Legal IT Today (#21, March 2018 – pdf) recently posed a question: “Today the table is full of partners and associates and select others. When AI ‘arrives’ at a law firm, how do those seats at the table change? How do you envision the legal team of the future changing?” The thesis of my answer: multidisciplinary teams.

My answer below applies more broadly than to “when AI arrives”. The complexity of the modern world makes many problems multifaceted. How many “legal problems” are really business problems with a legal element?  Clients need lawyers to team with other professionals – and treat them as peers – for the best solution. (Lawyers wed to caste thinking cannot collaborate effectively with other professionals.)

A story from early in my legal market career illustrates the point. I had just arrived at a large firm to run practice support. A partner who knew I had a quant background asked me to help on a competition matter. A regional office of a regulator questioned our client’s action. It worried that many consumers would be adversely affected by a mistake it had made. I ran a simple time-series regression on the number of claimants to date. It showed a quickly diminishing curve. That is, a reasonable projection showed few new complaints would be filed. That one graph got the regulator to back off. That was a simple stats answer, not a “legal” answer.

Legal AI, like many problems on which lawyers work, requires multiple skills, not just legal ones. So here is my answer:

I’ve long thought that for law firms to deliver more value to clients, they must work more effectively across disciplines. It’s not just about the law anymore. In the past, economists, communications specialists and a range of expert witnesses contributed to legal solutions. But it was incidental, not core. Skills beyond law are rapidly becoming core to legal service delivery. The outlines of that are already clear, with some firms hiring data scientists and AI specialists. Increasingly complex business and legal problems mean this trend will continue and likely accelerate.

Law firm talent wars today seem myopically focused on lawyers. The challenge of recruiting top legal talent pales in comparison to hiring top AI and data science talent. Both fields are growing explosively but the talent is not. Firms that want to win the war for that talent—even for consulting support—must eliminate the caste system. They must banish not just the term ‘non-lawyer’, but also the thinking behind and projected feelings from it.


Additional Comments

Additional answers to the question by: Noory Bechor (Co-Founder and CEO, LawGeex), Edward Chan (Partner, Linklaters), Oz Benamran (CKO, White & Case), Sally Gonzalez (Senior Consultant [and my colleague], Fireman & Company), and Christina Blacklaws, VP, Law Society of England and Wales).

My Related Post on this Topic: see my 2016 post, The Future of Legal Talent – Not Lawyers?. It comments on a Deloitte UK finding that by 2025, law firms will need multidisciplinary teams. Deloitte concluded that meant even more focus on on recruiting and retaining lawyers. That made no sense to me. I argued the opposite: given the large number of  lawyers in the US and UK, firms could easily find legal talent but would need to work harder to recruit and retain other professionals, many in high demand in other markets.

The Caste System: Lawyers continue regularly to use the phrase “non-lawyers”. This reflects caste system thinking that damages not just other professionals, but the lawyers themselves. As long as lawyers continue this exclusionary thinking (and acting), building and working as part of multidisciplinary teams will be that much harder. I am pleased to see more frequent published posts, articles, and Tweets addressing this issue.