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This post was first published in November 2014

The Legal Services Consumer Panel published a report this week on the developments between now and 2020 that are most likely to have an impact on the consumers of legal services.  Although this report was prepared for the benefit of the Legal Services Board it makes very interesting reading.

Set out below are some of the key changes that the report identifies as major influences on the legal landscape over the next five or six years:

1. ‘Self-lawyering’

“The core challenge ahead is to extend access to justice to those currently excluded from the market because they cannot afford legal services.  This need and other forces … will combine to result in less involvement by lawyers in many of the tasks that until now have made up their staple diet.  Consumers will seek alternatives to lawyers or use them in different ways.  In place of lawyers will be greater self-lawyering, online services, entry by unregulated businesses, and also by regulated providers, such as accountants and banks, who will diversify into the law.  Calls will grow for more radical solutions that cut lawyers out, such as an inquisitorial style of justice and online dispute resolution, which are better suited to the new funding realities.”

2. Improving (information) technology

“Technology will go to the heart of all aspects of legal services in the future, changing how legal problems are identified, people and businesses resolve their disagreements, the way consumers choose providers, how legal services are delivered and law firms run their businesses. … Technology also promises to both transform how people consume legal services and create new markets.”

3. Emboldened consumers

“Across the economy, bolstered by strengthened consumer rights, transparency on provider performance and greater access to redress, and aided by more sophisticated intermediaries which help people find better deals, the traditional consumer-business relationship will be turned on its head. … [t]he extent to which these broader developments will impact on legal services in unclear.”

4. Market changes

“Informed observers think that the legal services market will be unrecognisable by 2020 as the pace of change accelerates following the ABS reform.  Current ABS developments – including consolidation, specialisation, emerging brands, investment in marketing, technology and delivery methods, hold clues to the future.  The law will increasingly become a more business-like environment.”

None of this is news, particularly, to anyone with an interest in predictions about future developments in the legal market, though it is interesting to see these predictions being reported formally to the legal regulator.

Despite that, the report came in for some serious abuse and ridicule when reported in the Law Society Gazette earlier this week.   I suspect that at least some of this reaction comes from lawyers whose work is primarily large-scale commercial work, whereas the focus of the LSCP seems to be primarily on legal services for individuals and small businesses.  In my view, however, the idea that legal service provision is not going to change over the next ten years is mighty wishful thinking and that there are plenty of lawyers in for quite a surprise if they don’t start thinking now about how their business should adapt to the changing legal landscape.

A copy of the full report is available here.