Simon Harper has co-founded/founded not one, but two of the most disruptive legal companies in recent years – Lawyers On Demand (LOD) and Spoke. LOD offers flexible legal services allowing large legal teams to scale their services up or down as they need them. Spoke is a new digital platform that connects clients with lawyers who can help them.
We caught up with Simon to discuss what the future holds in store for the legal industry…
“Law is a really interesting discipline” says Simon. “At its very best it brings together philosophy, psychology, analytical science and understanding people. To be philosophical about it, it is pretty fundamentally important to glue society together and set the rules.
“It’s easy to forget that” says Simon “and it’s also easy to use that as an excuse to not try different things. That’s why I became a lawyer. I think that we’re in a time where we’re going through more change in the legal industry than we have in the last 300 years. It’s quite exciting and it’s a good time to be here.”
The future of jobs in law
One of the main effects that new technologies like AI could have on the legal industry is to do jobs that are currently being done by paralegals and outsourced workers. Simon takes an optimistic view of what this will mean.
“It’s a positive thing in part,” Simon says “because historically massively overqualified people have been doing jobs they don’t really need to do. If you look at a set of legal workers as a pyramid of work, at the top you have super bespoke multi-jurisdictional 24 hour law firm who will do all your big M&A deals and do them perfectly.
[Technology] won’t remove the need for the individual
“At the bottom of the pyramid, you have the very standard agreements that don’t necessarily need a lawyer to complete them at all. These things are increasingly done on a very competitive basis and that’s where technology can take over (and rightly so in many cases).”
In spite of not having a background in litigation, Simon believes that AI could play a role in dispute resolution. “If AI was able to analyse likely outcomes, that would be fantastic” says Simon. “Companies like eBay who resolve very large numbers of disputes using an online system would be able to do so much more easily and cheaply, reliably than ever before.”
While technology may be the answer to tasks like contract checking or document comparison, Simon doesn’t believe this to be a fundamental threat to human jobs as much of the work “still needs thoughtfulness, nuance and creativity to get the right answer to the particular client as quickly as possible.”
Simon believes that even at a time when AI is sufficiently advanced enough to support legal professionals, “it won’t remove the need for the individual. It might change how they work and it might be that they’re doing 50% of what they were doing before, but there will still be the need for the individual and their experience, thoughtfulness and creativity.”
The future for law students
To future law students and junior lawyers Simon says “I would advise them to be adaptable to change, build an interesting skill set and be entrepreneurial.”
LOD has recently run a series of reports on new law and how the industry is changing. “One of those reports was about legal superheroes” says Simon. The report looked at what makes the best legal workers in today’s climate. While most of this was a great understanding of law and legal processes, says Simon, “some of it was developing a set of skills that makes you relevant and adaptable and interesting in the future legal landscape.”
When it comes to trainees, there are two different views of how technology could affect them. One view is that mundane or repetitive tasks can help juniors and trainees to learn faster and more effectively, and the other view is that if these roles are taken by machines, this could have a detrimental effect on learning.
Be adaptable to change, build an interesting skill set and be entrepreneurial
“There are two different views on that” agrees Simon “but I’m a generally positive sort. You have to hope that ultimately, as a trainee, you might do things that are useful, and offer learning even if sometimes mundane. However there is also the potential to spend a day photocopying for example and that’s not an important skillset to carefully hone. One of the challenges for law or any industry is that we need to do the right thing for people who are at an early stage in their career and still training and upcoming.”
A time of exciting uncertainty
For Simon, “the legal system feels today a little bit like the dotcom bubble in the early 2000s.” In the dotcom bubble Simon says that lots of new technologies with new business models were popping up and, looking back, it’s easy to see the winners who rose to the top like Amazon and eBay, “but that wasn’t always obvious” says Simon.
Simon points out that, in spite of large industry dominating companies like Amazon, “there are still some surprises, like the rise of the farmers’ market. Who would have thought that even though we can get automatic Amazon deliveries just by sticking a button on our fridge, that there would be more farmers’ markets than there has been ever before, that people are willing to walk down to a school playground and spend £8.50 on a piece of cheese?”
The legal system feels today a little bit like the dotcom bubble in the early 2000s
The point is, says Simon, that “we’re in this stage where lots of people are doing lots of different things and we don’t know yet how it will play out. What that means for LOD and Spoke is that we can’t predict what that future will look like .”
In spite of the uncertainty, Simon is excited about the future of law. “It’s fantastic to be here. Having seen other industries going through the same disruption has been really interesting and helpful. It’s sort of a privilege to help do the same thing for the legal industry.”
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