Not long ago, paid lawyers and the legal industry were described as being in crisis. Now that narrative is being put to rest. According to analysis by law firm Munger Tolles & Olson, of the 73.5 million people employed in legal services in 2018, only 44.6 million of them are employed by lawyers. A decade ago, that ratio was nearly 70/30. The rest of us are regular professionals like you and me, at work in the non-lawyer professions or, increasingly, in the so-called “service industries” like retail or healthcare.
Unlike the naysayers who have long claimed the law is in crisis, it seems that evidence from the statistics tell a different story. Chief executive of Munger Tolles & Olson Jim J. Baenziger Jr. notes that, “In 2018, roughly seven times as many people are employed in professional services than in legal services.”
These trends present a number of intriguing possibilities and developments. Among the big picture possibilities are:
Legal tech: Next-generation machine learning solutions in the areas of document review, discovery, litigation and investigations. Courts could potentially usher in a new era of online business and cross-border competition in a business that currently operates from offices in dusty brick vaults.
AI: Analyzing how legal opinions perform in court. Judges could introduce more cutting-edge judgments than briefs with built-in anonymity. The demand for high-quality research in everyday law cases could rocket.
Big data: Predicting behavior in court. Big data could be gathered from consumers and self-monitoring lawyers, and from in-person court documents.
Enhanced transparency: Being able to see who the attorneys are and how much they are paid. Systems could track lawyers through legal rulings and without names attached to who they are.
Individuals’ rights as legal consumers: Accessibility and availability of legal information and content.
In less dramatic terms, there are possibilities of information available to consumers and the possibility of expanding the reach of legal education and delivery. There’s a lot going on in legal research, and this fast-moving marketplace could mean significant change and opportunity for all who support the industry.
Source: HWS Research, Munger Tolles & Olson. Data from 2018, and projections for the next decade.