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What will law firms of the future look like? Probably a lot different than the BigLaw model we know today. And it shouldn't come as that much of a surprise.
Twenty-five years ago, way back in the 1980s, things like the Internet, cell phones, and email did not exist for law firms. So how did lawyers do their work? Well, with heavy reliance on their secretaries, paralegals, and other support staff. And also many trips to the law library and phone calls with their clients.
So what will law firms look like 25 years from now? They'll probably look a lot more like small and solo firms today.
The clear trend in technology is mobility, convenience, and speed. That's been the case with smartphones, tablets, cloud computing, and other technology slowly being adopted by firms. These devices allow lawyers to do their work wherever they may be, and with almost complete autonomy from the law firm structure.
In fact, many attorneys are now already blurring their personal devices with firm-approved devices (for better or worse). As a result, associates and partners are slowly breaking from the leash of the firm and the firm structure, because they no longer need it.
You really don't need a large support staff like you used to. You can find memos and opinions through search engines. You can write emails and make phone calls yourself. And you probably type out your arguments instead of delegating it to secretaries and paralegals. Everything you need to do your work is within reach today; it will likely (and literally) be in the palm of your hands 25 years from now.
With this freedom, expect more and more associates and partners to work from home. This means that colleagues may rarely ever see each other, and when they do, it may only be in the form of a video conference. As long as the work gets done, who cares, right? And with less need for office space and support staff, firms benefit with huge savings on overhead and personnel.
Basically, law firms of the future could quite closely resemble how small firms and solo attorneys operate today. Solos often work when and where they want to work, are basically physically alone, and are more reliant on their personal devices than secretaries or paralegals. In the alternative, we could all be answering to computer overlords by the time New Year's Day 2038 rolls around.