Wolters Kluwer, a global leader in professional information, software solutions, and services, has released the results of its global Future Ready Lawyer Survey 2023. Key findings show that attorneys have only just begun to embrace generative AI (GenAI) with 73% of the lawyers polled expecting to integrate GenAI in their legal work within the next year.
The survey also explores how law firms and corporate legal departments are responding to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) needs in addition to addressing priorities around attracting and retaining talent.
“Even in a world increasingly impacted by ChatGPT and other forms of AI, the legal profession continues to derive its strength from human relationships,” said Martin O’Malley, CEO, Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory. “Still, the 2023 Future Ready Lawyer Survey suggests that lawyers are acknowledging the pivotal role of technology in creating more value for their organizations and for society as a whole. Whether it’s improving collaboration, cementing relationships, or improving workflows, technology is at the heart of driving the entire industry into the future.”
A confident approach to generative AI
There appears to be no consensus among lawyers about whether they see GenAI as an opportunity or a threat. Almost half of the surveyed lawyers (43%) see GenAI as an opportunity, one in four (25%) see it as a threat and 26% see it as both an opportunity and a threat. Nevertheless, 68% indicated that they feel prepared for GenAI’s impact while 73% said that they understand how it can be applied to their work.
ESG preparedness still developing
ESG remains an important strategic growth area, with half of the attorneys surveyed (50%) expecting demand [from clients for ESG legal services] to increase, and 45% expecting demand to stay the same (up from 36% in 2022). Additionally, 68% of law firms have established dedicated ESG practices within the last three years – but there still appears to be more work ahead. According to the survey, 69% of law firms and 61% of corporate legal departments say they are not yet very prepared to fully deliver against expectations in the area of ESG.
Push to broaden use of technology
Lawyers continue to face pressure to expand their investment in and use of technology in response to client demands. Nearly half of law firms (46%) rank the need to use technology to improve productivity and efficiency as a top need to meet client demands, as well as improve collaboration and work processes. However, less than half of all attorneys surveyed (46%), believe they are fully leveraging technology, 50% are transitioning and 4% feel they are not leveraging tech as much as they should. Lawyers from both law firms (85%) and corporate legal departments (84%) also expect to make greater use of technology that improves productivity.
Preparing for a future-ready workforce
The nature of legal work appears to be changing. Most lawyers (78%) from both law firms and legal departments are expecting an increased demand for specialization and a decline in generalist work. Law firm respondents cited specialization as one of the factors clients will use to evaluate their outside counsel in the next three years. Fortunately, a majority of firms and corporations (75%) say they are prepared to offer greater specialization to clients. Simultaneously, attracting the right people for the right role seems likely to become a major obstacle to tackling heavy workloads and productivity demands. A substantial majority (81%) of lawyers from both law firms and corporate legal departments see their ability to recruit and retain talent as a key area of focus moving forward. But most (80%) say they’re ready to navigate recruitment demands. Among the most pressing demands from talent – 89% of lawyers say it’s important to have technology that supports their ability to work remotely.
Formal DEIB plans still a work-in-progress
Just 55% of law firms and corporate legal departments surveyed currently have formal Diversity, Equity Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) policies in place. Timing varies among firms and legal departments who are still firmly in the planning stage of their DEIB policy implementations, with 22% saying they plan to implement a formal policy in the next 12 months, and 15% targeting “the next few years.” Still, a high percentage of lawyers (82%) work for organizations that claim to have successfully created a diverse and inclusive environment. However, those sentiments don’t necessarily reflect a more formalized approach to promoting DEIB.
International perspectives on Generative AI and ChatGPT vary. For example, more lawyers in the Netherlands (65%) appear to be convinced about the benefits of GenAI than legal professionals in the U.S. (46%), Belgium (38%) and France (20%). Additionally, professionals from the Netherlands are most likely to see GenAI as an opportunity (65%) while also seeming to have the greatest understanding of how this technology applies to their work (89%) – a sentiment that is also shared by 80% of U.S. legal professionals. Both countries also indicate a rise in demand for ESG guidance in the past year, and the majority have DEIB policies in place. Meanwhile, Belgium, France and Hungary each score below 40% when it comes to having DEIB policies in place.
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