How to Prepare for Law Firms of the Future

Shardul S. Shroff, Executive Chairman of Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas sheds light on—the predictions for the legal function in the future and how talent will need to be contextualized in respect of these expectations—at the BW Legal World Business Conference on Future of Legal Education in India held in New Delhi in June 2022.

Given the current global consternation, with the unholy trinity of COVID, the Ukraine, Russia war and inflation and global shortages, which are going to add to the woes; why should then one attend law school? Speaking at the BW Legal World conference, Shroff shares one should attend law school now because of the technological advancement in the practice of law. It's going to be radically transformed, like a business that has hibernated in relevant and relative dormancy for the last 400 years from e-discovery and litigation energy analytics to artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

There has never been a more exciting and dynamic time to be a member of the profession. The best law school experience does not confine students to a career of practicing law, but rather introduces them to the lifelong study of practising life. The constantly evolving complexity of the modern world requires the holistic, comprehensive and malleable solution to problem-solving. 

What are the predictions for the legal function in the future? How is talent to be contextualized in the future of law? 

A student can be an end consumer, the law firm can be an end consumer and the client can be an end consumer and therefore, all their perspectives have to be taken into account. By 2025, the regulatory environment is going to be far more complex. Pressure to cut costs is going to be at all- time highs. While standardization and automation will create routes, new routes to efficiency and insights. COVID-19 is not going to be wished away and it will ramp up all these challenges even more. The sudden move to remote work is also proof of concept for relying even more on connectivity, centralization, and technology. 

The role of in-house legal teams is changing quickly. The businesses that they support are going to be digital. What are the long-term outcomes of these accelerating changes? How are the forces shaping the legal function of tomorrow? And therefore, what are the discoveries that clients have come to? One foresees that half of the legal team will not be lawyers. The traditional legal function hierarchy is likely to be morphed into a more agile and cost-effective structure. Use of automated solutions, chat box or other forms of productized legal services will increase. This will require more multidisciplinary workforce with different skill sets, works of paralegals data analysts, operational experts and other specialists in the legal function might rise to a point where legal professionals become almost a minority.

Contract Lifecycle Management will be the central source of truth for all contracts. Organizations have already done the work to centralize their finance and resource related activities within single systems, as well as the customer relationships and sales. Centralizing how they manage contracts, from negotiation, to execution, and afterwards to termination is the key forward. Ultimately, the central key is the organization's ability to reduce costs, manage risk, and improve performance. Like regulatory change, for example, or litigation results will create the need to update masses of contracts—the terms of which will have to be properly tagged. Reading data will be as important as reading legal terms. Legal data pools will get richer and analysis with the strategic insight will be in demand. And this is an opportunity to identify how to improve legal contracts. Legal teams will be measured on strict KPI such as the money they make for the business. Law as a driver of financial results will be the norm. Client Experience will be at the heart of legal and how the client feels after the end of a delivery of the service is going to be so important that it will lead to the second round of legal work. A bad experience will mean no further work. All standardized legal work will be permanently subsumed into the business. 

Managing culture and shifting mindsets will be essential. The cultural aspect of a law school or the cultural aspect of law firm are going to be very significant in the way forward with legal operating models undergoing tremendous change. Legal operating models built on continuous innovation and improved legal teams will be needed for a huge shift in the mindset across the organization. Firms will need to arm themselves with new skills, and their leaders will need to demonstrate their commitment to realize transformation benefits. A legal Chief Operations Office will be just as important as the General Counsel's Office. It is expected that changes in many legal functions will transform them into true partners with business; offering advice that is more proactive, evidence-based and strategic teams will have to support the growing spectrum of risk compliance, governance, operation and regulatory issues. Therefore, talent in firms will be required for these purposes. 

What are the skills that a student must develop and who has to provide those skills? 

It would be a joint responsibility of the Law School and the law firm to develop the skills for making better lawyers. And what are those skills? Learning how to listen. Every client wants a patient hearing and doesn't want an abrupt cut down when one is talking about their problem. Learning how to nurture creativity. You have to be providing creative solutions, analytical solutions. Learning how to run a law practice. Students must know what it takes to be a law firm owner or law firm manager or a group of partners leading a firm. How to manage personal finances. These are all vital skills. It is going to be critical in the way you apply finance for the clients’ work. And lastly, but not the least, time management. Students may leave out a question during exams owing to paucity of time, however, that is an impossibility in the practice of law. So, they have to understand time management. 

Students ought to realize that the law is not like any other desk job, but a unique and ethical profession where they as lawyers play a key role in shaping the society. When it comes to law firms, what is important for the student is to have a good grasp of the subjects. It is essential to make them understand what it really means to be a corporate lawyer, and what their role entails. This can be achieved by conducting simulation exercises in law school, so that students get to understand what they're signing up for in the future. This is where the role of law firms also becomes crucial. The landscape of law firms in India and across the world is radically evolving. Somewhere down the lane students perceive law firms as competitive corporate jobs that come with its benefits. This perception results in them merely preparing to get placed and they do not aspire to achieve something bigger. To resolve this, firms should help students see the bigger picture of the twin role law firms serve—as economic and service institutions. Once students realize the service provided by firms add significant value to the growth of the society at large, the perception of their own careers will change. This will make them understand their role and responsibility in the law firm with a much better sense. 

This is an edited excerpt by Ashima Ohri from the keynote address given by Mr Shardul Shroff at the BW Legal World conference titled Future of Legal Education in India held in June 2022. The full address may be viewed at

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