The Next 125 Years of Thinking Ahead

Thinking Ahead

Posted on

15 Dec

2023

Dittmar & Indrenius > Insight > The Next 125 Years of Thinking Ahead

In 2024 Dittmar & Indrenius has been advising clients for 125 years. The first century-and-a-quarter has been a period of constant change and the world today is very different from what it was in 1899. In the last few decades, a legal industry has emerged and it has already been subject to major developments. What can we expect from the next 125 years? Will law firms die out as horse-drawn coach manufacturers did a century ago, or will our industry be able to keep its core mission relevant?

At D&I, our mission is to create exceptional and sustainable value together with our clients. We team up with our clients and advise and assist them in complex situations. We help them to make investments, do transactions, govern their operations and manage their disputes. We support our clients in making sustainable choices and insightful decisions.

When I was a young associate at the firm, the challenge in giving legal advice was access to data. Our firm had an impressive library and a fairly well developed manual system for filing contracts and memoranda. That gave us an advantage over many other lawyers. How good a commercial lawyer was, was largely dependent on the contracts and data that the lawyer had access to.

Today, access to data is no longer the thing that distinguishes one lawyer from another, as everyone has access to an abundance of data. What distinguishes an excellent lawyer from an ordinary one today is something completely different. It is how you process, analyse and evaluate the data available to almost everyone. It is how you present the relevant data and communicate your advice to the client. It is how you prepare arguments in support of your client’s position in order to convince business partners, contract parties, authorities, judges and arbitrators.

How will AI change the game?

Much of what we do could be done by machines managing large quantities of data. AI will ultimately and inevitably handle a large part of what we do today.

A lawyer looking for information today would typically turn to a search engine or books, legislative materials or precedents online. Tomorrow, we are likely to turn to ChatGPT or similar AI solutions to not only establish facts but also to ask more complex questions, such as what to consider before making difficult decisions. Today, AI can already write contracts and memoranda, and perhaps already tomorrow briefs to courts or arbitral tribunals.

“We will have to change.”

It is overwhelming to think about how this will change law firms and the legal profession! The opportunities are fantastic, but the implications are also frightening. We will have to change. We will have to change the way we are working, the way we organise law firms and legal departments, and the way we educate and train young lawyers.

Change is always difficult, and most of us are naturally reluctant to change our own behaviours. But not everything will have to change. I want to believe that we lawyers, as legal experts, will still have a role to play when D&I turns 250 in 2149.

To stay relevant, we have to understand what we, as law firms, can offer on top of what AI legal solutions do?

First of all, I want to believe that humans, including our clients, will continue to place their trust in human beings. I want to believe that there is a human element in the judgement of how to evaluate data. I want to believe that there is a human aspect to being credible and convincing. I want to believe that a human expert with access to AI will be more credible than the AI alone. And I want to believe that there will be a role for human legal experts to play in negotiations, in convincing people, business partners, judges and arbitrators of the conclusions to be drawn from the facts.

“I want to believe that a human expert with access to AI will be more credible than AI alone.”

Second, I believe in innovative thinking. Despite being able to process huge amounts of data, AI (at least the current versions) cannot be creative and come up with new ideas. Today, the use of AI as such can be seen as innovative, but AI cannot innovate anything new. We human legal experts can. We can come up with new solutions to old and even unforeseen problems.

Even if I am right and we lawyers will continue to have a role to play, AI will pose a number of challenges to the way we run our law firms and legal departments.

What I find interesting is that one of the main concerns discussed among colleagues around the world is how we will be able to teach young lawyers the tricks of the trade in a new AI environment. Why should struggling with gathering data and preparing first drafts of various documents be the only way to learn?

In an AI world, young lawyers will no longer have to do simple, repetitive work. They will instead be able to focus on much more sophisticated work right from the early stages of their careers. They will focus on the kind of work that was previously done by partners. Instead of teaching our young lawyers to be good associates, we will have to teach them to be excellent partners.

“Instead of teaching our young lawyers to be good associates, we will have to teach them to be excellent partners.”

This will require a completely new approach from law firms when it comes to training and educating young lawyers. It will also change how we recruit young lawyers. One young lawyer assisted by AI will be much more efficient than a group of young lawyers without the support of AI.

In addition to training and education, law firms will place much more focus on retaining talent. As an industry, we will recruit fewer lawyers and invest more in training them, and we will have to do our best to retain the lawyers we have trained. Law firms will not afford to let people sink or swim – a practice that was not uncommon in law firms when I began my career. Every individual will be important.

So what will the overall effect of AI be on law firms as workplaces?

I am convinced that AI will make the career of a lawyer even more attractive. It will bring more interesting and challenging work for everyone as well as greater focus on training and education and on developing a better workplace to maintain talent.

Perhaps AI will even allow our industry to abandon the pyramid model applied today by many law firms. Instead of continuously bringing in large numbers of young lawyers to do repetitive work, law firms will have to focus on educating and taking good care of the lawyers they have.

That does not sound so bad, does it? I do believe that we are headed towards a very inspiring future!

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