Jürg Birri talks about how legal advisory services are changing and which skills legal professionals will need in the future.
That depends on a company’s size, the sector and a host of other factors, however today’s top industry-specific topics always entail legal issues as well. Take the financial industry, for instance, which is still facing extremely challenging regulatory hurdles. This will ultimately trigger a consolidation on the market, also including M&A activities. Not only that, international companies are eager to keep track of their numerous, legally relevant documents, with contracts being just one example. Another integral aspect of this is the topic of compliance – in other words, observing existing rules and actively preventing violations or risks. Plus companies with employees who travel internationally for business, for instance, have to make sure they have a handle on issues like taxes, social insurance and work permits for those employees.
Since the Swiss economy has a strong service sector and an export surplus, both of these factors play a pivotal role. The mechanical engineering industry already experienced a trend toward automation some time ago. Now we are seeing a similar trend in the service sector which will have to cope with both digitalization and the automation this entails. Some drivers behind this development include the technologies available, client needs and cost pressure. It will have a particularly large impact on repetitive work and workflows with clearly defined processes, as are common in administrative work, among financial service providers and in accounting.
Of course as a typical representative of the service sector, providers of these services will feel a direct impact. The underlying question for legal professionals is: What can I really do better than a software program, or where is creative, strategic, networked thinking needed and where not? Because those are the skills that no computer can replace, either now or in the distant future. On the other hand, legal services with a high degree of standardization potential, or which are work-intense yet simultaneously require very little expertise, can be assisted with the right software. One example of this are specialized service providers that, for a small fee, collect compensation for cancelled flights on behalf of their customers. Even a due diligence check on contract documents encompassing thousands of pages can be performed much more quickly, economically and, in many cases, more precisely with computer assistance than if three lawyers were to spend days reading every word and marking up the documents manually.
Digitalization changes how we work, how we perform our services and, ultimately, how we meet our clients’ needs. One of these changes could be a platform that supports collaboration, for instance. A platform of this nature facilitates more efficient in-house collaboration between auditors, tax advisors and business consultants as they work on a joint project. At the same time, it also gives clients the opportunity to contribute to the project from outside the firm and be directly involved in document preparation.
This necessitates a corresponding change to the requirements profile of employees working in legal advisory services: In the future, they won’t only need to have the requisite legal expertise but the right technological know-how as well. Digitalization also presents new problems in the area of compliance, with data protection being extremely relevant in this regard.
I’d like to hazard a guess today that the next few years will bring greater segmentation in the legal advisory business – with large-volume business offering a high degree of automation potential on the one side and specialized business requiring human thinking on the other. Plus, some market players will bring out software-based tools that can answer certain questions and therefore eliminate the need to consult a lawyer.
Apart from the digitalization I already mentioned, we also see that our clients need cross-border advisory services and would like a holistic approach that extends beyond the mere clarification of legal issues. With more than 1,400 lawyers in 74 countries, collaboration with other KPMG teams and our employees’ project management expertise, we are able to cover both of these needs extremely well.
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