Chrissie Lightfoot

Chrissie Lightfoot

In July in the Global Legal Post, I shared my vision, insights and opinion about why it is becoming increasingly necessary for all of us lawyers to become SocialHuman in order to future-proof our careers as cognitive computing, artificial intelligence and robots infiltrate the entire legal eco-system and make some of our roles obsolete. It is imminent.

The machine has already risen

With the plethora of evidence to support the exponential rate of the inevitable rise of the machine, documented in my most recent articles and books, we ‘pure blood’ humans would do well to embrace the machine in a bid to serve our clients extraordinarily well, rather than resist its march and looming dominance as it begins to funnel its way up the legal intelligence vertical.

You may recall back in October 2011 the article iCyborg Lawyer wherein I shared the view that legal provision, productivity and primary skills fall into four areas:

1.  IT-based – commoditised;

2.  artificial intelligence (AI);

3.  advocacy; and

4.  judgement.

Arguably, the first two areas above have superseded the ‘grunt work’ traditionally carried out by trainees and junior lawyers already in the traditional law firm. It is now the daily grind realm of paralegals and/or junior lawyers (to some extent the associates too) overseeing and utilising the ‘machine system’ in order to maximise productivity. The last two areas, however, are associated more with the senior associate level and upwards in a traditional law firm, and the kind of legal work regularly carried out by solicitor advocates and barristers.

‘Phew’, no doubt is the cry of the more senior solicitors, partners, solicitor advocates and barristers; ‘we’re safe for now’, you’re no doubt thinking.

Not so. BEWARE.

The time is fast approaching too when even your cherished role and skill-set will come under attack by a machine that will be far quicker and more intelligent than you which will even be able to reason and judge; we’re talking a handful of years away here, not decades. We’re talking about a machine thinking, not just doing.

As I have said before, as we lawyers become marginalized by the machine, our role and value will be in extolling expert niche specialism and experience, delivering extraordinary customer service with exceptional emotional intelligence (EI), and being uniquely human. This is something AI and machines will not be able to provide, for a while.

Accordingly, I believe that barristers too will not be immune to the rise of the machines.

Which then made me ponder:

• Is the Bar, with its rich repository of specialist knowledge and experience which has never been more easily accessible for businesses and individuals alike due to Direct Access, truly ready for the Robotic Age?

• Do barristers have the right skill sets currently and in the future?

Revamping direct access

I was pleased to read earlier this week that the Bar Council launched its revamped direct access website. The portal acts as an online register of barristers qualified to take instructions direct from laypeople and is pitched at clients looking to avoid going through solicitors. No doubt this move will “ratchet up antagonism between the two main branches of the legal profession” wrote the author of the feature. The comments at the foot of the article evidenced exactly this.

I am at a loss to think as to why solicitors begrudge their fellow esteemed barrister colleagues competing with them directly for clients. After all, solicitors in one firm compete with solicitors in another firm directly for clients all of the time (and have done since the legal profession here in the UK kicked off 800 years ago), so why not barristers?

And let’s face it, solicitors ought to have an advantage over barristers in attracting clients direct as solicitors are, supposedly, more ‘experienced’ at schmoozing prospective and existing clients. This is, of course, moot. Many solicitors are by no means exceptionally conversant in SocialHuman Lawyering any more than the SocialHuman barrister might well be.

My understanding is that until recently, the Bar Council regulation was that the clerk of a barristers chambers or a solicitor had to refer the new client to the barrister; effectively the barristers didn’t need to do any marketing or rainmaking personally – it was done for them.  But now, due to Direct Access – the system under which members of the public can work with barristers directly, instead of through an intermediary solicitor – it strikes me that this is a really good thing for clients as:

a) the use of a direct access barrister resonates with the core principles by which a client business operates or an individual expects: excellence of service combined with delivery on time at the lowest possible price (says Alistair MacDonald QC, chairman of the Bar);

b) the specialist advocate provides better value for them; and

c) they have more choice.

On the subject of direct access Sinead King, barrister at 36 Bedford Row, London UK – you may recall I mentioned Sinead in an article –  Knowing me, knowing you –  last week as a sterling example of a SocialHuman professional – commented:  “The Bar Council is learning to be a bit less apologetic about marketing direct access. The fear is that doing so aggressively will antagonise instructing solicitors.”

Pah! Get on with it, I say. Fear not. All members of the legal profession – whether trainee solicitor, trainee barrister, paralegal, legal executive, associate solicitor, senior associate, solicitor advocate, partner, director, barrister, QC; have I forgotten anyone? – will soon come to realise that the threat (competing for clients and for our jobs) does not lie amongst our differing levels, titles and branches of human legal providers; it will revolve around us humans competing against the machine directly for clients and jobs.

In the meantime, the good news is that there are forward-looking ‘entreprenurial barristers’ just as there are ‘entrepreneurial solicitors’; both are quite happy to work with direct access barristers and to cross refer – or are very open to cross referring once they’re aware of the potential to deliver legal services through smart transactions. As Sinead says: “On a positive note, there’s a fair amount of cross referral: a solicitor might send a client my way for direct access advice on a discrete legal matter, because it’s a cost effective way of proceeding.  Equally, where a case is complex and needs bodies on the ground to keep on track, I will often refer it to a solicitor I know is going to offer a decent service, to give the client the best chance of getting a good outcome, knowing that if they can’t settle I can come back in at a later stage to slug it out in court.”

Having already met with Sinead King – The Entrepreneur Advocate – previously and being impressed by her natural ROAR approach (ROAR being an acronym for Reach Out And Relate), I was intrigued to learn more about what Sinead, as a barrister, thinks about Direct Access and what she believes it will take to become SocialHuman Barrister. I posed a number of questions to her, the answers to which I shall share with you in the follow-up article Robe Off: The Entrepreneur Lawyer meets The Entrepreneur Advocate.

Chrissie Lightfoot is author of Tomorrow’s Naked Lawyer: NewTech, NewHuman, NewLaw – How to be successful 2015 to 2045. (published Nov. 2014 ), and its prequel bestseller The Naked Lawyer: RIP to XXX – How to Market, Brand and Sell You! (Nov. 2010). You can pick up her latest book today by emailing or call +44(0) 207 566 5792.

This article was first published in the Global Legal Post on July 10, 2015, and is reproduced with permission.

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