The most recent issue of PwC UK’s Annual Law Firms’ Survey 2016 is out, and legal journalist Neil Rose has written an excellent and comprehensive summary of its findings.

“The Big Law Firm of the Future: AI, Digital Robots and Blockchain” (Legal Futures, Oct. 24, 2016) contains enough disturbing findings and predictions that it is likely to send most readers to the original report to have a more thorough look.

Rose focuses in particular on one section of the report, entitled “The Firm of the Future.” In it, PwC predicts the evolution of big law through lenses that include “the impact of the global ‘megatrends’ such as the rise in digital technology, shifts in global economic power and changes in demographic/social power which are creating unprecedented levels of disruption.”

Rose invites readers to consider such PwC forecasts as these:

  • The use of predictive analytics and artificial intelligence not only to manage routine law-firm operations “around the clock,” but also to determine which practice areas and even specific clients and cases are worth pursing;
  • The use of digital pricing models incorporating algorithms to set fees and manage profitability;
  • The increased use of automated workflow and document assembly tools;
  • New technologies like Blockchain “that could either enable or entirely displace the role of the lawyer…”

However, Rose points out that the PwC report also found that very few firms are taking a long-term view of how AI and digital support mechanisms will impact their practices. Where there is interest at all, it is primarily related to short-term benefits.

Also alarmingly, Rose reports that the new survey – which analyzed data around such indices as firm income and gender balance among partners at the top 100 firms in the UK – confirmed “downward trends in profit margins in all but the top 10 firms since 2005. Margins in the firms ranked 26 to 50 have fallen from 30% to 23% in that time.”

Rose’s article and the PwC survey itself  provide yet more reminders that law firms of all sizes that want to succeed in the years ahead must start now to pay serious attention to the information technology that is changing the legal landscape.

As always, I invite you  to share thoughts on this and any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.