to problem-solving and managing human relationships. We call this the Collective Intelligence.

New Technology, New Ways of Work

Cognitive technologies are able to free legal professionals from drudgery, allowing them to channel their focus on adding high degree of imagination, creative analysis, strategic thinking and different value to their work.

This prerogative seems to also reflect in Singapore’s Committee for the Future Economy initiative, where it is envisioned that lawyers of the future are not just advisors in matters of the law but are “holistic trusted business advisers with the ability to ’see around the corner’ to guide clients in making strategic business decisions”. As such, lawyers will need to have a deeper understanding of their clients’ industries and be proficient in interpreting the data processed by technology in order to craft viable strategies.

In short, lawyers need to arm themselves with a good blend of soft skills and technical know-how.

It is important to note that the relationship between technology and the legal profession will be symbiotic because each party possesses its own strengths. Although machines are highly effective at processing data and learning through doing so, they are still incapable of tasks that require deep emotional intelligence. Humans are still vastly superior when it comes to core “human skills” such as making ethical judgments, negotiating deals and managing client relations.

The work, workforce and workplace of the future must be designed around harnessing the collective intelligence of humans working with machines – with humans focusing on doing what the machines can’t and at the same time working closely with technology to maximise the returns of man-machine partnerships.

Becoming Future Ready

It is not just technology that is driving the new realities of work. Increasing lifespans, new talent sources and shifting demographics, are forcing us to rethink the viability of traditional career models. For example, millennials’ desire for greater flexibility in the workplace, coupled with the availability of online collaboration tools will impact how workplaces are designed and operated in the future.

With some skills now only remaining relevant for as little as two to three years, fast-changing work requirements in the digital age demand that all workers engage in lifelong learning to stay relevant.

Three key shifts need to take place before companies can be ready to tackle the challenges of the future. First, organisations must be adaptive and open to embracing change. The future-proof company is one that has networks of semi-autonomous, multi-disciplinary teams, solving problems through collective action and scaling innovation.

Second, leaders must adopt a growth mind-set and have the ability to reach out and collaborate with players not just in their own ecosystems, but other industries as well. For example, large law firms must consider how to cooperate with smaller, more nimble legal tech start-ups to extend their client reach and drive innovation.

Lastly, the workplace of the future must be one that understands how to augment and unleash its workforce, using cognitive technologies to automate work and augment human capabilities whilst tapping into the open talent economy to access talent with the skills needed at the time needed, and at speed.

Taking the Step Forward

The legal profession needs to adopt a mindset shift and integrate its traditional strength in focusing on risk aversion, with the new digital requirements and the willingness, as well as resilience, to experiment with innovative technologies and business models – a role characterised as being part lawyer, part business lead, part disruptor, and part pastoral adviser. At the end of the day, even with the extraordinary technology available in our world today, it is, and always will be, the human potential that drives the legal profession forward.

Deloitte, Future of Work Centre of Excellence

Nicole leads Deloitte’s Future of Work Centre of Excellence and is a passionate pioneer driving transformational disruption and sustainable organisational change. With more than 20 years of cross-industry experience in Information Technology Services, Talent Strategy and Advisory, and Mergers & Acquisitions, Nicole works with individuals, businesses and governments, helping them to reimagine their future vision and adapt to the new realities of work in today’s digital age by activating new work, workforce and workplace models.