The future of the legal profession, event insights from law student Eve
Freshers week at the University of Brighton isn’t typically synonymous with deep discussions about the future of the legal profession, technology and AI, but the second annual undergraduate law lecture proved to be an exception. While I’m sure a significant number of the 200 attendees would rather be getting ready for a night out to celebrate their first week, the room stayed captivated for the 90-minute talk.
The industry panel
The panel, consisting of five legal professionals – barrister Richard Ager, solicitors Rose McFarlane, Claudia Welbourne, and Elizabeth Squires, plus trainee solicitor Anna Davis – delved into the past, present, and future of the legal profession in terms of technology.
Technology through the years
Richard Ager, the barrister on the panel, shared a journey through the evolution of technology in his legal career. From telefax machines to the “challenges of video court proceedings” during lockdown, Richard’s experiences painted a vivid picture of the legal tech landscape.
Rose McFarlane, a senior private client solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, highlighted the dual nature of technology, citing its benefits in agile working while cautioning against its potential to overwhelm through constant communication. Elizabeth Squires, also a private client solicitor but at Britton & Time in Hove, seconded this and shared how she found it difficult to “resist the urge to be at the beck and call” of her clients.
Their words resonated with others on the panel, emphasising the important balance between work and the sanctity of personal time, despite wanting to be there for their clients.
The human touch vs AI
The panel addressed the looming presence of artificial intelligence (AI) in the legal profession.
Richard Ager’s mention of Lord Justice Birss’s experiment with ‘ChatGPT’ to write part of a judgment sparked both awe and concern. The panel shared the sentiment that while AI offers utility, it falls short in conveying human emotions and replacing genuine lawyer-client interactions.
Rose McFarlane shared worries about AI potentially “overpowering individual voices,” which resonated with the entire panel.
Insights from Coole Bevis
University of Brighton graduate, Anna Davis, and her colleague, Claudia Welbourne, shared their perspectives.
Anna, who graduated in 2020 and will be completing her LPC training contract in January, told of her journey from one area of law to the other. She was convinced she wanted to be a family lawyer, but now works in conveyancing and property law.
Anna expressed a preference for face-to-face interactions, citing the challenges some clients face in using technology. Claudia Welbourne seconded this, emphasising the importance of being visible in the office for career progression, drawing from her own journey as a legal secretary to a property solicitor.
Words of wisdom
The panel concluded with sound advice for aspiring lawyers:
For anyone aspiring to be a barrister, Richard Ager urged to “not lose personality” when it comes to the profession.
Equally, for those aspiring to become solicitors, it is important to recognise the importance of “mental agility,” “an open mind,” and remembering that “every big conversation starts with a little one.”
The future of the profession?
In a world where technology is both a blessing and a curse, the panel couldn’t express enough the sheer importance of humanity and empathy in the legal profession.
As the next generation of lawyers embark on their journeys, the message is clear – preserve individuality, adapt to change, initiate meaningful conversations, and keep an open mind. The future of law, it seems, will be shaped by a tradition and innovation.
Words by Eve Peckett, Law LLB (Hons) student